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POLICY

Oct 08 - 14, 2001

Govt puts 70pc sell-off plan on hold

Privatization Minister Altaf Saleem said on Thursday that 70 per cent of a privatization programme that was to raise $1 billion by the end of this year has been put on hold because of the Afghan crisis.

Saleem said the prospect of a US attack on Afghanistan meant potential foreign bidders were unable to continue carrying out due diligence on major state assets that were due for sale by the end of December.

"Our total programme is about $3 billion and one third of that was planned for the period of October to December 2001," Saleem told Reuters in an interview.

"Thirty per cent of that may go ahead but 70 per cent has to wait till the situation is more clear." The delay means a planned sale of nine oil and gas fields plus a 26 per cent stake, with management control, in Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd (PTCL) cannot proceed.

The delay in the privatization programme which is designed to reduce the country's foreign debt of nearly $40 billion as well as to draw new investment into key industries is another economic blow from the crisis.

Saleem said the privatization of some $300 million in state assets that was continuing this year involved mainly small, domestic sales. They include the National Investment Trust.

He said the delays should not have a major impact on the later stages of the privatization programme, which is expected to raise about $2 billion in total.

"We are running our operation on the basis of business as usual. We are going on because the direction still remains the same. We are making some tactical adjustments," Saleem said. "Our programme is not designed to please or displease the International Monetary Fund. We don't see this programme as a firesale or something like that," he said. "This programme is because of the government's own conviction to go ahead this is a reform programme."

Washington to give $320m assistance for Afghans

President George Bush on Thursday announced $320 million in humanitarian assistance for the people of Afghanistan and for neighbouring states to help Afghan refugees. He coupled this by saying that recent events had provided an opportunity "to make sure that the subcontinent is more peaceful".

A major component of the assistance, $295 million, will go to Afghans suffering from drought, famine and displacement because of the threat of a US-led strike against their country. But the step was also seen as part of an effort to woo ordinary Afghans and isolate the Taliban regime ahead of action against Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida bases.

21 experts appointed investment counsellors

The Board of Investment (BoI), in order to increase interaction between the private sector and the government, has initiated a number of steps including appointment of honorary investment counsellors abroad among the notable overseas Pakistanis.

According to a press release issued on Wednesday, about 21 renowned overseas Pakistanis in 17 countries have been appointed. The joint efforts of BoI and these investment counsellors will improve Pakistan trade and its business related image abroad.

These counsellors will not be a burden on the government exchequer. They have accepted the task on honorary basis. All the relevant ministries i.e. ministry of foreign affairs, commerce and establishment division are on board with BoI and has concurred to these appointments.

US move to suspend democracy sanctions

The Senate foreign relations committee on Thursday unanimously approved a draft bill for Congressional approval that would enable President George Bush to temporarily waive the remaining sanctions against Pakistan.

The draft, which tailors the waivers to meet specific objectives rather than give broad or sweeping waiver authority to the president, has three significant elements. It proposes vesting the president with the authority to waive democracy sanctions under Section 508.

UN plans

Negotiations are under way between the Taliban authorities and the United Nations for use of Afghanistan's airspace to deliver food supplies. Addressing a press conference on Thursday, World Food Programme (WFP) Public Affairs Officer, Khalid Mansur, said that the world food body "is in the process of identifying safe air corridors for dropping food to the people."

Unskilled workers

The federal cabinet on Wednesday approved Rs2,500 as minimum wage for unskilled workers by amending the West Pakistan Minimum Wage for Unskilled Workers Ordinance, 1969.

The minimum wage will be payable with effect from August 1, 2001 and apply to all establishments irrespective of the number of workers employed. The cabinet, which met with President Pervez Musharraf in the chair, decided that the cost of living allowance of Rs550 or Rs650, at present admissible to workers, will be merged into the minimum wages of Rs1,500 and a new payable wage of Rs2,500 will be fixed for unskilled workers.

Shipping ordinance

Federal Secretary for Communications Iftikhar Rashid has said that the Shipping Ordinance will be promulgated from next week. The ordinance will help to modernize shipping sector and departments related to the sector will be facilitated.

Canada lifts sanctions

Canada said on Monday it was lifting almost all its economic and political sanctions on Pakistan as a reward for Islamabad's decision to support a United States-led campaign against global terrorism. Foreign Minister John Manley and International Aid Minister Maria Minna said in a statement that Ottawa would also forgive up to C$447 million ($283 million) in outstanding loans on the understanding that Pakistan used the money on development projects.