Situationer: Price gouging adds to ‘double whammy’ of hike

Situationer: Price gouging adds to ‘double whammy’ of hike

On the other hand, the government appears to be taking cosmetic measures only to control the prices in the absence of a price and profit assessment and regulation mechanism, leading to record-high rates of commodities unbearable for the common man.

“Frankly, there is no mechanism or system. However, except the prices of fruits, vegetables, poultry etc, which are dependent on demand and supply, the increase in prices of all commodities must be checked and regulated,” Lahore Market Committee Secretary Shahzad Cheema told Dawn.

Market Committee Secretary

He said price control magistrates in districts are only restricted to getting the officially notified prices implemented by retailers who, on the pretext of the increase in POL prices and other factors — import of pulses and other commodities, inflation, dollar exchange rate, price increase by wholesalers, manufacturers etc, don’t heed to the officials’ instructions and charge as per their whims.
“It is true that people are passing through the worst wave of price hike. But it is also true that the self-created price hike (or price gouging) on the part of manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers has added to the miseries of the common man,” he deplored.

Price gouging is a situation where businesses take advantage of a crisis to charge excessive prices for basic necessities – selling goods significantly above their usual price.

According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the inflation rate has climbed to an unprecedented 21.32 per cent, the highest in around 14 years. Until April, the rate was 14.6pc.

“I have never seen a hike in prices almost on a daily basis. A couple of days ago, I bought cooking oil for Rs540 per litre. But today (Friday), I bought it for Rs580 from a shop near my house,” lamented Farrukh, a consumer at a grocery shop, while talking to Dawn. “When I asked the shopkeeper, he blamed the increase in POL prices and other issues for the new price.”

He also mentioned excessive prices for various other commodities, including flour (especially chakki atta), rice, pulses and edibles, during the last couple of months on the pretext of rising petrol prices.

“You can check the prices of even fruits and vegetables that are increasing daily on the pretext of growing transport charges caused by the hiked POL prices. Hoarding of various commodities to create artificial shortage in the open markets and earning more profit is another factor behind this self-created price hike,” Farrukh explained.

The Lahore deputy commissioner and industries department secretary were not available for comments, but a spokesman for the Lahore district administration dispelled the impression, claiming a price control system was in place in districts.

A district price control committee

“A district price control committee, whenever it requires meeting, revises and notifies the rates of various commodities after holding discussions with the representatives of consumers, traders, shopkeepers and manufacturers. It decides and notifies the rates in line with the increase in the POL prices and other factors such as inflation,” he explained, adding that the notified rates were implemented by price control magistrates in letter and spirit.

However, he admitted there was no dedicated team of experts within the district administration that could develop a mechanism to perform this job.

Magistrates

“But our magistrates are effectively controlling the prices,” he insisted.

While on one hand prices continue to sky-rocket, the restrictions on business hours of open markets have also provided an opportunity to shopkeepers to fleece customers and charge exorbitant rates.

It has been observed that some shops, especially those selling drinks and cigarette corners and kiryana stores, remain operational (with their shutters either completely down or half shut) even after the 9pm restriction on business hours in connivance with the police or the district administrations.

“Yesterday I went to a shop that was open with its shutter half closed. I bought sandwich bread for Rs200 — Rs20 higher than the actual price. When I asked, the shopkeeper told me to buy it or leave as they were about to close. I had no option but to relent,” Arsalan, a customer, told Dawn.

Southern Europe battles wildfires as heatwave spreads north

Southern Europe battles wildfires as heatwave spreads north

Much of Europe is baking in a heatwave that scientists say is consistent with climate change and has pushed temperatures into the mid-40s Celsius (over 110 Fahrenheit) in some regions, with wildfires raging across the tinder-dry countryside in Portugal, Spain, and France.

Temperature

Temperatures in some parts of southern Europe began to ease over the weekend but thousands of firefighters across the region still battled to contain hundreds of wildfires and authorities said the risk of further blazes remained extremely high.

Spain was facing the eighth and last day of a more than week-long heatwave on Monday, which caused more than 510 heat-related deaths, according to estimates from the Carlos III Health Institute.
With fires burning thousands of hectares in Galicia, Castille, and Leon, Catalonia, Extremadura, and Andalusia, Spain mourned the death of one firefighter in the northwestern province of Zamora on Sunday evening. Almost the entire country faces an extreme fire risk.

In El Pont de Vilomara in Catalonia, evacuees gathered outside a civic centre, among them retiree Onofre Munoz, 69, who said that his home and van had been completely destroyed.

“We bought the van when I retired and now it’s totally scorched. We have nothing,” he said.

“Our house had quite a few windows, they exploded, and a powerful flame came inside. We knew it yesterday afternoon because we got some pictures in which we saw everything had burned.”

More than 70,000 hectares (173,000 acres) have burnt in Spain so far this year, the worst year of the last decade, according to official data. Last month, a huge wildfire in Sierra de la Culebra, Castille, and Leon, ravaged about 30,000 hectares of land.

Spain also reported a second death caused by a wildfire after a fireman died on Sunday. A 69-year-old was found dead on Monday in Ferreruela, in an area burned by flames, emergency authorities said. Local media said it was a farmer.

In Portugal, temperatures dropped over the weekend, but the risk of wildfires remained very high across most of the country, according to the Portuguese Institute of Meteorology (IPMA).

More than 1,000 firefighters, backed by 285 vehicles and 14 aircraft, were battling nine ongoing wildfires, mainly in the country’s northern regions, authorities said.

 

National emergencies

Belgium and Germany were among the countries expecting the heatwave to hit them in the coming days.
The EU said it was monitoring closely wildfires raging in southern member states on Monday, sending a firefighting plane to Slovenia over the weekend adding to recent deployments to France and Portugal.

“We continue of course to monitor the situation during this unprecedented heatwave and will continue to mobilise support as needed,” spokesperson Balazs Ujvari told a briefing.

The EU was also providing satellite imagery to France, he added. Separately, the Commission announced in a report that almost half the territory of the bloc was currently at risk of drought.

Britain was on course for its hottest day on record on Monday with temperatures forecast to hit 40 Celsius (Fahrenheit) for the first time, forcing train companies to cancel services, schools to close early and ministers to urge the public to stay at home.

The government has triggered a “national emergency” alert as temperatures were forecast to surpass the 38.7C (102F) recorded in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden in 2019 on Monday and Tuesday.

“We hoped we wouldn’t get to this situation but for the first time ever we are forecasting greater than 40C in the UK,” climate attribution scientist at the Met Office, Dr Nikos Christidis, said.

Climate change

“Climate change has already influenced the likelihood of temperature extremes in the UK. The chances of seeing 40C days in the UK could be as much as 10 times more likely in the current climate than under a natural climate unaffected by human influence,” he said.

In the Gironde region in southwestern France, the fires had destroyed 14,800 hectares (37,000 acres), local authorities said on Monday. More than 14,000 people have been evacuated from the area. France has issued red alerts, the highest possible, for several regions, with residents urged “to be extremely vigilant”.

In Italy, where smaller fires have blazed in recent days, forecasters expect temperatures above 40C in several regions in coming days.

Switzerland also suffered the effects of the heatwave. Axpo, the operator of the Beznau nuclear plant, said it on Monday it was forced to reduce output so that it does not overheat the Aare river from which it draws its cooling water.

The Swiss government issued a heat wave advisory, citing considerable danger across much of the country with temperatures in some parts reaching 36C (96.8F).

‘Political uncertainty’ sees PKR hit new low, close at Rs215.2 in interbank

‘Political uncertainty’ sees PKR hit new low, close at Rs215.2 in interbank

According to the Forex Association of Pakistan, the dollar was trading at a record Rs216 against the local currency at 3:12pm, up Rs5, or 2.4 per cent, from Friday’s close of Rs210.95.

The dollar eventually closed at Rs215.2, with the local currency depreciating 1.97pc, according to data shared by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
After reaching a peak of Rs211.93 on June 22, the dollar started declining for a brief period and fell to a low of Rs204.56 on July 4.

However, the strength gained by the rupee after $2.3 billion Chinese inflows evaporated within a couple of weeks, as the dollar snapped the rupee’s rising streak and gained Rs2.38 in the interbank market on July 5, the first appreciation in the new fiscal year.

Since then, the greenback has continued to rise with a slight reversal of the trend on July 15 — the day the IMF announced it had reached a staff-level agreement with the government. However, the rupee reversed its gains the very next day with analysts attributing it to low inflows and import payments.

 

‘Market uncertain about new setup’

Saad bin Naseer, director of Mettis Global, a web-based financial data and analytics portal, attributed the greenback’s gains to political uncertainty following the results of the by-polls on 20 Punjab Assembly seats a day earlier.

The PTI routed the PML-N by winning at least 15 seats in the crucial by-elections, which means that incumbent Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz will likely be unable to show the simple majority needed to remain the chief executive in the re-election scheduled for July 22.

Naseer said that the results of the by-polls had raised concerns about the future of the coalition government in the centre and thus, created political uncertainty.

“The rupee is under pressure as the market is uncertain about the new setup and the decisions it will take to stabilise the economy, especially the fate of bilateral inflows currently being negotiated by the current finance minister.”

Analyst Komal Mansoor said the rupee had nosedived because of yesterday’s political events.

“The PTI’s win has cast doubt on the sustainability of the current government and the sentiment has again turned negative,” she said.

She predicted that the rupee would have a “rollercoaster ride this week” until the central bank steps in.

Exchange Companies

Meanwhile, Exchange Companies Association of Pakistan General Secretary Zafar Paracha laid the blame on the government and state institutions.

He noted that the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had reached an agreement, oil prices had dropped internationally and the interest rate hiked, which meant that people would be interested in the rupee rather than the dollar.

“The dollar should have dropped [in price] because of this and people should have gone towards bank deposits. We believe the dollar is rising because of the government’s [complacency] since the government or other state institutions do not appear to be concerned and it seems like they are fulfilling some target given to them by the IMF.”

Paracha also shared apprehensions that foreign investors were reluctant to invest in the country because they had “no idea” how high the dollar would rise, while the growth rate of remittances had dropped because overseas Pakistanis were “unhappy”.

 

PTI Chimes in

Former finance minister Shaukat Tarin also attributed the rupee’s decline to political uncertainty following the by-elections.

Political uncertainty breeds economic instability, he said and called for general elections to be announced to “kill this uncertainty”.
PTI secretary general Asad Umar, who also had a brief stint as the country’s finance minister during the party’s time in government, shared similar views.

“This political uncertainty is bleeding the economy and inflicting tremendous pain on the people,” he tweeted.

He termed the incumbent government a “badly conceived and badly executed experiment” and demanded an end to it.

“Pakistan cannot be made to suffer any more for poor decisions,” he added.

IMF-Funded imported accountability

IMF-Funded imported accountability

The International Monetary Fund lifeline is finally in sight after months of jittery negotiations. Most of the key conditions have been met, although a few are half complete. The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet has approved a phased increase in electricity rates — one of the crucial outstanding issues — but its ratification was withheld by the Cabinet before formal notification because of Punjab bye-elections.

This week would perhaps clear the policy backlog in the power sector. Gas tariff increase had also been cleared by the ECC last week subject to minor adjustments for the export sector. That too has to pass through the cabinet ratification after elections are over. In both cases, the meter reading and billing cycle can cover up a few days of delayed notification.

Such outstanding issues are precisely the reason for an IMF board meeting tentatively scheduled in the second half of August, almost a month after the Staff Level Agreement (SLA) is announced. Otherwise, 15 days are considered normal for the circulation of relevant papers among the IMF executive board members.
The key Fund programme objectives, nevertheless, remain unchanged. These generally include macroeconomic stabilisation with social protection for the most vulnerable, governance and structural reforms and adequate bilateral and multilateral financing to support the policy effort. The fund would now disburse about $1.18 billion before the close of August to take total disbursements to $4.2bn. The fund programme would extend by nine months to the end of June next year instead of the end of September 2022 and expand in size by $1bn to a total of $7bn.

The Traditional Steps

The traditional one-step-forward-two-step back Pakistan approach to Fund programmes has, however, added to the severity of the painful adjustment. For example, former finance minister Shaukat Tarin had committed in January this year a Rs4 per litre increase in petroleum levy on monthly basis to Rs30. Under the revised programme, the levy has to increase by Rs5 per litre every month to a maximum of Rs50. The power tariff increase for last fiscal year was committed at less than Rs5 per unit which has now gone close to Rs8 per litre because of delayed tariff rebasing, on top of monthly fuel pass through, adding burden to the common consumers.
The lagged impact of price adjustments would be no less than a bombshell for the middle class already braving over 20pc rate of inflation — the highest in almost one and half a decade. Nonetheless, the IMF seal of approval along with cash injections would help Pakistan avert, at least for the time being, a default threat and sail through the super cycle of global inflation exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war amid limited foreign exchange reserves enough for less than six weeks of imports. This will facilitate the resumption of loan programmes from multilateral and bilateral lenders alike as all look towards the IMF’s clean chit.

An impression in the meanwhile is being given by certain quarters as if IMF’s demand for the anti-corruption effort was something fresh in the new staff-level agreement and was somehow peculiar to the current political set-up. For a reminder, strengthening of governance and anti-corruption institutions and anti-money laundering push for Financial Action Task Force compliance was very much part of the original agreement finalised by Pakistan and IMF on May 10, 2019, under the 39-month Extended Fund Facility that remained most of the time in limbo since then.

Finance Minister

It was promised by then finance minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh that “a task force will review the institutional framework of the anti-corruption institutions to enhance their independence and effectiveness in investigating and prosecuting corruption cases. A study will be conducted on establishing a dedicated anti-money laundering unit in the Federal Investigation Agency” and an assets recovery unit in the prime minister’s office was presented as a key to identifying assets abroad by Pakistani residents.

It was also committed in May 2019 that asset declarations of high-level public officials will be comprehensive in scope (ie, assets with beneficial owners or located abroad), filed with a central federal agency, electronically searchable, and appropriately verified.

Not implemented, the same objectives were tied to an end of June 2020 deadline. Despite the Covid-19 excuse for not honouring the promise, these objectives were made as a structural benchmark of the fund programme in April 2021 (till Dr Shaikh was in office) for the end of June 2021 deadline. With the change of leadership to Shaukat Tarin, the deadline for the structural benchmark was subsequently revised end of January 2022 with stricter conditions including the coverage extending to National Accountability Bureau as well.

Mr Tarin

Mr Tarin undertook that “to further advance transparency, accountability, and integrity in the public sector, we will issue regulations to establish an electronic asset declaration system (end of June 2021, reset to end of January 2022) that is comprehensive (ie, covering assets beneficially owned or located abroad), centrally-held with the Federal Board of Revenue, covering federal civil servants of Base Pay Scale 17 to 22, accessible to entities authorised by law (including banks for the limited purposes of conducting customer due diligence as required for the provision of banking services), and effectively verified. It will also institutionalise public access for annual declarations for all members (elected and unelected) of the federal government cabinet of Pakistan.”

While the IMF certificate will facilitate about $28bn in total international inflows during the current fiscal year to help meet about $41bn in international financial obligations, it would be no mean service to the Pakistani nation if senior civil servants, cabinet members and parliamentarians are subjected to transparency and accountability even if it is imposed from abroad. Such a development may, otherwise, remain a pipedream for Pakistanis to achieve by themselves for decades.

Despite PTI’s landslide victory, Imran Khan accuses government of interference

Despite PTI’s landslide victory, Imran Khan accuses government of interference

Despite a landslide victory against PML-N in the by-election for 20 constituencies of Punjab, PTI Chairman Imran Khan Monday accused the coalition government of using “every tactic to ensure that we (PTI) lose the polls.”

Speaking to the public in a televised speech, he said: “All of the government’s [machinery] was used against us despite the Supreme Court’s order.”

Casting aspersions on the way the government managed the Punjab by-polls, Khan said that if the next elections take place “in such a manner, then political instability will exacerbate, not decrease”.
The PTI chairman noted that the apex court — in its July 1 order — had ordered the government to not use its machinery for “interference”, but the PML-N “violated” the order.

“They interfered in every way; they registered FIRs, used police to harass our people, but at the same time, I salute the police officials who did not pay heed to the government’s pressure,” he said.

Khan added that he “remembers” the name of each and every police officer who was involved in harassing PTI workers “and behaving like the workers of PML-N”.

 

CEC Raja’s ‘malintent’

Talking about Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja, Khan said that his actions were backed by “malintent”.

The PTI chairman said that due to the CEC’s “incompetence”, four million people were shown dead on voter lists.

“But apart from that, he wholeheartedly participated in the polling process to ensure that PML-N wins,” the PTI chairman said.

Khan said that the PTI had “lawful” eight cases, which the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), headed by Raja, rejected to hear. He said that the party then went to the courts to seek justice, where it was served the same.

“We do not trust this election commissioner,” he said, demanding a resignation from the CEC.

Khan said that despite several cases of rigging during polls being brought before the CEC, he never found anyone guilty — and, as a result, malpractice continued as no one had feared accountability.

Referring to the PPP’s landslide victory in the first phase of the local body elections, Khan said that due to CEC’s favouritism, the party’s victory was possible.

“He (Raja) is taking money from two sources — the Sindh government and the election commission. His case is pending in the Supreme Court,” Khan said.

“Even the election commission tried all tactics to ensure we lose. But we won despite that as people came out to cast their votes like never before.”

The PTI chairman said that transparent elections are not possible under the current election commissioner.

 

‘Happy moment’

At the beginning of the speech, Khan — while celebrating his party’s victory — termed the situation a “happy moment”, and said he believes that when a nation developed awareness and starts understanding the vision of the country “then it is a moment to thank Allah.”

According to the preliminary final count from Sunday’s polls, the PTI won 15 seats, while the PML-N managed to clinch victory in only four, and an independent candidate grabbed one.

“I want to thank the youth and women of Punjab, especially those who came out to cast the vote,” Khan said while acknowledging the contributions of PTI supporters, workers, and leaders.

Commenting on his electioneering campaign, Khan said that throughout his race, he focused on the fundamental principle that the meaning of Pakistan was “La Ilaha Illallah (There is no god but Allah)” because this was a philosophy and once people start understanding this, they will also grasp the vision of Pakistan and become a “great nation.”

“A group of people become a nation when they have a vision,” he reiterated, saying that he was happy because people started questioning [the rulers] and were determined that they would not accept slavery after an “imported government” was imposed on all of us through a “foreign conspiracy”.

“I am happy because, for the first time, I am seeing awareness among people and now — by the grace of Allah — we are heading toward becoming a nation which will resolve all issues, including debt and lack of resources, among others,” Khan said while highlighting that the elite in the country had invested abroad and owned properties in foreign countries because they have no trust on Pakistan.

Recalling the sacrifices rendered by ancestors in the independence of the country, the PTI chairman said that everybody should be proud of the people of Punjab, especially women, who came out to cast their votes, “this is Naya Pakistan.”

 

Khan to approach Supreme Court

The cricketer-turned-politician said that when PTI was in power an “artificial political crisis was created”.

“If you look at the Economic Survey for the fiscal year 2021-22 you would see that after 17 years, Pakistan witnessed record growth in the last two years of the PTI government,” he highlighted, adding that all indicators were showing an uptrend, particularly large-scale manufacturing which provides employment opportunities and increases tax collection, etc.

He went on to say that during the five-year government of PML-N, Pakistan did not see a rise in exports.

“They left huge fiscal deficits during both their terms. They came to power only to get cases against them quashed. They got bills passed from the assembly,” he said referring to the NAB amendment bills.

“But god willing, I will challenge all this in the Supreme Court tomorrow (Tuesday),” the PTI leader vowed.

 

‘Economy is linked to political stability’

Shedding light on the current economic situation in the country, he said that it was an outcome of the political crisis.

“Our reserves have shrunk by half since PML-N came to power. Despite the agreement with International Monetary Fund (IMF) in sight, our rupee is declining,” he said, taunting that now they [coalition government] blame international crisis for tough decisions.

He highlighted that amid the crises, the only way out was free and fair elections.

In the coming days, Khan said that if the relevant quarters do not understand that political instability had a drastic impact on the economy, then he feared that things will go out of hand.

“Economy is linked to political stability […] and the only way forward is transparent elections,” the PTI chairman said.

 

‘No empathy’

The PTI chairman said that during his political career, which spans more than two decades, he has never seen such “awareness” among the Pakistani nation as it was witnessed during the by-elections.

Khan said that he will never forget May 25 – the day his party marched to Islamabad — as the government “tortured” PTI workers and supporters.

“They did not feel ashamed while tear gassing our supporters despite the presence of families there […] they have no empathy for people,” he said.

The PTI chairman said that despite all efforts of the government, the public took to the streets and, resultantly, Pakistan was “finally heading towards becoming a nation”.

“If someone thinks that the nation’s decisions can be made behind closed doors, then they’re wrong.”

Khan said that if anyone plans of stealing people’s mandate, their plans will fail, adding that the only way forward for the country was early elections.

US Fed announces biggest interest rate hike since 1994

US Fed announces biggest interest rate hike since 1994

US Fed announces biggest interest rate hike since 1994

The Federal Reserve announced the most aggressive interest rate increase in nearly 30 years, raising the benchmark borrowing rate by 0.75 percentage points on Wednesday as it battles against surging inflation.

The Fed’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee reaffirmed that it remains “strongly committed to returning inflation to its 2 per cent objective” and expects to continue to raise the key rate.

Until recently, the central bank seemed set to approve a 0.5 percentage-point increase, but economists say the rapid surge in inflation put the Fed behind the curve, meaning it needed to react strongly to prove its resolve to combat inflation

The super-sized move was the first 75-basis-point increase since November 1994.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell will hold a press conference after the meeting to provide more details on the central bank’s plans, which will be closely watched for signals on how aggressive policymakers will be in coming meetings.

Committee members now see the federal funds rate ending the year at 3.4 per cent, up from the 1.9 per cent projection in March, according to the median quarterly forecast.

They also expect the Fed’s preferred inflation index to rise to 5.2 per cent by the end of the year, with GDP growth slowing to 1.7 per cent in 2022 from the previous 2.8 per cent forecast.

The FOMC noted that effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are “creating additional upward pressure on inflation and are weighing on global economic activity.”

And ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns in China “are likely to exacerbate supply chain disruptions.”

Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Esther George, a noted inflation-hawk, dissented from the committee vote, preferring a smaller, half-point increase.

Caught off guard

US central bankers began raising interest rates off zero in March as buoyant demand from American consumers for homes, cars and other goods clashed with transportation and supply chain snarls in parts of the world where COVID-19 remained — and remains — a challenge.

That fueled inflation, which got dramatically worse after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February and Western nations imposed steep sanctions on Moscow, sending food and fuel prices up at a blistering rate.

US gasoline prices have topped $5.00 a gallon for the first time ever and are setting new records daily.

Economists thought March was the peak for consumer price hikes, but the rate spiked again in May, jumping 8.6 per cent in the latest 12 months, and wholesale prices surged as well, almost entirely due to soaring costs for energy, especially gasoline.

The Fed was caught off guard with the speed of the price increases, and while policymakers usually prefer to clearly telegraph any policy shift to financial markets, the latest data changed the calculus.

Powell had indicated policymakers were poised to implement another half-point increase in the benchmark borrowing rate this week and a similar move next month, aiming to douse red-hot inflation without tipping the economy into recession and avoid a bout of 1970s-style stagflation.

However, the central bank cannot influence supply issues, and rate hikes only work by cooling demand and slowing the economy — meaning policymakers are walking a fine line between having an impact and doing too much.

And the impact won’t be immediate.

“Monetary policy operates with lags, today’s inflation reflects decisions taken a year ago,” said Adam Posen, head of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former central banker.

“Had Fed hiked in 2021Q2/Q3, then inflation now would be different — not least (because) the current global shocks wouldn’t be piling on already high inflation,”

  • The super-sized move was the first 75-basis-point increase since November 1994.
  • Central bank seemed set to approve a 0.5 percentage-point increase, but economists say rapid surge in inflation put Fed behind the curve.
Does Pakistan need electric vehicles?

Does Pakistan need electric vehicles?

Does Pakistan need electric vehicles?

Electric Vehicles (EVs) have already caught the interest of large populations of the developed countries and the Pakistani public as well awaits with excitement. Tesla has surpassed all international car manufacturing companies in terms of market capitalisation. The financial incentive in the form of hard cash given by the western governments to the consumers has been the key factor in the rapid adoption of EVs.

Despite these incentives, the road to achieving full conversion to EVs from conventional petrol-based vehicles is going to be a long one. The main limitations of EVs are their high cost and limited range (distance travelled between charges). As Pakistan considers the adoption of EVs on a large scale, there is a need to learn some useful lessons from the experience of other countries.

When Tesla came out with its first series of EVs, its success was largely due to a lucrative cash subsidy that the governments of the USA and Canada directly gave to the consumer which made a very expensive car more affordable for the buyer. The attraction for EVs is also due to the awareness about global warming the effects of which have already started becoming visible.

Another factor is cheap electricity due to a sharp drop in the price of solar and wind turbines. Tesla built its own free-of-cost charging stations in many locations making its products even more attractive. Probably none of these factors is on the mind of Pakistani consumer, which is mainly interested in EVs because it is the latest trend.

By replacing the conventional vehicles with EVs, Pakistan’s fuel import bill will be reduced as most of the finished petroleum products used in transport are imported. Homes equipped with solar roof-tops can charge their EVs with clean energy virtually for free as long as the sun is shining.

However, it will not contribute much to a reduction in global Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) because Pakistan has a negligible GHG footprint. Furthermore, EVs will not cause a major reduction in GHGs if they are charged with grid-based power because most of our electricity generation continues to be based on fossil fuels. To have any meaningful GHG reduction, commercial charging stations will need to be fully based on their own solar/wind power sources.

The EVs can be charged in two ways: slow charging using a typical power outlet at homes and fast charging at a commercial charging station. Charging them at home is a slow process while fast charging stations too, if available, can take up to an hour. Further, such charging stations will need to be widely available on urban roads and highways for which the nation will have to pay a heavy price.

The more common mode of charging that the Pakistani EV owners will use will be their 220-volt electric outlets. As vehicles are in use during the day and parked at night when they would normally be recharging, they cannot benefit from the home-based solar roof-top system. The alternative would be to install a battery storage system to store the energy produced by the solar cells during the daytime and use it to charge the vehicles at night which is highly cost-prohibitive and inefficient.

The future of the transportation world indeed lies in EVs and the question is how Pakistan can best prepare for that future. As the technology will take many years to fully mature, Pakistan should make a gradual, phase-wise entry into the EV space.

As a first step, small-utility vehicles such as auto-rickshaws and motorcycles can be replaced with those that run on electricity and for this, the government should be ready to give the necessary subsidies as they will benefit the lower-income population. Electric auto-rickshaws, besides removing noise pollution, will improve the income of their owners by replacing expensive liquid fuels with a relatively cheaper electricity source although a full economic comparison with liquid fuels is not available.

The motor-cycle owners too, belonging to the low-income class, would benefit from any financial incentive, especially those who use their bikes to make a living. Next, smaller size compact passenger EVs will make sense for Pakistan’s situation as they offer the advantage of replacing oversized, old passenger cars and cause lesser traffic congestion on the roads.

These types of vehicles use relatively smaller batteries and their charging will not be as cumbersome as large passenger vehicles. New business activities, eg stations where fully charged batteries can be swapped with depleted batteries must be actively promoted. Such battery-swapping “on-the-go” would be especially convenient for two- and three-wheelers and small passenger cars due to their smaller sizes.

In terms of investment opportunities, Pakistan can build an indigenous manufacturing base of small EVs and their related industries, namely batteries and charging stations. Due to a larger market of such vehicles, it would be financially viable to develop an indigenous production capability that can be later on geared towards export sales.

Meanwhile, the import of EV passenger vehicles should not be encouraged as they require a substantial foreign exchange due to their high cost. There is a need to carefully tread on the path to the wide-scale adoption of EVs as the storage technology is still evolving and it is possible that Lithium-ion will be replaced by some other technology.

However, as an interim measure, until domestic manufacturing capability is created, the import of batteries for small-size vehicles may be encouraged. A focused and carefully formulated strategy will ensure that EVs bring maximum economic benefit, including investment and employment to Pakistan.

Teenage gunman kills 18 children at Texas elementary school

Teenage gunman kills 18 children at Texas elementary school

Teenage gunman kills 18 children at Texas elementary school

UVALDE: A teenage gunman opened fire in a south Texas elementary school on Tuesday, killing at least 18 children and one adult, before he was also killed, officials said, the latest mass murder as the United States is gripped by an epidemic gun violence.

Governor Greg Abbott said the suspect, identified as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was apparently killed by police officers responding to the scene, and that two officers were struck by gunfire, though the governor said their injuries were not serious.

Authorities said the suspect acted alone.

The confusion of the moment saw the accounts of the death toll vary until the state attorney general’s office in an official statement put the tally of lives lost at 18 children and two adults, including the shooter. Judging from the grades of the students enrolled at the school, the children ranged in age from 7 to 10.

The motive for the massacre was not immediately known.

Law enforcement work the scene after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Photo— Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images/AFP

The carnage unfolded just 10 days after 10 people were killed in Buffalo, New York, in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Authorities have charged an 18-year-old man who they said had traveled hundreds of miles to Buffalo and opened fire with an assault-style rifle at a grocery store.

Official details remained sketchy about the circumstances of the late morning shooting at Robb Elementary School in the town of Uvalde, Texas, about 80 miles west of San Antonio.

Abbott said the suspect was believed to have abandoned his vehicle and entered the school armed with a handgun, and possibly a rifle, before opening fire.

Texas Public Safety Department Sergeant Erick Estrada, appearing on CNN for an interview, said police saw the suspect emerge from a car he crashed near the school, carrying a rifle and a backpack, and “engaged” with him before he entered the south side of the school and started firing. Estrada said the gunman was wearing body armor.

Investigators believe Ramos shot and killed his grandmother before going to the school, CBS News reported, citing unidentified law enforcement sources.

“It is being reported that the subject shot his grandmother right before he went into the school,” Abbott told reporters. “I have no further information about the connection between those two shootings.”

University Hospital in San Antonio said on Twitter that it had received two patients from the shooting in Uvalde, a 66-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl, both listed in critical condition.

US President Joe Biden, who ordered flags flown at half-staff until sunset daily until May 28 in observance of the tragedy, planned to address the nation about the shooting on Tuesday evening, the White House said.

The student body at the Texas school consists of children in the second, third and fourth grades, according to Pete Arredondo, chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, who also addressed reporters.

Hours after the shooting, police had cordoned off the school with yellow tape. Police cruisers and emergency vehicles were scattered around the perimeter of the school grounds. Uniformed personnel stood in small clusters, some in camouflage carrying semi-automatic weapons.

The Texas rampage is the latest in a series of mass shootings in US schools that have shocked the world and fueled a fierce debate between advocates of tighter gun controls and those who oppose any legislation that could compromise the constitutional right of Americans to bear arms.

The shooting in Texas was one of the deadliest at a US school since a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, in a rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012. In 2018, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 students and educators.

Firearms became the leading cause of death for US children and adolescents in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, according to a University of Michigan research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month.

A sheriff checks his phone as he sits on the sidewalk with two women outside Robb Elementary School. Photo— allison dinner / AFP

The day’s horrors were reflected on the Facebook page of Robb Elementary School.

Earlier this week, its posts showed the usual student activities – a trip to the zoo for second-graders and a save-the-date for a gifted-and-talented showcase. But on Tuesday, a note was posted at 11:43 am. “Please know at this time Robb Elementary is under a Lockdown Status due to gunshots in the area. The students and staff are safe in the building.”

A second post was more explicit: “There is an active shooter at Robb Elementary. Law enforcement is on site.” Administrators asked parents to stay away. And finally, a note was posted advising parents that they could meet their children at the small city’s civic center.

Dissident MPs’ votes not to be counted, Article 63(A) cannot be interpreted in isolation: SC

Dissident MPs’ votes not to be counted, Article 63(A) cannot be interpreted in isolation: SC

Supreme Court of Pakistan building. —
Supreme Court of Pakistan building. —
ISLAMABAD: In a major development, the Supreme Court of Pakistan Tuesday ruled that the votes of dissident members of the Parliament (MPs), cast against their parliamentary party’s directives, cannot be counted.

The court, issuing its verdict on the presidential reference seeking the interpretation of Article 63(A) of the Constitution related to defecting lawmakers, said that the law cannot be interpreted in isolation.

The apex court wrapped up the hearing of the reference today, which was filed by President Arif Alvi on March 21. The hearings continued for 58 days since its filing.

Questions asked in reference
Can defected parliamentarians be allowed to vote?
Will defected MPs vote be given equal weightage?
Can defected MPs be disqualified for life?
Other measures that can be taken to curb vote-buying?
In a 3:2 split decision, three judges — Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Ijazul Ahsan, and Justice Munib Akhtar — agreed that dissident members’ votes should not be counted.

Meanwhile, Justice Jamal Mandokhail and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel disagreed with the verdict.

Can defected parliamentarians be allowed to vote?
The SC stated that the first question deals with the “proper approach to be taken to the interpretation and application of Article 63(A) of the Constitution”.

On this, the bench ruled that the “provision cannot be read and applied in isolation and in a manner as though it is aloof from, or indifferent to, whatever else is provided in the Constitution”.

“Nor can Article 63(A) be understood and applied from the vantage point of the member who has earned opprobrium and faces legal censure as a defector by reason of his having acted or voted (or abstained from voting) in a manner contrary to what is required of him under clause (1) thereof. Rather, in its true perspective this Article is an expression in the Constitution itself of certain aspects of the fundamental rights that inhere in political parties under clause (2) of Article 17,” said the verdict.

The court said that the two provisions are intertwined. It explained that Article 63(A) acts to “protect, and ensure the continued coherence of, political parties in the legislative arena”. It added that the parties act “are the primary actors” in the parliamentary democracy.

“Political parties are an integral aspect of the bedrock on which our democracy rests. Their destabilisation tends to shake the bedrock, which can potentially put democracy itself in peril,” said the verdict.

The bench also stated that defections can “delegitimise parliamentary democracy itself”, adding that it condemns that act which is a “cancer afflicting the body politic”.

“They cannot be countenanced,” said the verdict.

“It follows that Article 63(A) must be interpreted in a purposive and robust manner, which accords with its spirit and intent. Ideally, the Article should not need to be invoked at all; its mere existence, a brooding presence, should be enough.

Put differently, the true measure of its effectiveness is that no member of a Parliamentary Party ever has to be declared a defector. Article 63(A) should therefore be given that interpretation and application as accords with and is aligned as closely as possible to, the ideal situation.”

The verdict further added that the “pith and substance of Article 63(A) is to enforce the fundamental right of political parties under Article 17 that, in particular in the legislative arena, their cohesion be respected, and protected from unconstitutional and unlawful assaults, encroachments and erosions.

It must, therefore, be interpreted and applied in a broad manner, consistent with fundamental rights. It also follows that if at all there is any conflict between the fundamental rights of the collectivity (i.e., the political party) and an individual member thereof it is the former that must prevail. The first question is answered accordingly.”

Will defected MPs vote be given equal weightage?
On the second question, the bench ruled in its “view” an MP’s vote cast contrary to party directions “cannot be counted and must be disregarded”.

“This is so regardless of whether the party head, subsequent to such vote, proceeds to take, or refrains from taking, an action that would result in a declaration of defection. The second question referred to this Court stands answered in the foregoing terms,” the court said.

Can defected MPs be disqualified for life?
In response to the third question regarding the disqualification of members, the top court rejected the PTI’s plea, saving the lawmakers from permanently being barred from the Parliament.

The bench said that in its opinion a “declaration of defection” under Article 63(A) can be dealt with by the “appropriate law made by Parliament”.

“While it is for Parliament to enact such legislation it must be said that it is high time that such a law is placed on the statute book. If such legislation is enacted it should not amount to a mere slap on the wrist but must be a robust and proportionate response to the evil that it is designed to thwart and eradicate,” said the verdict.

Other measures that can be taken to curb vote-buying?
The fourth question submitted by the president was returned by the court as it was “stated in terms” that were “vague, and too broad and general”.

Minority decision
The minority judgement — issued by Justice Mandokhail and Justice Miankhel — noted that Article 63(A) is a “complete code in itself, which provides a comprehensive procedure regarding defection of a member of the Parliament and consequences thereof”.

“Any further interpretation of Article 63(A) of the Constitution, in our view, would amount to re-writing or reading into the Constitution and will also affect the other provisions of the Constitution, which has not even been asked by the president through this reference”.

“Therefore, it is not our mandate. We see no force in the questions asked through this presidential reference, which are answered in the negative. However, if the Parliament deems fit or appropriate may impose further bar or restrictions upon the defectors,” said the minority judgment.

The reference
The former PTI-led government had decided to approach the SC for clarity on Article 63(A) as several PTI lawmakers announced to vote on the no-trust motion against then prime minister Imran Khan — a violation of the party policy.

Despite their decision of not siding with their leader, none of the PTI MNAs had cast their votes of no-confidence against Khan, as the then opposition already had the required 172 votes to oust him.

In the reference, the government sought the apex court’s opinion on two interpretations of Article 63(A) and which one should be adopted and implemented to achieve the constitutional objective of curbing the menace of defections, purification of the electoral process, and democratic accountability.

Related items
Article 63(A): Country needs stable govt to progress, says CJP Bandial
Article 63(A): Violation of Article 63(G) bigger crime than defection, says SC judge
Article 63(A): We have to take country towards ‘mature democracy’, says CJP Bandial
The reference stated if the constitutional disapproval and prohibition against defection were effectively enforced with deterrence for the future as well, many such members would stand disqualified for life under Article 62(1)(f) and would never be able to pollute democratic streams.

What is Article 63(A)?
Article 63(A) of the Constitution of Pakistan deals with the defection of parliamentarians.

According to the article, a lawmaker can be disqualified on the grounds of defection if they vote or abstain from voting in the House contrary to any direction issued by the parliamentary party to which they belong.

However, this is restricted to three instances where they have to follow the party’s directions:

Election of the prime minister or chief minister;
Vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence;
Money bill or a Constitution (amendment) bill.
Per the article, the head of the party is required to present a written declaration that the MNA concerned has defected.

However, prior to presenting the declaration, the head of the party will have to give the MNA concerned a chance to explain the reasons for defection.

Following that, the party chief will then forward the written declaration to the speaker, who would, in turn, hand it over to the chief election commissioner (CEC).

The CEC will have 30 days at their disposal to confirm the declaration. Once confirmed, the MNA concerned will no longer be a member of the House and their “seat shall become vacant”.

Pakistan has great strengths to overcome challenges: Reza Baqir

Pakistan has great strengths to overcome challenges: Reza Baqir

Finance Minister Miftah Ismail announces that SBP Governor Dr Reza Baqir’s three-year will expire today.
“I have spoken to him and told him of the government’s decision,” Ismail says.
Dr Baqir was appointed as the governor of the central bank by President Arif Alvi on May 4, 2019.
ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail Tuesday announced that no extension has been granted to Reza Baqir as State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) governor as his three-year tenure expires today (Wednesday).

Taking to his official Twitter handle on Tuesday, Ismail revealed that SBP Governor Dr Reza Baqir’s three-year will expire May 4.

“I have spoken to him and told him of the government’s decision,” he wrote, acknowledging his efforts during these three years.

“I want to thank Reza for his service to Pakistan. He is an exceptionally qualified man [and] we worked well during our brief time together. I wish him the very best,” the finance minister wrote.

Read more: What is SBP Governor Reza Baqir’s monthly income?

Earlier, citing sources, The News had reported that the government was considering an extension in Dr Baqir’s tenure until a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is finalised.”

Sources had confirmed the publication that efforts were underway for securing a second term for Dr Baqir, a former executive of IMF, and the government was likely to consider, “a few months” extension in his tenure as a “stop-gap arrangement”.

Who is Reza Baqir?
Dr Baqir was appointed as the governor of the central bank by President Arif Alvi on May 4, 2019, for a period of three years from the day he assumes the office of the Governor. He assumed his responsibilities on May 5, 2019.

In addition to his regular responsibilities overseeing financial and monetary stability in the country and promoting sustainable economic growth, Dr Baqir had led several key new initiatives at the State Bank since assuming office. These include:

An aggressive, targeted, and timely economic support package in response to COVID-19;
Creation of the Roshan Digital Account initiative to digitally onboard Pakistan’s diaspora into Pakistan’s banking system and provide incentives to use formal channels to remit and invest in Pakistan;
Launch and implementation of the National Payments Strategy to promote the digitisation of financial services in Pakistan including a faster payment system Raast;
Creation of a comprehensive programme to promote the construction and housing finance, especially for low-income segments of society;
Development of a dedicated policy to reduce the gender gap in financial inclusion called Banking on Equality, as well as several other initiatives.
Prior to this appointment, Dr Baqir had eighteen years of experience with the IMF and two years of experience with the World Bank. He was the Head of the IMF’s Office in Egypt and Senior Resident Representative since August 2017.

Read more: SBP governor pledges ‘timely policy actions’ amid political crisis

He had also held positions as IMF’s Mission Chief for Romania and Bulgaria, Division Chief of the IMF’s Debt Policy Division, Strategy, Policy and Review Department, overseeing IMF’s work on debt relief and sovereign debt restructuring, head of the IMF delegation to the Paris Club for four years, and Deputy Division Chief of the Emerging Markets Division overseeing IMF’s loans and policies in emerging markets, amongst other roles.

Dr Baqir represented the State Bank of Pakistan on the Board of Directors of the Asian Clearing Union, the Board of Governors of the Economic Cooperation Organization Trade and Development Bank, the Council of Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB), the Financial Stability Regional Consultative Group for Asia, and the IMF’s Board of Governors.

He was appointed as Chairman of the General Assembly of the prestigious Islamic Financial Services Board for 2022.

Pakistan has great strengths to effectively address the multiple challenges it has been facing, Reza Baqir said on Wednesday upon the completion of his term as the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) governor.

Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue Miftah Ismail Tuesday announced that no extension has been granted to Reza Baqir as the SBP governor as his three-year tenure expires today.

Taking to Twitter on Tuesday midnight, Baqir voiced hope that Pakistan will make the right decisions to overcome the challenges.

“We face several challenges but also have great strengths as a country to address them. I am confident and hopeful that we as a country will make the right choices to overcome the challenges ahead of us,” he wrote.

He also expressed gratitude for successfully completing his three-year term as the central bank’s governor and urged overseas Pakistanis to contribute in public service.
Baqir listed down multiple initiatives that he lead during his tenure as the SBP head. The initiatives are as follows:
Roshan Digital Account to connect overseas Pakistanis with our banks
Raast, Pakistan’s first instant and free payment system.
Framework to license digital banks in Pakistan — a first that promotes inclusion and innovation.
Financial inclusion especially of women with Banking on Equality
Promotion of affordable mortgages for low-income people. Check here
Institutional strengthening of SBP by hiring three top-class deputy governors
Who is Reza Baqir?
Dr Baqir was appointed as the governor of the central bank by President Arif Alvi on May 4, 2019, for a period of three years from the day he assumes the office of the Governor. He assumed his responsibilities on May 5, 2019.

In addition to his regular responsibilities overseeing financial and monetary stability in the country and promoting sustainable economic growth, Dr Baqir had led several key new initiatives at the State Bank since assuming office which are mentioned above.

Prior to this appointment, Dr Baqir had eighteen years of experience with the IMF and two years of experience with the World Bank. He was the Head of the IMF’s Office in Egypt and Senior Resident Representative since August 2017.

He had also held positions as IMF’s Mission Chief for Romania and Bulgaria, Division Chief of the IMF’s Debt Policy Division, Strategy, Policy and Review Department, overseeing IMF’s work on debt relief and sovereign debt restructuring, head of the IMF delegation to the Paris Club for four years, and Deputy Division Chief of the Emerging Markets Division overseeing IMF’s loans and policies in emerging markets, amongst other roles.

Dr Baqir represented the State Bank of Pakistan on the Board of Directors of the Asian Clearing Union, the Board of Governors of the Economic Cooperation Organization Trade and Development Bank, the Council of Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB), the Financial Stability Regional Consultative Group for Asia, and the IMF’s Board of Governors.

He was appointed as Chairman of the General Assembly of the prestigious Islamic Financial Services Board for 2022.