European “Acquis Diplomatique”

The question of “acquis diplomatique”, which is the realm of a collective European foreign policy making, and whether “there is a coherent European foreign and defence policy”, is a relevant one. If it wasn’t relevant a decade ago, it is becoming more and more relevant in the coming decades. This relevance needs to be the guiding force for Pakistani foreign policy stakeholders going forward. Pakistan must plan for this eventuality from today. The EU-Pakistan Five-Year Engagement Plan is just a beginning in this realisation. Its optimal execution is largely dependent on Pakistan’s fiscal discipline.

 

There is a definite realisation within some European countries led by Germany (11/27) that there is a need for such a unified purpose and this realisation became clear earlier in September when a 12-page document detailing recommendations was pushed by this group: “To make the EU into a real actor on the global scene we believe that we should in the long-term introduce more majority decisions in the common foreign and security policy sphere, or at least prevent one single member state from being able to obstruct initiatives.”

 

Contrasting to this initiative is the fiercely independent and nationalistic sovereign stands of countries like UK and France. These two mostly lead and ‘go it alone’ on issues which are divisive within the Union. Coupled with this trend and, in fact, the reason for this trend is the cohesiveness of the concept of Europe itself. The European countries transformed in 2011 from being the solution to the problem when the European leaders failed to reassure the world about the sustainability of the Euro. Economics lead politics as is often said. And there could be no better example of this than when due to the Euro Zone issues European foreign policy shifted from being a subject to an object. If Europe was forced to go with a begging bowl to the IMF and China for contributions for a bailout, its initiative on a unified foreign policy was certainly lost in the process.

 

However, what is uniquely European is the search for this joint identity. Since there is a belief in this unity of purpose being most beneficial for member states, there will always be a strong drive within the EU to achieve this difficult goal. Europe, after all, is a collection of nations striving for a joint nationhood. It is unlikely that the sovereign nation concept will melt into a pan-European nationhood immediately, but when the benefits of a joint foreign-defence-security strategy outweigh the charms of solo policies, this will become a reality. When the enemy strikes hard at the European defence lines, this joint policy will become a necessity.

 

Pakistan’s EU Engagement Plan is well meaning and balanced. Let us examine it critically. What will lead the plan is the “Regular Strategic Dialogue between the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Foreign Minister of Pakistan.” These meetings are not just symbolic of a will to work together on trade, investment, good governance, institutional strengthening, national security related issues. These meetings are key for providing the right impetus in all sectors of joint action. The Foreign Minister’s intellect, independence, initiative, institutional memory and mainly negotiation acumen is as key as the ability of the rest of the government to implement that drive. The current outstanding on this relationship are the package of Autonomous Trade Preferences (ATPs) for Pakistan offered by the EU in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 floods. And the GSP+ scheme which Pakistan needs to be considered for in 2014. It is clear that “comprehensive cooperation in areas related to stability and security, in particular counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics” are as important as “cooperation and exchange expertise on the functioning of civilian democratic bodies and safeguarding fundamental human rights and opposing extremist intolerance.” All are dependent on having real leadership in Pakistan to deliver on these grandiose cooperation agendas.

 

Whilst Pakistan is clearly lacking on delivering on this Pak-EU Engagement Plan due to the deficiencies of the current Pakistani leadership, the Europeans are also struggling with the “acquis diplomatique” for a coherent foreign policy narrative. The European foreign policy actors proposed earlier this year the strategy of “money, markets, mobility.” It was, in essence, the principle of “more for more.” This showcased their will to build “deep democracy” with their subjects. It has had a bumpy start, as the EU cohesiveness scorecards clearly demonstrate. The will of the European powers to deliver a joint strategy in Syria, Libya and Iran contrast heavily with their failures to react in time to the Arab uprisings. Their checkered pasts of having supported dictators in these countries had to fast convert into their support for populist movements.

 

Moreover, European interventions in Libya proved that they were largely dependent on US for military assets such as refuelling, targeting and jamming capabilities. What needs to be worth noting from a Pakistan-Afghanistan regional perspective is that European countries will continue to have this “capability deficit” going forward due to the drastic cuts in their defence budgets.

 

Pakistan needs to factor in the fact that European foreign policy cohesiveness is more apparent when there is an alliance between big countries and small ones. And that this cohesiveness is least shown, since big countries like to go their own way. Examples of such incidences which reduce European power projections are many. The UK, for instance, led a diplomatic assault to block the EEAS, which was EU’s new diplomatic service from speaking on behalf of the EU at the UN or the OSCE. France led the diplomatic offensive against Turkey on the Armenian issue, which made the EU-Turkish cooperation difficult. Germany blocked EIB funds, thus impacting European support for Arab populist movements. We have often seen “selective diplomacy”, which means that meetings are informal and selective in their choice of country representatives. The pooling and sharing of resources for defence exist on paper, but defence cuts in European countries make this an exercise in futility.

 

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is often accused of lacking a proactive approach, but to be fair to Ms Catherine Ashton it is difficult to lead European nations, who are divided on political issues and who are not eager to commit resources.

 

There is already a lot of talk about the German Europe, since Germany is largely seen as the “geo-economic” power, which uses economic means to pursue foreign policy goals. Each country in the European Union needs to converge on this key issue and find similarities on export-driven strategy. Pakistan needs to respond to this economic strategy by doing a detailed study of which blocs in EU are best suited for its own export-led strategy. This is the new paradigm shift that needs to be Pakistan’s initiative to the European Euro Zone and one nation crisis. And this is what the PML-N will concentrate on. For reasons which are largely economies of scale related, Pakistan can win foreign exchange if it successfully executes “FDI-export cluster strategy” for the EU as a bloc and not just concentrate on bilateral export strategy.

 

The economy of the EU generates a GDP of over Euro 12.629 trillion, according to the IMF, making it the largest economy in the world. The EU is represented as a unified entity in the WTO. The EU is the largest exporter in the world. Instead of Pakistan being in a position to take advantage of this economic power bloc its own exports to the EU fell to $5.957 billion in 2011-2012 with a decline of 8.87 percent. It is highly regrettable that Pakistan only managed to get from the EU countries investment during 2010-11 to the tune of a dismal $230 million. Sorting the economic statistics between Pakistan and EU will be a key priority of the PML-N when it gets to federal government in the next elections.

 

Ensuring that the dependence on aid from the EU is minimised will also be a key priority of the PML-N. We have often maintained as a party policy that aid is not the answer to our problems, but the current corrupt government has made it routine standard operating procedure to syphon of the aid coming for its poorest.

 

On the security side, there is no doubt that a deeper engagement with Europe as far as Nato’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is necessary to balance the unipolar effects of US policy. However, the defence budget dynamics of the European countries will be the main denominators of this equation. Pakistan must secure for itself an understanding with the EU defence stakeholders the objections it has to the Indo-Afghan encirclement strategy, as is clearly demonstrated in the recent Agreement on Strategic Partnership between Afghanistan and India.

 

Moreover, the EU commitment to democratic institutionalisation is something the PML-N considers itself best poised to undertake, since unlike the other parties its commitment to democracy is unflinching and consistent. This commitment will be tested in the by-elections and the elections in the coming months.

 

It is clear that whilst the EU undertakes its own balanced scorecard review of its own cohesiveness on foreign policy, Pakistan will have to poise itself as an eager customer for EU’s FDI/trade and eager partner in securing the region with its help. Pakistan cannot afford to ignore the following trends in the EU: “A radical overhaul of European foreign and defence policies to create a powerful new pan-European foreign ministry, majority voting on common foreign policies to bypass a British veto, a possible European army, and a single market for EU defence industries.” Pakistan must respond keeping the economy and security as key priorities using the “FDI-export cluster strategy” as the main paradigm.

 

Article published in The Nation on Nov 17, 2012. ~ Marvi Memon

The Issue Of Alleged Tax Evasion Of Rs. 47 Billion By Telecom Companies

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SECRETARIAT

 

REPORT OF THE SUB-COMMITTEE OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY REGARDING THE ISSUE OF ALLEGED TAX EVASION OF RS. 47 BILLION BY TELECOM COMPANIES”.

 

I, the Convener of the Sub-Committee of the Standing Committee on Information Technology have the honour to submit, on behalf of the Sub-Committee, this report regarding “The issue of tax evasion of RS. 47 billion by Telecom Companies” referred to the Sub-Committee on 7th August, 2012.

 

2.       The Sub-Committee comprises the following Members:

 

i)        Mrs. Anusha Rahman Khan (Advocate)     Convener

ii)       Sardar Muhammad Shafqat Hayat Khan    Member

iii)      Ch. Iftikhar Nazir                                                 Member

iv)      Pir Syed Fazal Ali Shah Jeelani                      Member

v)       Dr. Talat Mahesar                                                Member

 

  1. The Sub-Committee discussed the issue of alleged tax evasion of RS. 47 billion by Telecom Companies with FBR, NAB, CEOs of Telecom Companies and the Tax Representatives of Telecom Companies: A. F. FERGUSON & Company, Chartered Accountants, a member of firm of PWC network.

The matter was discussed in detail in sub-committee meetings held on 29th August, 4th & 13th September and 9th October, 2012.

 

SOLUTION: A proposal of Alternate Dispute Resolution was discussed with all stake holders to resolve this contentious matter. Both FBR and Telecom companies agreed to settle the issue of chargeability of FED on interconnect tax revenue dispute, out of Court by invoking ADR.

 

Alternate Dispute Resolution Mechanism is only available for matters pending adjudication in Court only. It was further agreed and accepted by the FBR, that once a decision is taken on chargeability of FED on interconnection revenue through ADR, the same principal would be made applicable to all the Telecom Companies.

 

It was decided that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) would continue to investigate criminal aspects of the matter, determining whether non transparent steps were involved in allowing exemptions/issuance of waiver notification from FED/Sales Tax on interconnect revenue accruing from interconnect services rendered by Telecom Operators to each others.

 

The Summary comments of FBR, NAB and Tax Representatives of Telecom Companies on the subject issue are as under:-

 

4.           Briefing by FBR: Mr. Ali Arshad Hakeem, Chairman FBR expressed concern over the issue of alleged Tax Evasion of RS. 47 billion by the Telecom Companies. FBR informed that the said amount of Rs. 47 Billion is estimated FED/Sales Tax chargeable on interconnect revenue, and has come to surface after observing Audit reports of only 2 Telecom Companies, and from limited record of certain Telecom Companies. The issue of chargeability of FED on interconnection revenue relates to all Telecom companies that provide telecommunication services to the subscribers. Federal Excise Act, 2005 regulates this matter. However, in order to fully determine the amount and ambit of chargeability of FED/Sales Tax on interconnect revenue, FBR needs access to the accounts of all the Telecom Companies to ascertain what exactly the FED on interconnecting revenue should be, and whether interconnecting revenue is taxable amount or interconnecting revenue will have zero sum effect as alleged by the Telecom Companies. However, Telecom Companies have gone to Court on this issue and have procured stay/restraining orders in this regard against Tax Authorities, hence it is not possible for the FBR to ascertain the exact amount/scope of the Tax which may be many times over and above the said Rs. 47 Billion.

 

FBR further informed that this matter of chargeability of FED on interconnecting revenue should have been looked into at the time interconnect was introduced around 2005. But FBR was negligent and did not look into the matter at that time. In the event the amount and scope is finally determined, at this stage no tax could be recoverable from Telecom Companies for the period not taxed after lapse of three years when the tax first became due.

 

The Chairman FBR and the CEOs of the Mobile Companies assured the Sub-Committee that the issue of alleged tax evasion by the Telecom Companies would be amicably resolved through the constitution of Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee (ADRC). Chairman FBR assured that he will ensure a balance, and on cooperation by Telecom Companies, no coercive measures would be invoked. FBR and Telecom companies agreed to settle the tax dispute amicably out of Court.

 

ii)       Mr. Abdul Sattar Aora, is a representative of FBR and played a key role in this matter assisting the Ex Chairman FBR. He confirmed that copy of the draft waiver notification was prepared for allowing tax exemption to telecommunication companies, a copy of which was handed over to Tax Advisors of the telecom companies by the then Chairman FBR, Mr. Mumtaz Haider Rizvi, without having the said notification processed and gazetted before its formal issuance. Thereafter, waiver notification was withdrawn by the FBR.

 

Mr. Arora pointed out that they had issued the clarification after obtaining viewpoint of Sind Revenue Board. He informed that they daily receive a number of representations and queries for legal viewpoint on all the issues and it was a routine matter to issue clarifications to tax firms on the behalf of the business and trade they represented. FBR had to regularly guide taxpayers on legal matters for accurate payment of taxes. He urged that they had rightly interpreted the law, and issued the waiver notification which was later withdrawn by FBR.

 

iii)      Mr. Shahid Hussain Asad:– Ex-Member In-land Revenue, FBR apprised the Committee that he signed the file of the notification when it reached from the office of Chairman, FBR to him, as he was the competent authority to sign the notification and he was bound to follow the official procedure. He clarified that he was not engaged in meetings with CEO’s or tax consultants/advisors of the Telecom Companies however, he had received the file for singing of the draft notification for allowing tax exemption from Ex-Chairman,FBR. Similarly, on the directions of Ex-Chairman, FBR he cancelled the said notification on 3rd July, 2012.

 

5.       Mr. Mumtaz Haider Rizvi, Ex-Chairman, FBR admitted that he was Chairman, FBR at that time when the waiver notification was issued in favour of the Telecom Companies. He informed that tax on interconnecting revenue was due against Telecom companies since 2005 but FBR was unable to collect it from them. He admitted the negligence of FBR in this regard and apologized from the Committee for this negligence. He informed that he held meetings with Tax Representatives of telecom companies on chargeability of FED on interconnecting revenue, and the Telecom Companies committed to deposit the FED/Sales Tax of Rs 7-8 billion, but they cheated, and the Telecom Companies instead deposited Rs 6.5 billion only as an Advance Income tax, which was adjustable. He said that it was not his job to check under which head the amount was deposited by the Telecom Companies. He also admitted that it was a mistake on the part of FBR authorities to issue the waiver notification under Section 65 of the Sales Tax, 1990, but he was not part of the decision for issuing of Waiver Notification to grant exemption to Telecom Companies as he was called by the Prime Minister Secretariat on that day for another official task when the notification of waiver was signed and given to the Telecom Companies.

 

6.       Briefing by the Telecom Companies:- Telecom Companies were represented by their CEOs, and their Tax Advisors (detail supra) who were engaged in negotiations with the FBR. The Tax Advisors informed the Sub-Committee that mobile phone companies had invested around $15 billion in Pakistan for development of state of the art mobile phone infrastructure in early years. Some times their companies had to bear losses but they never tried to avoid depositing tax. Mobile phone companies were paying 5 percent withholding tax & 19.5 percent of Federal Excise Duty (FED) on their services. Moreover, they were paying corporate income tax and sales tax as well.

 

It was urged by the Tax Advisors of the Telecom Companies that Pakistan was the only country where separate tax on interconnecting revenue was being demanded and termed tax on interconnecting revenue as double taxation as it was the part of the FED paid at the rate of 19.5 percent. It was clarified that Telecom Companies had not denied providing any audited accounts to PTA/FBR, and were ready to share all accounts with all concerned departments.

 

The Tax advisor/representatives stated that on June 27, 2012 their meeting was held with Chairman FBR and others on this issue and some understanding was reached. After which these Tax Advisors filed a letter on June 29, 2012 with the Chief Commissioner, LTU for grant of waiver under Section 65 of the Sales Act, 1990. On June 30, 2012, an amount was deposited with FBR by Telecom Companies, and the said waiver notification was signed and copy was handed by the then Chairman FBR to the Tax Representatives of the Telecom Companies on the same day.

 

The CEOs of the Telecom Companies who were present in the meeting, including Telenor, China Mobile, Warid, Ufone, Mobilink, assured the Committee that they had no intention of evading any tax, they believe in conducting transparent business in Pakistan, that their accounts were transparent and they would extend full cooperation to the authorities in resolution of the said matter.

 

7.       Briefing by NAB:-            Mr. Zahir Shah, Director, Special Operations, NAB briefly apprised the Committee that National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was investigating the criminal aspect of alleged Rs 47 billion tax evasion by Telecom Companies to ascertain whether kickbacks were taken on allowing tax exemption/waiver on interconnection revenue. He informed that the Bureau would examine the actual extent of loss caused to the national exchequer and affix responsibility for granting exemption to Telecom Companies. He informed that NAB took notice on a media report and inquiry was initiated on the direction of the Chairman, NAB. Moreover, the NAB was analyzing various aspects of the case, particularly why the waiver notification was issued in such haste, without first getting the notification gazetted officially,  against what understanding and by whom. The waiver notification was later cancelled which was initially approved by the FBR. He informed that relevant record had been obtained from the FBR for initiating inquiry and outcome of the inquiry report would be shared with the Sub-Committee.

 

8.       Briefing by PTA: PTA informed that it is not their mandate to over see tax relatedmatters of the Telecom Companies, and it is an issue to be settled between Telecom Companies and Tax Authorities.

 

9.       Observation of the Sub-Committee:- The Sub-Committee observed that the issue of alleged tax evasion of 47 billion appears to be internally mishandled between FBR and Large Tax Unit (LTU). Notification for granting waiver of FED/Sales Tax under Section 65 of Sales Tax Act, 1990 on interconnecting revenue accruing from Interconnect Services bilaterally provided by telecom operators to each other, appears to have been signed in haste, and was handed to the Telecom Companies without first being notified in official Gazette. Later within a couple of days the same signed waiver notification, was cancelled by FBR. Additionally, the Committee was informed that the Telecom Companies used this waiver notification for litigation against Tax authorities.

 

The Sub-Committee was of the view that it was not possible that FBR officials signed waiver Notification without the consent of their then Chairman. It also requires a probe under what terms and conditions the waiver notification was granted by FBR to Telecom Companies, when the matter was already sub-judice.  However, as this matter is being investigated by the NAB therefore, the Committee may wait for the outcome of the NAB inquiry report.

 

The Sub-Committee also expressed concern over the tax advisors engaged in talks with FBR in order to settle their disputes with Telecom Companies, as they appear to be confusing the matter.

 

The Sub-Committee appreciated the efforts of current Chairman, FBR for his attempt to resolve the issue of alleged tax evasion out of court through Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee (ADRC), instead of exercising coercive measures against Telecom Companies to recover the alleged amount.

 

The Sub-Committee recommended that the Telecom companies should cooperate with FBR, so that it can be determined whether FED is chargeable on interconnecting revenue from interconnect services rendered by telecom companies to each other, and if so, what exact amounts may be due as FED/Sales Tax on interconnect services.

 

The Sub-Committee also appreciated the efforts of NAB for holding an impartial inquiry to probe into the matter so that culprits could be penalized accordingly. The Sub-Committee recommended that NAB may finalize its inquiry report at the earliest.

 

A follow up meeting of the Sub-Committee was held on October 9, 2012 to ascertain whether the ADR Committee was in place. The FBR informed that Mobilink and Ufone have filed applications aspiring to invoke ADR. However, Ufone is not in litigation and do not qualify to invoke ADR. The ADR Committee will be announced soon and the process will be rolled. The decision of the ADR Committee can be made applicable to all the Telecom Companies.

 

10.     I would like to thank the efforts of M/o IT, FBR, NAB, PTA for extending full cooperation to the Sub-Committee. I would like to thank the Honorable Members of the Sub-Committee for their keen interest which enabled Sub-Committee to finalize its report in short span of time.

 

11.     After detailed deliberations on the subject issue, the Sub-Committee made the following recommendations.

 

 RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE SUB-COMMITTEE

i)             The issuance of waiver notification is contentious and, its issuance process appears to be non-transparent requiring a probe. Since NAB is already engaged in the matter, they should proceed as per the law;

 

ii)           The FBR to forthwith determine whether or not interconnecting Revenue/ interconnect services rendered bilaterally by the Telecom Companies to each other is chargeable with FED/Sales Tax. The Committee recommends that Telecom Companies should cooperate with FBR so that whether or not FED/Sales Tax is chargeable on interconnecting revenue can be determined.

 

iii)          This issue would be amicably resolved through the constitution of Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee (ADRC) and no coercive measures would be taken by FBR against the Telecom Companies,  unless it becomes inevitable due to non cooperation of Telecom Companies to resolve the matter as per the law, rules and regulations.

 

iv)          FBR to take action against those officials of FBR whether serving or transferred or retired who were responsible for looking into the matter of determining FED/Sales Tax on interconnecting revenue for interconnect services of Telecom Companies since 2005, but they did not take any steps in this regard. If it is determined now that interconnecting revenue is taxable, this would then mean a huge loss to the Public exchequer as now the earlier period gets attracted by the limitation provided in FBR laws and no recoveries can be made for that period.

 

v)            The Committee recommends NAB to finalize its inquiry report at the earliest.

 

vi)          The sub-committee may continue to function in order to oversee this matter, till its expeditious and judicious disposal.

 

12.    The Sub-Committee hereby unanimously recommends that the Standing Committee may consider the above recommendations accordingly.

Ahsan Iqbal unveils economic revival plan of PML (N) at ICCI

Islamabad: Economic team of Pakistan Muslim League (N) on Friday visited Islamabad Chamber of Commerce & Industry (ICCI) for sharing economic vision of their party with business community of Federal Capital. The team consisted of Ahsan Iqbal, Deputy Secretary General PML (N), Kamal Ahmed, former Country Head Microsoft Pakistan and Engr.Khurram Dastagir Khan, Member National Assembly and Chairman Standing Committee on Commerce.


Speaking on the occasion,Ahsan Iqbal said that the role of business community is crucial for the progress and prosperity of the country as world is moving from geo-political structure to geo-economic system. He reiterated his party’s will of reforming current economic condition of the country by protecting investors and public interests. He further said PML-N’s economic team has prepared a comprehensive economic revival plan for uplift of the country’s economy.

He said that Pakistan was currently facing a serious energy crisis due to inconsistent policies of the government. Mr.Ahsan Iqbal said that PML-N has unveiled a roadmap to drive the country out of the current crises by adopting prudent economic policies and focusing on three main sectors i.e. energy, economy and education also mentioned as 3E Strategy which would help steer the country come out of the current challenges.

Engr.Khurram Dastagir khan said that Pakistan needs an economically literate political party and PML (N) has prepared a progressive economic vision for the development of all sectors of the economy. Mr. Kamal Ahmed said that there is dire need to improve the export of software products as our neighbouring nation India is exporting software products having worth of $69.1 billion while Pakistan’s export of software products stood less than $2 billion.

In his keynote address, Yassar Sakhi Butt, President, ICCI said Pakistan is facing multiple issues hindering its way towards a robust economic development and acute energy crisis is one of the major area due to which the economy is badly suffering while trade and industry are struggling for survival.

President ICCI said that it is encouraging to know that PML-N has prepared a package for industrialists and an additional plan to offer interest-free loans for envisioned youth. These are commendable initiatives and will enable the industrialists as well as the youth of the country to be able to unleash their potential and play their part in the economic progress of the country, he maintained.

Ahmed Mukhtar’s brother joins PML-N

Former PIA chairman Ch. Ahmed Saeed, who is also brother of Federal Minister for Water and Power Ch. Ahmed Mukhtar, called on Pakistan Muslim League-N president Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif here on Monday.

During the meeting, expressing his full trust and confidence in the dynamic leadership of Nawaz Sharif, Ch. Ahmed Saeed announced joining the PML-N. Welcoming Ch. Ahmed Saeed into the fold of the party, Nawaz Sharif said that the popularity of PML-N was rapidly increasing and the people of Pakistan would soon express their complete confidence in the party leadership in the forthcoming general elections. On the occasion, Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif also welcomed Ch. Ahmed Saeed into the PML-N fold and hoped that his joining the party would further strengthen it.

Published in The News, September 25th, 2012.

CM for non-violent but strong protest against profane film

LAHORE, Sept 18: Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday asked the people of Punjab to protest against the profane movie like a living nation but urged them to remain non-violent and avoid damaging public property.

The chief minister was addressing matriculation examination top position holders from all education boards in Punjab as well as toppers from Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan at the Chief Minister’s Secretariat. As many as 133 top position holders received some Rs55 million as cash prizes at the ceremony.

Shahbaz Sharif regretted there were different ‘Pakistans’ for the elite and for the downtrodden. He said the elite including “myself” were enjoying best possible treatment abroad, while the poor were running from pillar to post for simple medical help.

He said that he pushed back Aitchisonians and Grammarians and brought forward orphans and other underprivileged children. He said he established 16 Daanish Schools – eight each for boys and girls – with a total cost of Rs4 billion. “Now Daanishians will outclass Aitchisonians,” he committed.

“Everybody is happy that position holders were being given hundreds of thousands of rupees as prize money and only a handful people were jealous of them,” he added.

He announced a house in Aashiyana Scheme for Muhammad Naeem, a top position holder of Multan board who had informed the chief minister and the audience that his house was razed due to heavy rain on Monday. Shahbaz reiterated that billions of rupees were being plundered by the federal government that was also discriminating against Punjab with regard to power load shedding.

He alleged Punjab’s industry and agriculture had been purposely harmed by the federal government. “In Punjab, we saved Rs50 billion from corruption,” he claimed. The chief minister said the Lahore Bus Rapid Transport Service was launched with a total cost of Rs30 billion, which did not include even a single penny from the federal government.

Referring to criticism against his anti-dengue efforts, he said the Punjab government’s hard work had considerably lowered dengue threat in the province as compared to the crisis witnessed last year.

Top position holders Mashriq Khan from Balochistan; Muhammad Saad Ayubi from Sindh; Sunaina Mir from Gilgit-Baltistan; Hamna Arshad from Khyber Pakhtunkhawa; Hasilpur Daanish School Class-VII topper Saeed Anwar and Multan board topper Muhammad Naeem also spoke on the occasion.

Each of the top-three position holders in different education boards were given Rs0.4, Rs0.3 and Rs0.2 million, respectively. The heads of institutions that clinched top three positions were also given Rs200,000, Rs150,000 and Rs100,000, cash prizes, respectively.

Published in The Dawn, September 19th, 2012.

Matric exams: CM distributes Rs55 million among 133 top students

Lahore: Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Tuesday distributed Rs55 million among 133 toppers of matriculation examinations.

In a ceremony that started two hours later at the CM’s Secretariat, Sharif pledged to continue working for the welfare of the people. “If working for the people is a sin, I will commit hundreds of such sins,” he said. The chief minister also spoke about the political opposition and the criticism he said his government faced over Danish Schools, the laptop scheme and the Metro Bus Service (the Bus Rapid Transit System).

Heads of several educational institutions, including the Government College University, the King Edward Medical College University and Kinnaird College, were also present. The award recipients were top three position holders from all eight education boards across the Punjab in secondary examinations and 109 other toppers from across the country. First position holders were awarded Rs400,000 and the second and third position holders Rs300,000 and Rs200,000, respectively. Heads of institutions whose students secured top three positions were awarded Rs200,000, Rs150,000 and Rs100,000, respectively.

“The state has a responsibility to provide education to all children,” Sharif said. He said it was for the fourth year the Punjab government was presenting the awards. He said recognising the achievement of top students was a revolution in its own right. Defending the Danish Schools scheme, Sharif said the objective was to educate children from humble backgrounds. He said 16 Danish Schools had been built at a cost of Rs500 million each. He said Rs10 billion had been allocated under the Punjab Educational Endowment Fund (PEEF) to provide scholarships to 35,000 children. The PEEF had also reserved quotas for AJK and GB, he said. He said the fund will facilitate students seeking to pursue higher education. “Why should only the rich make it to reputed institutes?” he asked.

The chief minister said that more than 100,000 laptops had been distributed to students on merit. Sharif regretted that the Punjab was being discriminated against by the federal government, particularly in the energy sector. “This isn’t provincialism I am talking about. These are the harsh realities,” he said.

Sharif claimed that governance in the Punjab was the most transparent in the country. He said Rs50 billion had been saved and invested in welfare projects. He said that more than Rs28 billion had been spent on Metro Bus Service, which he said, would provide quality transport. He said some political opponents had mocked the Punjab governments’ efforts in eradicating dengue fever and called the Sharif brothers ‘Dengue brothers’. He said this did not bother him or his party. The chief minister also announced that Muhammad Naeem, who topped the Multan board and had lost his house in the recent floods, would get a house in Ashiana Housing Scheme. Naeem is likely to be handed the keys to the house on Wednesday (today). Sharif also offered to provide a house in Naeem’s hometown, Pakpattan, if he did not wish to stay in Lahore.

By Aroosa Shaukat
Published in The Express Tribune, September 19th, 2012.