Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nato leaders endorse Afghanistan 2014 withdrawal date

Nato leaders have endorsed on Saturday a plan to start handing Afghan forces command of the war next year with the aim of ceding full control by 2014.
"We have launched the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters in their own house," Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference following a summit of Allied leaders in Lisbon.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, signed the plan along with Mr Rasmussen and Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general.

Earlier alliance leader suggested that Nato’s plan to wind down its combat mission was not set in stone, casting doubt on David Cameron’s fixed deadline for a British withdrawal. Despite Western leaders’ eagerness to leave Afghanistan, the Nato timetable remains conditional, dependent on the ability of the Kabul government to secure the country against the Taliban.

The Obama administration made clear that 2014 was only “an aspirational goal” and Nato’s secretary-general warned the West must remain committed in Afghanistan “as long as it takes”.

A senior Nato official also warned of “inevitable setbacks” in the work to complete transition by the end of 2014.

Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman, said: “It does not necessarily mean that everywhere in the country [Afghan forces] will necessarily be in the lead and it does not mean that all US or coalition forces would necessarily be gone by that date.”

He added: “There may very well be the need for forces to remain in-country, albeit, hopefully, at smaller numbers, to assist the Afghans as they assume lead responsibility for the security of their country.”

The US military underlined its determination to continue to add resources to the Afghan battle by deploying heavily armoured tanks in Afghanistan for the first time in the nine-year war. The Marine Corps plans to use a company of Abrams tanks in areas of northern Helmand province where British forces were held to a stalemate by the Taliban by early spring.

While Nato’s schedule for transition is conditional, British officials in Lisbon made clear Mr Cameron’s timetable is unconditional. A British official in Lisbon said: “After 2015, we are not going to be in combat role. That’s absolutely clear.”

Britain has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and has suffered 100 losses this year alone. The Prime Minister has made clear he wants most troops withdrawn before the next general election, due in May 2015.

Mr Cameron told MPs on Thursday that conditions in Afghanistan would not change his plan for 2015 to be the “endpoint” of British combat operations. He said: “I set the deadline of 2015, and yes, it is a deadline.” Mr Rasmussen told the BBC he thought Britain did not have a “concrete policy” on a withdrawal date.

He said: “I’m not aware of concrete policies for withdrawal and I believe all allies are committed to stay committed as long as it takes to do the job.

“We may also see, here and there, withdrawal of troops but the basic message is that we will stay committed as long as it takes.”

James Appathurai, the Nato spokesman, told reporters in Lisbon that the alliance is “fully confident” of meeting the 2014 target. But he added: “I must point out it is conditions-based.” Mark Sedwill, Nato’s senior civil in Kabul, underlined the difficulties the alliance will face in trying to follow its timetable.

“We are not indulging in a load of happy talk about the security situation in Afghanistan,” he said. “We believe we have regained the initiative but the progress is not irreversible. There are many challenges and inevitable set-backs ahead.”

Natural disasters since 1970 take heavy toll in Pakistan

A string of natural disasters, including floods and earthquakes, have left over 3.3 million people dead and caused a staggering loss of $2,300 billion between 1970 and 2008 in Pakistan, said a new book.

The book 'Natural Hazards, UN-Natural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention' said that a lot could be done to reduce the toll from such hazards even in the face of increased risk from climate change.

Daily Times reported Sunday that storms, floods, earthquakes, and droughts caused more than 3.3 million deaths and $2,300 billion in damage between 1970 and 2008.

The World Bank-UN book said that natural hazards often turn into disasters as a result of poor policies and practices.

'A deeper questioning of what happened, and why, could prevent a repetition of disasters,' said the book.

It projected that damage from disasters was going to grow, making prevention all the more critical.

The book went on to say that by the year 2100, financial damages from weather-related hazards may zoom up to $185 billion annually.

Pakistan was ravaged by floods this year that left over 1,700 dead and nearly 20 million homeless.

Flood-hit farmers unaware of banks’ refinancing scheme

The refinancing scheme launched by the banks in the flood-affected areas has yet to gain momentum as majority of the affected farmers and landowners are still unaware of it.
According to the State Bank’s Small and Medium Enterprises Finance Department (SMEFD) circular No 16 issued on November 2 in line with the government’s policy to revive agricultural activities and State Bank of Pakistan’s relief measures to improve access to financing in flood-affected areas, it has been decided to launch a concessional financing scheme through banks for agricultural production and working capital finance to farmers and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the districts affected by recent floods.
Under the scheme, financing is being provided at affordable and concessional mark-up rates through banks and development finance institutions (DFIs) for which Rs10 billion has been allocated.
All categories of farmers including owners, owner-cum-tenants and tenants of the specified areas are eligible for agricultural loans under the scheme and banks shall provide agricultural loans to farmers as per their lending policy approved by their boards of directors and SBP rules and regulations.
Banks are encouraged to arrange for insurance of the loans provided under the scheme and Mandatory Crop Loan Insurance for five major crops such as wheat, rice, cotton, sugarcane and maize to avoid risk of losses due to natural calamities.
The circular says that tenure of the crop production loans and repayment of the principal amount will be based on the cropping cycle up to a maximum period of one year.
The banks may also provide short-term loans to SME borrowers, as defined in Prudential Regulations for SMEs in flood-affected districts. The borrowing limit of SMEs will be fixed by the banks keeping in view credit requirements, cash flows, repayment capacity, risk profile of the borrowers, etc, within the maximum limit prescribed under the prudential regulations for SMEs.
The refinancing under the scheme is being provided to the banks at five per cent per acre. The banks are also permitted to charge a maximum spread of three per cent per acre from the borrowers. Therefore, the credit to SMEs and farmers will be available at eight per cent per acre.
In case the borrowers fail to repay the loan amount and instalment as per agreed dates, the bank is entitled to charge normal rate of mark up on such overdue principal amount, besides taking other actions to recover the same as are incidental to such defaults.
The mark up will be paid on quarterly basis in cases of financing to SMEs while the mark up on agricultural loans will be paid on half-yearly basis. The banks will not take more than five working days in evaluating an application for credit under the scheme from the date of receipt of complete information from a borrower.
The circular said that where the request was declined, the banks would explicitly inform the applicant of reasons for rejecting the application.The banks shall obtain an undertaking from a borrower that the disbursed amount will be utilised strictly for the purpose it has been granted.
The banks will ensure fulfilment of requisite pre-disbursement formalities by a borrower through due diligence as per their own internal arrangements to avoid malpractice and misuse of funds under the scheme.
The refinance is provided on the basis of certification and confirmation by the internal audit, SME, agri head, business chief of the financing bank that the loan is within the terms and conditions laid down in the scheme.
The farmers, landlords and SMEs in all 24 districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are allowed to avail the loan financing, but so far the number of those seeking loan under the scheme is negligible. An office-bearer of the Sarhad Chamber of Agriculture told The News that the scheme was not fetching enough response even from the eligible affected people. He said the scheme was not properly publicised and most of the affected people, who happened to be poor tenants, seeking loans and financing facilities were still unaware of it. He said the banks should publicise the scheme the way they propagate their own products so that the deserving flood-affected landowners and tenants could benefit from it.

Rs57.288 mn irregularities in KP excise dept

Irregularities of Rs.57.288 million have been unearthed in the Excise and Taxation Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in heads of property, hotel, professional, token taxes, vehicle registration fee, annual renewal fee & security from real estate agents/motor bargain centres and to baccl development cess during financial year 2007-08.

The irregularities have been detected in the Audit Report on the Accounts of Revenue Receipts of the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa audit year 2008-09.

The irregularities covers property tax (Rs.39.374 million), hotel tax (Rs.9.415 million), professional tax (Rs.1.872 million), token tax (Rs.0.488 million), motor vehicle registration fee (Rs 0.195 million), annual renewal fee & security from real estate agents/motor bargain centre (Rs.0.575 million) and tobacco development cess (Rs.5.369 million).

The largest irregularity involving an amount of Rs.25.871 million was found due to non/short realization of property tax, which was to be recovered as arrears of land revenue under section 16 of the KP Urban Immovable Property Tax Act, 1958.

This provision of law was enforced by six Excise and Taxation Offices in 529 cases, which caused non/short realization of government revenue amount to Rs.25.980 million during the year 2007-08.

The department also failed in realization of property tax from autonomous bodies like municipal committees, TMAs, Pakistan Tobacco Board and Peshawar Electricity Supply Company (PESCO) incurring a loss of Rs.10.623 million on the revenue receipts of the department.

The lapse was pointed out by Audit during March, 2009 to May, 2009 and the department was requested to convene Departmental Accounts Committee (DAC) meeting, which was not arranged till finalization of the audit report.

In head of the recovery of property tax, the three Excise and Taxation Offices of Peshawar II, Nowshera and Kohat did not recover or less recovered 15 per cent share of the provincial government amounting to Rs.2.880 million from the cantonment boards of Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat.

The non/short realization of hotel tax, the two Excise & Taxation Offices did not deposit or less deposited hotel tax leviable at the rate of 5 per cent from the management of 17 hotels running under their jurisdiction in Peshawar and Haripur. The non/short realization of the hotel tax caused loss of government revenue of Rs.9.415 million during 2007-08.

The offices of the Excise & Taxation Department also failed in recovery of professional tax of Rs.1.912 million in 277 cases during 2007-08. The tax is required to be levied and recovered from all persons engaged in any profession, trade, calling or employment of different categories at prescribed rates, under section 7 of the KP Finance Act, 1990.

In head of Motor Vehicle Tax another amount of Rs.683 million not-realized in token tax and short realization of motor vehicle registration fee due to miscalculation of value of imported motor vehicles. In first instance token tax amount to Rs.0.488 million was not paid by the owners of 94 vehicles and in second instance resulted in short-realization of government revenue of Rs.0.195 million.

Similarly, in violation of KP Finance Act, 1995, five Excise and Taxation Offices did not realize Rs.0.311 million on account of annual renewal fee in 73 license renewal cases during 2007-08. In head of security deposits from real estate agents and motor vehicles dealers the department did not realize Rs.0.269 million.

The office of the Excise and Taxation Department in Mardan failed to recover or les recovered tobacco development cess and penalty amounting to Rs.5.369 million during 2007-08. The collection of cess was levied under section 11 of Finance Act, 1996 as amended vide KP Finance (Third Amendment) Ordinance 2003 and was to be collected directly from the tobacco factories on the basis of tobacco quota fixed for the factory by the Pakistan Tobacco Board in terms of recovery of Tobacco Cess Rules, 2004. The cess is payable in two equal installments i.e. first on or before December 31 and second on or before May 31 of the financial year concerned. In case of default in payment of cess or any part thereof by May 31, the defaulter shall be liable to pay a penalty @ 25% in addition to the cess due.