Pakistan’s Imran Khan defends cabinet shakeup as political uncertainty looms

Khan said whoever was not beneficial for his country, he would bring in someone who was. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2019

Pakistan’s Imran Khan defends cabinet shakeup as political uncertainty looms

  • Analysts warn reshuffle will not immediately restore public trust

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan defended his decision to make sweeping changes to his Cabinet on Friday, as analysts warned of a prolonged period of political uncertainty.

The reshuffle, announced late on Thursday night, comes just eight months into his party’s five-year term, and saw key appointments of political veterans widely criticized for their roles in previous administrations.

Khan said he had the right as leader of the country to remove anyone from office if they did not perform.

“I want to tell all ministers: Whoever isn’t beneficial for my country, I will bring (in) someone who is,” the former cricket star said at a rally in Orakzai in northwestern Pakistan. “If a player isn’t performing, we either change the batting order or we change him.

“The prime minister has one mission: To make his team win, and my mission is to lead my nation to victory. For that, I have changed the batting order of my team, and I will do again in the future.”

Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, the main beneficiary of the reshuffle, has been made finance minister. He previously held the role from 2010-2013 under the opposition Pakistan Peoples Party when it was in power, and was minister for privatization under former military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Khan also elevated Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, another former Musharraf supporter. Chaudhry will now serve as minister for science and technology, while Firdous Ashiq Awan has replaced him at the Ministry of Information.

The reshuffle had been expected for weeks amid reports Khan had become disenchanted with Finance Minister Asad Umar over delays in securing a bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.

Inflation, at its highest for five years, has shocked many Pakistanis who voted for Khan. Pakistan’s central bank lowered growth forecasts last month, and the rupee has lost 35 percent of its value since December 2017.

But analysts warned the shakeup was ill-timed, and would not immediately improve the government’s performance or restore the public’s trust.

“This reshuffle may help settle some internal wrangling and power struggles in the ranks of the government, but in the long run it won’t have any positive impact on its performance,” journalist Zebunnisa Burki told Arab News. “The political chaos created by the reshuffle won’t raise much confidence.”

Columnist and political consultant Mosharraf Zaidi stated a reshuffle just eight months into the government’s term revealed a “dangerous lack of patience” on the part of the prime minister.

“The Cabinet assignments that have been moved around show a contempt for performance. If the problem was poor performance, then why were Cabinet members just reshuffled and not simply removed? This is (now) a government essentially of the Musharraf era.”

Umair Javed, a writer and sociology professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, said the changes had increased “political uncertainty.”

“This sudden and drastic change is not well received,” he said. “It seems like this was not a well thought out strategy … it shows the government itself is unsure about its long-term planning and strategy to deal with chronic issues like the economy.”

It was unfair to assess the performance of any ministry after a mere eight months, Javed added, especially when the government had promised major structural reforms to steer the country out of crisis.

“The government still has time to decide its direction,” he said. “Otherwise the people will have no choice but to pour onto the streets against it.”

Over 1m Filipino overseas workers set to lose jobs

Updated 03 June 2020

Over 1m Filipino overseas workers set to lose jobs

  • OFWs in Middle East, US, Europe, and Asia to be worst hit by global economic downturn

MANILA: More than 1 million overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) could be out of work by next year as the world economy continues to slump due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, analysts and officials warned on Tuesday.

“With a huge number of OFWs out of the market, this would also result in licensed recruitment and manning agencies closing shop in the coming months,” Emmanuel Geslani, a recruitment and migration expert, told Arab News.

During a virtual press briefing, Filipino Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said that 343,551 OFWs had already been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. “Either they were displaced because of COVID-19, or the virus infected them.”

He added: “Of the total number, 341,161 were displaced, which means they were either terminated (from their jobs) and no longer employed, or they could not go to work because of the lockdown, hence no work, no pay.”

Bello noted that only around 95,000 OFWs were “stranded” because almost 200,000 of the affected workers “don’t want to come home” and “would rather stay” where they are, especially those in the US and Europe.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the Philippine government has brought home an estimated 36,625 OFWs. The latest group to return to the country consisted of 175 Filipinos repatriated from Kuwait as part of an amnesty granted by the Kuwaiti government. They arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila on Monday afternoon.

Geslani, however, said the near 100,000 OFWs waiting to be repatriated was only a fraction of the total number of migrant workers who may be displaced by December 2021, citing figures from the labor department.

On Friday, Alice Visperas, director of the Department of Labor and Employment – International Labor Affairs Bureau (DOLE-ILAB), told a virtual hearing of the house committee on overseas workers’ affairs that estimates suggested that just over 1 million Filipino workers abroad would have been displaced by December 2021.

The DOLE predicted that the number of displaced OFWs would rise from the current figure of more than 300,000 to about 600,000 by December 2020, around 800,000 by June 2021, and tipping over the 1 million mark by the end of next year.

The majority of OFWs expected to lose their jobs are employed in the Middle East, followed by Europe, the US, and Asia.

“This grim prediction by the DOLE will have a devastating effect on over 1,200 land and sea-based licensed recruitment and manning agencies with over 50 percent of the existing agencies not expected to survive the next few months,” Geslani said, pointing out that so far the deployment of OFWs had gone down by 99 percent.

“Lower-for-longer oil prices and the economic recession, even in the more successful Gulf countries, means less foreign workers in the future,” he added.

“The oil price depression will be lower for longer. The pandemic has triggered a mass lockdown of many countries in the world, especially in the Middle East where the majority of our OFWs work.”

Geslani held out little hope for workers in the foreseeable future, except for those in the health sector.

“New markets in Europe are still in lockdown and even Japan, which is our newest market, has closed its borders to 111 countries including the Philippines,” he said, adding that “the severe lack of business” would mean the closure of small- and medium-sized recruitment agencies with deployments of less than 200 a year.

Cathy Gatbunton, a Filipino house-help worker in Hong Kong, said her employment contract was due to end in July. Her employer, who was soon to relocate to Canada, had initially planned to take her with them but because of COVID-19 restrictions “that might no longer be possible.”

But Gatbunton had no plans to return to the Philippines, preferring to try and find a new employer in Hong Kong. She noted that many Filipino workers who had flown back to the Philippines, even for a vacation, were now out of work because they had been unable to return to Hong Kong due to the lockdown.

Evhan Manalac, who has worked at a US military base in Kandahar since 2011, is among about 2,000 Filipinos who will lose their jobs when US forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

“Our plan is really to go home for good next year. But it seems it will happen earlier than we have planned. Nevertheless, we are ready. We’re thinking of opening a small business in the Philippines,” Manalac said.

Marcin De Leon, an office worker employed on an engineering project in Saudi Arabia, said his job had been on hold for the past 45 days but he had now been asked to return to work.

“In some cases, some documented OFWs employed by companies that have closed down may still find employment in the Kingdom provided it is in the same field,” he added.