Pakistan’s ex-finance minister held over $16bn Qatar gas deal

Pakistan's former finance minister Miftah Ismail speaks with Reuters in Islamabad. (Reuters/File)
Updated 08 August 2019

Pakistan’s ex-finance minister held over $16bn Qatar gas deal

  • Ismail is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal in Karachi to a “favored” company

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s former Finance Minister Miftah Ismail was arrested on Wednesday following investigations by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog into a multibillion-dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) import contract with Qatar.

Ismail was as an adviser to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 2017 and was later appointed federal minister for finance for a month. He is considered to be a close aide of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice president and former premier who finalized the $16 billion deal with Qatar during his time as petroleum minister.

The deal with Qatar was agreed in 2015 for a period of 15 years.

Abbasi is already held by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in connection with the LNG case, which the anti-corruption agency claims caused a loss of $2 billion to the Pakistan treasury.

“My client is innocent as there is no evidence of corruption or embezzlement in the LNG deal against him,” Haider Waheed, the lawyer representing Ismail, told Arab News after his client’s pre-arrest bail was rejected.

Waheed accused the NAB of “political victimization,” saying the LNG deal was finalized before Ismail took charge of his office in the PML-N government. “This is a long legal battle now and we will continue challenging the NAB’s abuse of power,” he said.

FASTFACT

Anti-corruption watchdog faces claims of ‘political victimization.’

Ismail is also being investigated for allegedly granting a 15-year contract for an LNG terminal in Karachi to a “favored” company. He denies the allegation.

Sheikh Imran ul-Haque, former managing director of Pakistan State Oil, was also arrested on Wednesday in the LNG case.

Pakistan, a country of 208 million people, is running out of domestic gas and has turned to LNG imports to alleviate chronic energy shortages that have hindered its economy and led to a decade of electricity blackouts. 

The country imports 500 million cubic feet per day of LNG from Qatar under a 15-year agreement at 13.37 percent of Brent crude price. Under the government-to-government agreement, the price can only be reviewed after 10 years of the contract.

In Pakistan, the NAB’s anti-corruption campaign has become a topic of fierce political debate, and its focus on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political foes has prompted accusations of a one-sided purge. The government denies targeting political opponents.

Khan won power last year vowing to root out corruption among the country’s political elite and views the investigations into veteran opposition politicians as long overdue.

“This is the worst kind of political victimization by Imran Khan’s government,” Senator Mushahidullah Khan told Arab News. “This government is trying to hide its inefficiency and incompetence by jailing opposition leaders who have served this country with dignity.”

Khan rejected allegations of corruption and kickbacks in the LNG deal, saying that gas imports had helped the country revive a crumbling industry and create millions of jobs.

“Instead of thanking us for ending hours-long blackouts, the government is putting our leaders in jail for nothing,” he said.


Bakery spearheads deaf empowerment in Malaysia

Updated 24 September 2020

Bakery spearheads deaf empowerment in Malaysia

  • Young deaf Malaysians say that work opportunities are their chance to be included in society and contribute
  • Coffeehouse giant Starbucks followed in the footsteps of Silent Teddies and opened ‘signing stores’ in Kuala Lumpur and Penang

KUALA LUMPUR: At a small bakery in Kuala Lumpur’s Lorong Ampang area, a group of men and women take out from the oven and pack colorful cookies in complete silence. The cookies have one shape — that of a hand with the thumb, index finger and pinkie finger put up. In sign language it means “I love you.”
 
The bakery, Silent Teddies, was founded in 2004 by Cindy Leong, a sign language interpreter who has sought ways to empower Malaysia’s deaf community by encouraging entrepreneurship and training hearing-impaired youths to be independent. All staff members of Silent Teddies are people with hearing loss.

'I love you' in sign language cookies come out from the oven at Silent Teddies Bakery in Kuala Lumpur on World Deaf Day, Sept. 23. (AN photo by Ashwin Gobinath)

“We aim to build talents here and the mindset of the community needs to change because we cannot be solely surviving on corporate social responsibility donations or support to sustain ourselves,” Leong told Arab News as the International Week of the Deaf started on Wednesday.

About 40,000 Malaysians are registered as deaf and have limited access to education and career opportunities.

“Many deaf people are from the bottom 40 segment,” Leong said, referring to Malaysia’s lowest earning group.

Staff bake and pack cookies for sale at Silent Teddies Bakery in Kuala Lumpur. (AN photo by Ashwin Gobinath)

It took her Silent Teddies years to gain traction but in 2012 the efforts flourished with a deal with Malaysian airline AirAsia, the biggest low-cost carrier of Southeast Asia.

“It was a stepping stone for me and the bakers here to have their cookies and products sold to the masses in Asia. We were never driven by profits, our main goal is to empower the community by providing them training and opportunities to grow and support themselves.”

Cindy Leong, the founder of Silent Teddies Bakery, in Kuala Lumpur. (AN photo by Ashwin Gobinath)

Through the Society of Interpreters for the Deaf (SID), the initiative expanded to the coffeehouse giant Starbucks.

Berjaya Starbucks Coffee Company, a licensee of the Starbucks franchise in Malaysia, in 2016 opened the doors to employment for deaf people and established the signing store model — the first of its kind for Starbucks globally.

Starbucks Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur's Bangsar area, which employs deaf baristas. It is the first of its kind model for Starbucks globally. (AN photo by Ashwin Gobinath)

“Starbucks have always hired the deaf at our stores even before we were planning the signing store but because of certain security risks and cultural sensitivities, we could only give them very simple and menial tasks such as restocking and cleaning,” Berjaya Starbucks representatives said in a statement for Arab News.

Their signing stores changed the situation and offered hearing-impaired people better jobs and career progression. Established in consultation with the SID, the outlets in Kuala Lumpur’s popular hangout area Bangsar and in George Town, Penang, employ 14 deaf partners.

Barista Mohammed Akmal Abdul Khalid Akmal prepares coffee at Starbucks Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur's Bangsar area. (AN photo by Ashwin Gobinath)

“The training that we provide our deaf partners is the same training that we provide our hearing partners, that includes theory classes as well as on-the-job training in our stores and by extension, our deaf partners are also welcome to participate in the same learning opportunities as are hearing partners, such as our coffee master certification and advanced coffee master certification,” Starbucks said.

One of the coffee masters at Starbucks’s Bangsar store is 34-year-old Mohammed Akmal Abdul Khalid.

Barista Mohammed Akmal Abdul Khalid Akmal prepares coffee at Starbucks Signing Store in Kuala Lumpur's Bangsar area. (AN photo by Ashwin Gobinath)

Speaking to Arab News through a sign language interpreter, he said that he was ecstatic when his friends and family told him about job openings at Starbucks. He saw it as a chance to finally be included in society.

“The first thing that crossed my mind was my curiosity on how the deaf partners communicate with hearing individuals without any sign language, but I am adapting with the whole new culture.”

 Staff bake and pack cookies for sale at Silent Teddies Bakery in Kuala Lumpur. (AN photo by Ashwin Gobinath)

He said that the job allowed him to learn proper communication with hearing partners and customers, and he hopes that other deaf people will be given this opportunity.

“I hope there will be more chances for the deaf to work through the Starbucks signing store in Malaysia and across the world, because I want to see the deaf work hard and contribute to the society, just like everyone else,” he said.