India announces welfare program for kids orphaned by COVID-19

India announces welfare program for kids orphaned by COVID-19
India has launched a welfare program for thousands of children who lost their parents to the COVID-19 pandemic. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2022

India announces welfare program for kids orphaned by COVID-19

India announces welfare program for kids orphaned by COVID-19
  • More than 147,000 children lost at least one parent to the disease
  • Program provides financial assistance, scholarships, and stipends

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched a welfare program for thousands of children who lost their parents to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public health outbreak devastated India, which saw its hospitals run out of staff, beds, and oxygen at the peak of the crisis.

The country reported an official death toll of around 525,000, while the World Health Organization estimated that 4.7 million Indians lost their lives to coronavirus.

More than 147,000 children lost at least one of their parents to COVID-19 in India, according to data from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Of this estimate, over 10,000 lost both their parents.

Under the welfare program, called “PM-Cares for Children,” those who lost their guardians to COVID-19 are eligible for financial assistance, scholarships, as well as a monthly stipend of about $52 for their daily needs.

“I know how difficult the situation is for people who have lost their family members during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Modi said during the program’s launch.

“This program is for the children who lost their parents during the pandemic. If a child needs an education loan for professional courses, for higher education, then PM-CARES will help in that too.”

Nitish Kumar Mehta, who lives in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, is among those who stand to benefit from the program.

He and his two sisters lost both their parents last May when India saw its most devastating wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Any help is important,” Mehta told Arab News. “My elder sister is 18 and my youngest one is 13, and we need support. This money can help us in educating ourselves and finding a job.”

Child rights activists welcomed the new initiative but raised concerns over the program’s implementation.

“The announcement is the first thing about the policy in our country, the next step really is the implementation of the policy and who will be in charge of it,” Anindit Roy Chowdhury, chief program officer of Save the Children, told Arab News.

Chowdhury said civil society should watch over the program to ensure that “what has been committed in the policy actually gets done on the ground.”

Suresh Kumar, who heads the Bihar-based Human Liberty Network, a group of NGOs working to stop child trafficking, said some children may not have the necessary documents to prove their parents had died of coronavirus.

“Orphan children need all the support. Whatever Modi announced was needed, but at the same time, he has to make it very transparent and every child can get access to it online,” Kumar told Arab News.

“The government support should not be mechanical and charity-based; they should be humane and rights-based. These children, like other children, are holders of a bunch of rights.”


Biden sounds ready to seek 2nd term while rallying Democrats

President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP)
President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP)
Updated 8 sec ago

Biden sounds ready to seek 2nd term while rallying Democrats

President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP)

PHILADELPHIA: President Joe Biden sounded like a candidate making his case for a second term Friday night as he rallied a raucous meeting of national Democrats who chanted, “Four more years!”
The only thing missing was an official announcement — that’s not expected for at least several weeks.
Speaking to the Democratic National Committee after a strong jobs report, Biden boasted about helping create a strong economy and said his administration had made the country’s most significant federal investments in public works, health care and green technology in decades. He also slammed Republican extremism, suggesting that party is still too beholden to former President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again movement.
“Let me ask you a simple question. Are you with me?” a grinning Biden asked onstage in Philadelphia as hundreds of party leaders from around the country interrupted him with cries of “Four more years! Four more years!”
He later added, to nearly as loud applause, “America is back and we’re leading the world again.”
Biden has sought to seize the political offensive after a strong midterm election season for his party and as he looks toward 2024, with Trump having already announced another bid for the White House. It’s especially important given mounting pressures in Washington, including a special counsel investigation into his handling of classified documents and a Republican-controlled House eager to serve as a check against Biden and his agenda on Capitol Hill.
Speaking before Biden on Friday night, Vice President Kamala Harris was just as defiant about the GOP and its staunch opposition to issues like abortion rights.
“There are those who want to stand in the way of our momentum,” she said. “The extremist, so-called leaders, who want to distract and divide our nation as they ban books, as they reject the history of America, as they criminalize doctors and nurses and the sacred right to vote.”
At a DNC fundraiser before taking the stage, Harris referenced Democrats’ holding onto Senate control during fall’s midterms and reminded a smaller crowd: “It’s not the time to pat ourselves on the back. It’s the time to see it through.”
“And that’s going to take as much work, if not more, than everything that everyone here put into where we are today,” she said.
Looking to the future himself, Biden told the same reception: “No matter who is president, things are going to change radically in the next 15 years.”
“Are we going to be leading the pack?” he added. “Or are we going to be the end of it?”
Earlier in Philadelphia on Friday, Biden and Harris visited a water treatment plant and hailed $15 billion in funding to remove lead pipes from service lines around the country. That comes from a bipartisan infrastructure package, which is also bankrolling railway projects the president spent this week trumpeting.
“The issue has to do with basic dignity,” Biden said. “No amount of lead in water is safe. None.”
With the State of the Union address coming next week, Biden has renewed calls for political unity, something he’s acknowledged being unable to achieve despite his promises as a candidate in 2020. But those appeals haven’t tempered Biden’s broadsides against Trump and the former president’s MAGA movement.
“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said, adding that the GOP agenda was so extreme that “we have to keep pointing out what the other team wants.” Of Trump loyalists, he said, “These aren’t conservatives.”
That’s made some Democrats anxious to see Biden stay aggressive in touting his record.
“The president is trying to solve the problems of the nation on infrastructure, on microchips, on gun safety, on health care,” said Randi Weingarten, a DNC member and president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Compare (that) to the GOP, which seems to be on a revenge agenda.”
Biden’s speech comes the day before the DNC is set to approve an overhauled presidential primary calendar starting next year that would replace Iowa with South Carolina in the leadoff spot. New Hampshire and Nevada would go second, followed by Georgia and Michigan — a change the president has championed to ensure that voters of color have more influence deciding the party’s White House nominee.
The new calendar would be largely moot if Biden runs again, since party elders won’t want to oversee a drawn-out primary against him. Democrats have been solidly unified in their opposition to the new Republican-controlled House, while no major Democratic challenger is thought to be preparing to run against Biden.
Biden’s advisers haven’t waited for his official reelection announcement, already spending weeks making staffing arrangements and readying lines of political attacks against Republicans seen as early presidential front-runners, including Trump, who launched his campaign in November, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Alan Clendenin, a DNC member from Florida, said Biden has strengthened the economy, reestablished US global standing and promoted inclusive values — the opposite of what Trump and DeSantis stand for.
“They predicted gloom and doom. He’s proved them all wrong,” said Clendenin, who kicked off a DNC Southern caucus meeting by noting that Florida has begun lagging behind other states in key policy areas and joking of its governor, “That’s what happened when you’re led by the devil.”
Biden repeatedly denounced “extreme MAGA Republicans” as a threat to the nation’s democracy in the runup to the midterms and gloated a bit Friday about the results.
“People looked at me like I was nuts,” he said, referring to his repeated emphasis on MAGA Republicans last fall. “They’re nuts. I’m not nuts.”
The president, meanwhile, will have a harder time campaigning on future legislative accomplishments now that the GOP controls the House. A coming fight over extending the nation’s legal debt ceiling may only harden partisan clashes.
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said he and the White House would continue talking about ways to avoid a debt limit crisis. But, referring to federal spending, McCarthy said, “The current path we’re on we cannot sustain.”
Biden has also suggested that simply bashing Republicans won’t be enough, however, noting that Democrats have seen their support among Americans without a college degree decline. He said Friday night that his party “stopped talking to” blue-collar workers.
“We have to get working-class people to say we see them,” the president added.
In a more lighthearted nod to the coming Super Bowl, Biden declared “Fly, Eagles, fly!” and called fans in Philadelphia “the most informed, obnoxious fans in the world.”
That would ostensibly include his wife, Jill, who is a diehard Eagles supporter.

 


MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’

MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’
Updated 18 min 1 sec ago

MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’

MP calls on UK to proscribe Iran guards to end ‘nefarious activities’
  • Bob Blackman called for imposing stronger sanctions to ‘bring this regime to its knees’ as they do not respond to negotiations
  • National Council of Resistance of Iran called for the Islamic Center of England to be closed as it spreads the regime’s propaganda across the UK

LONDON: Iran poses a “clear and present danger” and immediate action must be taken to proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization in the UK, according to a parliamentarian.

“Every day we delay, we give them the opportunity to expand their operations, to carry out other nefarious activities,” Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, told Arab News. “We’ve seen evidence of some of the organizations in the United Kingdom that are operating under direct control of the IRGC.”

He said that this was “a serious threat to our homeland security, so it’s key that we have to address it and prompt action is required.”

Blackman said that the British government has already proscribed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip as terrorist organizations and they “are funded and supported by the IRGC.” The things the regime has done and is doing have been listed, and these are sufficient for it to be proscribed.

The US has done it, other European countries are working on it and “we need to encourage our allies to work jointly with us so they cannot operate anywhere else in the world, but that’s the key challenge,” he added.

Although it has received cross-party support as a matter of national interest and security, the UK has failed to proscribe them so far, and “the only reason why the government, I think, are hesitating over that is that ends negotiations, and if it ends negotiations, well, fine. I don’t mind that,” Blackman said.

Locations of Iranian regime missile sites across the country. (Supplied/NCRI)

Talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which was scrapped by then-president, Donald Trump, in 2018, have been deadlocked since September.

“There are no negotiations going on because obviously the IRGC activities and the activities of the regime in Iran is suppressing their people with a position whereby thousands have been arrested, hundreds have been killed, and many face potential execution for the mere crime of protesting against the regime. There’s no time to negotiate on that basis,” he said.

Blackman believes negotiations are a mistake in the first place as there has been evidence that Iran was in violation of its obligations under the current treaty, and talks cannot be held under those circumstances.

(Supplied/NCRI)

“What we do have to do is prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon at all costs. That of course, does mean at all costs. We cannot get them to a point where they’ve got a nuclear weapon and can threaten the region with potential nuclear war. That would just be a complete disaster for everyone in the region and possibly beyond.”

He called for imposing stronger sanctions against individuals to “bring this regime to its knees” because it did not respond to negotiations.

Blackman said that the UK government’s rationale must also be that there are dual nationals and British citizens in Iran, and urged them to leave because they could be captured and used as hostages, which has happened already.

“We’re seeing all sorts of nefarious activities, interference in elections in other countries, terrorist plots which have been foiled not only across the Middle East but also in Europe and in the UK itself, as well as now cyberattacks which are proven to be going on, attacking the House of Commons and the Houses of Parliament generally, for the sole purpose, obviously, of disrupting our data and causing us damage overall.

“That just demonstrates that these people are not to be trusted one iota and therefore need to be proscribed,” he said.

Blackman was speaking on the sidelines of a press conference organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran’s UK office on Thursday to reveal new information about the terrorist activities of the IRGC and the need to proscribe them. He said they have held numerous negotiations with the UK Foreign Office and will now speak with the Home Office, as it was up to them to make the decision.

Hossein Abedini, deputy director of the NCRI’s UK representative office, said they are in touch with many MPs in different parties and there is a strong British committee supporting Iranian freedom in parliament, which has been very active in different debates.

He highlighted to reporters the ways in which the IRGC was an army of terror and oppression, and suppressing the Iranian people, along with their training and military bases and major garrisons around the country and in the capital, Tehran

(Supplied/NCRI)

Abedini shared a classified document in Farsi obtained by the NCRI of minutes of a meeting at the International Directorate of the office of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on May 31, 2022, where representatives of eight terrorist and extremist organizations of the regime participated.

Among the minutes, one representative from the Quds Force — one of five branches of the IRGC — reported bringing a 55-member military delegation from Venezuela to Iran in 2022, “which shows the dimensions of the IRGC’s intervention in a Latin American country,” an English explanation of the document provided by the NCRI said.

Abedini called for the London-based Islamic Center of England, which is under the supervision of the International Directorate Khamenei’s Office and headed by Mullah Seyed Hashem Mousavi, to be closed down as it had agents around the UK that aimed to spread the regime’s propaganda.

Appointment of Seyed Hashem Moussavi as the head of the Islamic Center of England in London by the international director of Khamenei’s Office Mohsen Qomi. (Supplied/NCRI)

On the recent execution of Alireza Akbari, an Iranian-British national who was a former Iranian deputy defense minister, Abedini said that this could add weight to the UK’s decision to proscribe the IRGC.

“That clearly shows that the regime is panicking, and it clearly shows that they are really in a very critical situation. I think it certainly will add, but it’s a political decision, so the UK, if the members of Parliament continue to put pressure, we will reach that point,” he added.


Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court

Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court
Updated 04 February 2023

Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court

Whistleblower sacked for speaking out on withdrawal from Afghanistan takes UK government to court
  • Josie Stewart, who gave an anonymous interview and leaked emails to the BBC about the withdrawal, said the civil service has become ‘dangerously politicized’
  • A former head of illicit finance at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, she is challenging her dismissal under the Public Interest Disclosure Act

DUBAI: A former senior official at Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is taking the UK government to court test the legal protections for whistleblowers, amid concerns they are not sufficient to protect civil servants.

Josie Stewart, who worked at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and was sacked after turning whistleblower to reveal details of the chaotic UK response to the fall of Kabul, said the British civil service has become so dangerously politicized that officials who dare to speak out risk being sidelined or losing their jobs.

She told The Guardian newspaper that former colleagues felt their role was to protect ministers, some of whom were only interested in “looking good,” rather than working in the public interest.

Stewart, who was head of the illicit finance team at the FCDO, was fired over an anonymous interview she gave to the BBC about the government’s handling of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. She is challenging her dismissal, based on the provisions the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

In her first interview since her dismissal, she said the government’s strategy for the withdrawal of its forces had been shaped by political concerns at home. Ministers were more focused on media coverage and “the political fallout” than saving lives, she added.

Her legal action adds to the pressure on Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time and who is currently fighting for his political career following allegations of bullying, which he denies. Raab was heavily criticized for failing to return home early from holiday in August 2021 when Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.

Stewart, who worked for two years at the British embassy in Kabul during her seven years with the FCDO, volunteered to work in the Whitehall crisis center when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. One of her allegations was that ministers had not expected the British public to care about the evacuation of locals who had helped British troops amnd officials.

Her case, for which a final hearing is scheduled for September, could set a precedent for how the courts handle similar cases in future, including clarification of whether whistleblowers can avoid dismissal if they disclosed information in “exceptionally serious circumstances” and it should therefore be considered “reasonable” to have done so.

In her interview with The Guardian, 42-year-old Stewart said: “If the law is not tested and used then I don’t know how much it actually means, as potential whistleblowers don’t know which side of the line it is going to fall. Is what they’re going to do likely to be legally protected or not? If they don’t know, then I’m not sure how meaningful the fact the law exists is.”

Stewart, who now works for nonprofit organization Transparency International, alleged that the civil service has been dangerously politicized since the era of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and she accused the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, of failing to stand up for officials.

“I increasingly saw senior officials interpreting their role as doing what ministers say and providing protections to ministers,” she said. “It was almost as if their first loyalty (was) to their political leaders rather than to the public.

“Essentially people who said ‘yes’ and went along with it and bought into this shift in culture and approach were those whose careers went well. Those who resisted either found themselves buried somewhere or looking for jobs elsewhere.

“It threatens the impartiality of the civil service. The civil service is supposed to bring expertise in how to get things done. It risks that expertise being neutered by a slant towards focusing on things that look good rather than achieving impact.”

Stewart also suggested the politicization of the civil service had a dramatic effect on the government’s handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan. Moreover, she highlighted the government’s failure to draw up a plan to help Afghan nationals who had assisted the British, such as translators or contractors, but were not eligible for the existing Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy because they did not work directly for the UK, to leave the country.

“There was no policy because we didn’t intend to do it at all,” Stewart said. “The only reason it came into life during the crisis was because the government was surprised to learn that the British people did actually care and did feel that we owed something to those people.

“Then they thought: ‘Well, people do care and we had better do something about it.’ So it was a misjudgment, politically. Hence the chaos.”

The crisis center received thousands of emails from desperate Afghans asking for help, which remained unopened until pressure from MPs led Raab to promise in the House of Commons that they would all be read by a certain date.

In January 2022 Stewart gave her anonymous interview and leaked emails to the BBC’s Newsnight program that revealed a decision to allow the animal charity Nowzad’s Afghan staff to be evacuated had been taken as a result of instructions from Johnson himself that overruled officials, who had said the workers were not eligible and others were at higher risk. Johnson had denied being involved in the decision.

The unredacted emails were accidentally published on social media by the BBC, revealing Stewart’s identity. She was stripped of her FCDO security clearance and subsequently sacked because, without it, she was unable to do her job.

Stewart’s lawyers expect the government to argue that the protections under the Public Interest Disclosure Act do not apply in this case because she was not, ultimately, dismissed for the act of whistleblowing, and they plan to challenge this.

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are rightly proud of our staff who worked tirelessly to evacuate more than 15,000 people from Afghanistan within a fortnight.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The cabinet secretary is proud to lead a civil service that works day in, day out to deliver the government’s priorities for the people of this country.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “We take our responsibilities as journalists very seriously and we deeply regret that the name of the email account was inadvertently revealed when the email was published on social media.”

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson declined to comment.


Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon

Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon
Updated 04 February 2023

Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon

Blinken postpones China trip over ‘unacceptable’ Chinese spy balloon
  • Jean-Pierre said the US administration was aware of China’s statement “but the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable this occurred”

WASHINGTON/BEIJING: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a visit to China that had been expected to start on Friday after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was tracked flying across the United States in what Washington called a “clear violation” of US sovereignty.
The Pentagon said on Thursday it was tracking a high-altitude surveillance balloon over the continental United States. Officials said military leaders considered shooting it down over Montana on Wednesday but eventually recommended against this to President Joe Biden because of the safety risk from debris.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was briefed on the balloon flight on Tuesday and there was an administration “consensus that it was not appropriate to travel to the People’s Republic of China at this time.”
China on Friday expressed regret that an “airship” used for civilian meteorological and other scientific purposes had strayed into US airspace.
Jean-Pierre said the US administration was aware of China’s statement “but the presence of this balloon in our airspace, it is a clear violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. It is unacceptable this occurred.”
On Friday, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon had changed course and was floating eastward at about 60,000 feet (18,300 meters) above the central United States and demonstrating a capability to maneuver. He said it would likely be over the country for a few more days.
Commercial forecaster AccuWeather said the balloon would potentially leave United States into the Atlantic on Saturday evening. Mike Rounds, a Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Fox News it would be good to recover the balloon “one way or another” to see “if it was designed to actually collect data or if it was designed to test our response capabilities.”
The Pentagon’s disclosure about the balloon’s maneuverability directly challenges China’s assertion about it being blown off course.
At a news conference with South Korea’s visiting foreign minister on Friday, Blinken said he had told Wang Yi, director of China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, that the incident on the eve of his trip was an “irresponsible act” by China, but Washington remained committed to engagement and he would visit when conditions allowed.
Blinken said he would not put a date on when he might go to China and the focus was on resolving the current incident. “The first step is ... getting the surveillance asset, out of our air space,” he said, adding that Washington would maintain open lines of communication with China.
The Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said the balloon should never have been allowed in US airspace and could have been shot down over water.
“I am calling on the Biden administration to quickly take steps to remove the Chinese spy balloon from US airspace,” he said in a statement.
LOST OPPORTUNITY?
A White House official said the administration had briefed staff of the so-called Gang of 8, which brings together Republican and Democratic leaders from the Senate and House, on Thursday afternoon.
The official said such balloon surveillance activity had “been observed over the past several years, including in the prior administration – we have kept Congress briefed on this issue.”
The postponing of Blinken’s trip, which had been agreed to in November by Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a blow to those who saw it as an overdue opportunity to stabilize an increasingly fractious relationship. The last visit by a US secretary of state was in 2017.
China is keen for a stable US relationship so it can focus on its economy, battered by the now-abandoned zero-COVID policy and neglected by foreign investors alarmed by what they see as a return of state intervention in the market.
In recent months Chinese leader Xi has met with world leaders, seeking to re-establish ties and settle disagreements.
Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for Asia under former President Barack Obama, said he did not see a strategic rationale for canceling the trip and stressed the importance of maintaining high-level engagement with China.
“In as much as the US has much bigger fish to fry with the Chinese than a surveillance balloon, the Biden team may be inclined to pick up where they left off after a decent interval,” he said.
Sino-US relations have soured significantly in recent years, particularly following then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August, which prompted dramatic Chinese military drills near the self-ruled island.
LIMITED INTELLIGENCE VALUE
The Pentagon’s Ryder told reporters on Thursday the balloon was at an altitude well above commercial air traffic and did not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground. One US official added it was assessed to have “limited additive value from an intelligence collection perspective.”
Another official said on Thursday the flight path would carry the balloon over a number of sensitive sites, but did not give details. Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana is home to 150 intercontinental ballistic missile silos.
Ryder declined on Friday to say where precisely the balloon was, but as he spoke, the National Weather Service in Kansas City said on Twitter it had received multiple reports across northwestern Missouri of a large balloon.
China has often complained about surveillance by the United States, including its deployment of ships or planes near Chinese military exercises.

 


Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success
Updated 04 February 2023

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success
  • Bangladeshi government asks Kingdom to supply oil on deferred payment basis
  • Request follows IMF approval of $4.7bn stabilization package for South Asian nation

DHAKA: After securing a stabilization package from the International Monetary Fund this week, Bangladesh has asked Saudi Arabia for extended credit on oil supplies, in a move that experts say would further help its economy get back on track.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen met Riyadh’s Ambassador to Dhaka, Essa Al-Duhailan, earlier this week. The foreign ministry said after the meeting that Momen had asked the Kingdom to consider supplying crude and refined oil “on a deferred payment basis” to help Bangladesh meet its energy needs.

The request came shortly after the IMF approved a $4.7 billion loan for Bangladesh.

HIGHLIGHT

Request follows IMF approval of $4.7bn stabilization package for South Asian nation.

“Bangladesh is now passing through a period of constrained foreign exchange reserves and is having difficulty in terms of opening LCs (letters of credit) and also in terms of paying for our imports,” Prof. Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Dhaka, told Arab News on Friday.

“If we can get Saudi oil on a deferred payment basis, it will ease up Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves and help Bangladesh in terms of purchasing other necessary imports which require instantaneous payment.”

The IMF’s Extended Credit Facility and Extended Fund Facility package approved for Bangladesh on Jan. 30 are likely to boost the country’s outlook among its creditors, including Saudi Arabia, and demonstrate its capacity to pay back.

Unlike other regional countries, such as crisis-hit Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Bangladesh did not ask the fund for a bailout loan. The approved arrangements are a stabilization package to fund structural reform, ensure balance-of-payment stability, and a stable and sustainable economic position.

“The IMF granting of $4.7 billion will be helpful in providing positive signals to our development partners that the fundamentals of the Bangladeshi economy remain strong, and that Bangladesh is also ready to take up reforms,” Rahman said.

“From that perspective, it will also be helpful in projecting to Saudi Arabia that while we are asking for deferred payment, the Bangladeshi economy will be able to sustain good foreign reserves and when the negotiated time comes, we will be able to pay.”

Besides taking the pressure off its dollar reserves, the extended credit on oil supplies would also help Bangladesh with energy security. The South Asian nation, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis in recent months.

Since mid-July, the government has been resorting to daily power cuts amid high global prices driven up by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Industries that do not receive sufficient power to run their operations have been forced to remain idle for several hours a day. In early October, about 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure caused by fuel shortages to over a third of the country’s gas-powered units.

Saudi Arabia supplies more than half of Bangladesh’s crude imports.

“We are bringing in oil, which is our regular, normal import, because our transport sector is fully dependent on this oil, and also partially our production,” said Prof. Mohammad Tamim, dean of chemical and material engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Importing energy and ensuring its uninterrupted supply are crucial to keeping the Bangladeshi economy afloat and helping it stabilize while other reforms requested by the IMF are implemented to fix structural problems.

“There is a lot of pressure in terms of importing energy products, so it’s very important that we keep supplying oil so that there is no disruption in economic activity,” Tamim said.

“Deferred payment will definitely help Bangladesh in tackling the dollar crunch now.”