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DAWN - Features; 1 May 2005

May 01, 2005

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KESC: what will be, will be!

By Nusrat Nasarullah


HERE comes the 1st of May and a long tiring journey through summer begins. Almost six months of warm weather, humid, oppressive and the way we live, perhaps even humiliating. A primary reason for this being the unreliable nature of power supplies. One wonders in vain when will the failures of Karachi Electric Supply Corporation in meeting the needs of the city ever end?

One sounds harsh here, but look at the way power failures and breakdowns, with load shedding thrown into aggravate matters, have been harassing a vast city, where other infrastructure inadequacies drive citizens to desperation. One sounds bitter and angry at the thought that there is an almost mechanical and brutal routine about how the rise in mercury in April serves to bring in rising proportions the fall in the levels of efficiency of KESC.

Once again April’s second fortnight once again began exposing the performance of KESC, and the hopes and optimism that Karachiites had at the beginning of this year about a better daily deal about stable power supplies, appeared hollow. Even pointless! For very obvious reasons, a paramount one being the privatization of KESC, wherein the Saudi group Kanooz Al Watan is to take over the management control of the organization, consumers had anticipated that summer 2005 would be slightly better; marginal relief would be felt and KESC’s improvement would be visible.

Some consumers I spoke to felt that the KESC should make public its vision and plan for each summer at about this time, and take the people into confidence about what lies ahead for them. Electricity consumers should be told of the extent of load shedding that is likely in case there is no breakdown, for example. What happens presently is almost deplorable where consumers are kept in the dark and taken for a ride.

In fact the KESC’S relationship with public is sketchy and unreliable – as the consumers are taken for granted. So much so that in a major power breakdown that had hit Karachi on Wednesday, the KESC exported 200MWs of power to the national grid from 11.22am until 12.05pm due to which power supply broke down in many areas,” states a news report. The news report mentions that the national power grid on Wednesday faced a shortage of 2,500 megawatts when electricity breakdowns occurred in Uch, Guddu and Lucky stations of Wapda; the cause of the breakdowns was not known. In a context, where terrorists are striking at national assets too, one can fearfully speculate.

Many Karachiites were both surprised and disappointed at the report that KESC was exporting power when it was itself short of it. “Didn’t the KESC engineering bosses know that by doing this it would render the KESC still more vulnerable?” asked one resident, troubled by the power failures in Federal B Area. This area is amongst the particularly hard hit residential areas when it comes to power failures.

But let us return to the point about KESC’s privatization, and refer to a report in Dawn which said that the “Saudi group coming to take over KESC”, either at the end of April or early May, after their “fears and misconceptions on Karachi’s law and order have been totally dispelled”.

And the Privatization Commission’s secretary was quoted as saying that “a few of the disgruntled elements” were responsible for misinforming and misguiding the Saudi group (Kanooz Al Watan) on the law and order situation in the city. And the news is that a chief executive has been appointed for KESC, who is a German with a long experience of managing utilities in Europe.

So while one looks to the new image of KESC in the days ahead, it is still undependable. I am unsure whether KESC has a soft image for that is what officialdom is seeking and demanding so often these days. It has the hard image of being unable to meet the growing demands of Karachi, when the mercury shoots up and even though there have been changes made, and expansive development carried out, it has been worryingly insufficient to deal with the challenges that a growing population is presenting.

The attacking of KESC complaint centres or KESC vans when citizens lose patience with power failures is nothing new now.

Recent years have seen this unhappy trend taking roots. Therefore, cynics may not be surprised at the fact that residents of Old Golimar, Pak Colony, and Bara Board took to the streets on last Sunday and stormed the complaint centre on Manghopir Road. They all were complaining about extended power failures on a daily basis, and were angry that the KESC officials did nothing to ensure that normal supplies were resumed.

Daily power failures, breakdowns, loadshedding! I have heard this from different colleagues and citizens residing in different places in the city. Details of how they go through a single night without electricity can be depressing as well. “The morning after is tough, and the work day has an enhanced degree of stress and weariness. And it seems that our sufferings will be endless, as power breakdowns will continue,” lamented a resident of Azizabad.

Here one refers to the tragic incident where in eight people lost their lives when a fire broke out in their apartment in Gulshan-i-Iqbal’s block-2. It was reportedly caused by a short circuit and they got trapped indoors. 

Power failures are now city wide and mercilessly so. In Defence Housing Authority, there was a 20-hour power failure on Monday, and residents complained that they were not informed in advance that this was going to happen. In fact this appears to be a common complaint. Also that even if an advertisement is issued, it is so insignificant that it is not noticed.

Evidently from the look of these menacing power failures that threaten to ruin another summer in our lives, I do not know whether it is sensible to read any optimism into the KESC’s performance at this stage.

If the KESC were to take the people into confidence about its strengths and weaknesses as of now, I wonder whether that would help endure the scorching heat of May and June and more that lies ahead.

A friend of mine reminds us each summer that to keep that torchlight handy and operational. It can be the answer to today’s KESC. Tomorrow’s KESC? What will be, will be!

Qabil Ajmeri remembered

A POETRY collection from the late Qabil Ajmeri, a rising poet in the 60s and died at the age of 31, was launched at the Pakistan Arts Council.

Among those who paid tribute to Qabil Ajmeri and spoke on his collection — Ishq Insan ki zaroorat hai — included Dr Ishrat Hussain, Mohsin Bhupali who also chaired the function, Prof Saher Ansari, Moin Akhtar, Ahmad Raes and Gulnar Afreen.

Dr Ishrat Hussain said that ghazal was his first love and had many ghazals of Qabil at his finger tips which he recited to the excitement of the audience. He was a student of science at Hyderabad but Qabil’s poetry changed the cause of his life some 50 years ago.

The late Qabil Ajmeri, a tuberculosis patient died a dejected person, a victim of some of his jealous contemporaries and rivals. But, the speaker said, he never lost his optimism and love for life when he said: Ji raha hoon is etmad ke saath Zindagi ko meri zaroorat hai

Dr Ishrat recalled that in those years of 60s and early 70s, there were four contemporary poets—Mohsin Bhopali, Hemayat Ali Shair, Akhtar Ansari Akberabadi and Qabil Ajmeri. They never reconciled with each other but Qabili’s lamentation was the jealousy of some person who referred to acknowledge him as a poet. Mohsin Bhopali was, however, always at his support. Dr Ishrat recalled the couplets, which they had composed against each other, and wanted them to respect others.

While Mohsin Bhopali supported the opinion expressed by Dr Ishrat Hussain and other speakers, he narrated the merits of Qabil’s ghazals, his rich experience of the contemporary life, the diversity which his ghazals carried and the optimistic view of life despite his ailment. He could see death approaching nearer with each passing day but his faith in life never failed, Mohsin said.

Earlier, Prof Saher Ansari admired Qabil’s poetry for its richness in contents and simplicity in expression.

Moin Akhtar recited some of his couplets. His selection of Qabil’s verses that he presented enthralled the audience.

Poet and writer Gulnar Afreen eulogized Qabil’s poetry but she was more attracted to the nurse at the TB sanatorium who devotedly served the ailing poet and later got married with him. She was Begum Nargis Ajmeri who died in 2001.

Saher Ansari said that the journal Talib-i-Ilm carrying seven valuable articles and poetry of Qabil Ajmeri, which was compiled by Hasan Zaheer and supervised by Mohsin Bhopali in 60s, should be reproduced.

The function was organized by Majlis Yadgar-i-Qabil, the poet’s son Zafer Qabil and his patron Nusrat Mirza.

At the outset, Ahmad Raes read out a paper introducing the poet, his person and works, which was gaining popularity in Indian academics as well. —H.A

Gulf war — of a different kind

By Geof Malone


A NEW Gulf war has broken out, but this time it has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, getting rid of a tyrant, or controlling oil reserves. The latest tussle is taking place on the financial battlefield and the contestants are Dubai, Bahrain and Qatar.

Victory will go to the location that can attract the biggest number of international banks, investment houses, insurance companies and financial service providers.

For many years, Bahrain was the financial centre of the Gulf with international banks basing offshore operations there. But Bahrain was a sleepy place in the 70s and 80s, run by a jovial amir who kept things ticking over while keeping a lid on the seething discontent of the Shia community. One of his great joys was to go and sit on his private beach and chat to invited European expatriates.

While Bahrain dozed, and never did much to fulfil its potential from being the first in the development game, Dubai got going with a vengeance and soon overtook the island known as the Pearl of the Gulf.

When the Bahrain amir died in 1999, his son took over, declared that he would henceforth be known as king, and then started initiating the catch-up game.

Meanwhile just across the water from Bahrain, and in an even deeper sleep, was Qatar. Despite a small population and huge riches from sitting on the world’s biggest gas field, little had happened there. In the mid-90s, the crown prince staged a coup against his father and again there has been considerable activity in recent years.

Both Bahrain and Qatar look down the Gulf at Dubai and apparently like a lot of what they see - moves for tourism, property development, the creation of a business hub and - what brings us to this week’s news - the establishment of a financial centre.

Although Bahrain had offshore banks based there, they were always small operations and not contributing a great deal to the economy. Dubai decided it could take over.

The announcement a couple of years back of the Dubai International Financial Centre was met with considerable interest around the world. It was said it would bridge the gap between the stock markets of Europe and the Far East, allowing 24-hour trading.

Dubai said it would be created to the highest financial and legal standards and the words integrity, transparency and efficiency were bandied around. Figures of high standing from the London financial world were hired for their expertise and credibility.

But Dubai shot itself in the foot when two of the regulators queried the award of a property contract at the centre. They were dismissed and suddenly the credibility was in doubt in the circles that matter most - in New York, London, Paris, Frankfurt and Hong Kong.

This happened last year, heads have since rolled, new appointments made and Dubai has been frantically trying to re-establish its credentials.

I can see the financial centre from my office. A huge building known as the Gateway leads on to a long avenue that is currently a massive building site which will soon be a community of hotels, commercial centres, shopping malls and - Dubai hopes - offices housing financial institutions.

But now Dubai has serious competition. Bahrain has launched its ‘financial harbour’ and this week Qatar said its ‘financial centre’ would begin operations on May 1.

Both make exactly the same claims about doing business as Dubai. Being in similar time zone, they can also bridge the gap between east and west and also offer similar incentives. Qatar scored a bit of a credibility coup when it hired one of Dubai’s sacked regulators and made great efforts not to smirk when the announcement was made.

So the stage is set for financial institutions from throughout the world to be wooed. It is unlikely that there are enough wanting to set up operations in the Middle East for all three locations to be busy. There is a lot at stake in this war - not only the infrastructure investment involved, but national pride.

*****

The UAE is a melting pot of dozens of nationalities and all of them form groups, either for business, cultural, welfare or purely patriotic reasons.

The Pakistani community has three main groups in Dubai - the Pakistan Association Dubai (PAD), the Pakistan Professionals Forum and the Pakistani Business Council.

The last two are business-oriented while PAD was formed for reasons of welfare and to promote social contacts. Over the years it has done a lot of good work, including educational schemes for the poor, helping repatriate prisoners from Dubai’s jail and staging theatrical events.

Unfortunately things have not always gone smoothly with differences of opinion on how things should be run becoming public, with resulting bitterness.

The PAD’s annual general election last November was hotly contested with 38 candidates split into factions. There was a fiercely fought battle and many of the 2,000 plus members turned out to vote, electing the group that supported the outgoing committee.

The main opposition, the United Panel, gracefully accepted the result, although a few months later formed a rival grouping, the United Forum, saying they were unhappy with the managing committee. It appears the catalyst for this breakaway was the fact that none of the ‘opposition’ was invited to a reception to welcome Information and Broadcasting Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed when he visited Dubai.

While the United Panel said they were being totally ignored, the PAD President, Mohammed Shafi Samana, said that with so many members, there just wasn’t room to invite everyone, an explanation which did little to smooth hurt feelings.

Despite the aggravation, PAD is continuing to play an important role in helping the community and is appealing for more funds.

Last year more than two million dirhams (Rs33 million) was spent on welfare schemes, including medical treatment for 70 patients. More than 30 people who need treatment approach the association every week.

During the first three months of this year, more than 800 illegal immigrants who had been rounded up by the authorities and jailed were helped with tickets for their journey home, without which they would have remained in prison.

This week PAD announced some new initiatives, including insurance for all members, and plans to at last begin construction of a long-awaited multi-purpose hall.

The secretary general, Shahidul Islam Khan, also said that in future they will hold their events at the association’s premises instead of five-star hotels, to attract a wider cross-section of the community and, apparently, in response to allegations of elitism - a criticism, I must point out, which is by no means restricted to the Pakistan Association.

Old Japanese make way for unskilled foreign workers

By Suvendrini Kakuchi


TOKYO: It can be seen as an International Labour Day bonus for those trying to seek their fortunes in Japan. Beginning May 1, Tokyo will be less fussy with unskilled foreign workers and start opening its labour market doors to them to ward off a looming demographic crisis. The harsh reality confronting Japan’s planners is a rapidly aging population and fast dwindling local workforce. According to the UN, Japan’s population will decline from 127 million in 2004 to 109 million in 2050. In effect, a smaller working population will have to support a larger group of pensioners.

“With Japan’s labour force expected to decrease by 10 per cent in the next 25 years, the economic outlook is far from bright,” said Julian Chapple, a lecturer with Kyoto Sangyo University. “In all likelihood the domestic market will shrink, production will fall, the government’s revenue base will contract inexorably and it will struggle to meet welfare and medical payments for an increasing number of elderly as the dependency ratio (the number of workers supporting the elderly) will shift dramatically,” Chapple wrote in a recent report for the ‘Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies’.

Studies indicate that in 1950 one elderly person was supported by 12 members of the working population, by 1990 it was 5.5 workers, and by 2020 it is estimated to be 2.3 workers. “Naturally the government is concerned about such a scenario,” wrote the lecturer. “The question now is how can Japan ease this predicted slide, maintain its population and therefore ensure economic security and continued prosperity? In early April, the Japanese government unveiled a new immigration plan, following a report prepared by Japan’s Justice Ministry asking the cabinet to “firmly consider” bringing in unskilled foreign workers. “After years of trying to ignore the problem, Japan realises the important role of migrants to provide cheap labour and stimulate the local economy,” said Katsunori Yoshinari, head of the Asia Peoples Friendship Association, a non-governmental organisation.

The new policy represents a shift for Japan, which has, till now, refused to allow unskilled foreign labour into the country. It has also been lukewarm about letting in more skilled workers. “The programme is in response to Japanese companies that want the government to consider accepting migrant workers,” said Shoichiro Okabe, an official at the Justice Ministry.

He explained the new policy will focus on relaxed immigration controls accompanied by new conditions when accepting unskilled labour such as placing priority on Japanese language skills. Farm, fisheries and forestry sectors are expected to be the main beneficiaries of the new policy, which will be effective for five years starting in May. A decision on which other sectors would be allowed to invite foreign unskilled workers is expected soon.

Experts point out Japan’s tightly controlled immigration policy has long ensured the homogeneity of Japanese society. But such a stance has taken a severe beating recently given domestic labour problems. “Prying open Japan to foreigners is not an easy task given deep-rooted suspicion of outside influences. Against such a background, indications from the government itself to open up its doors shows important changes,” explained Asia Peoples Friendship Association’s Yoshinari. Indeed, several small towns and cities in Japan, faced with labour crunches, have already started studying programmes to accept foreign workers. Kimio Matsudaira, an official at Hello Work, a public labour office in Ota city, Gumma prefecture, 60 kilometres north of Tokyo, said there is now a special programme to help and support foreigners working in the area. Ota has a population of about 200,000 people. The irony is that more than sixty per cent of its people are over 60 years of age, in a city where the economy is dependent on manufacturing. Without doubt, Ota really needs foreign workers badly. To support the city’s automobile and electronic industries, Ota is now host to more than 30,000 Japanese Latin Americans, descendants of Japanese who emigrated to South America in the early 20th century seeking a better future. In the late eighties Japan launched a policy of accepting third and fourth generation Japanese Latin Americans to support a labour shortage in its factories stemming from the bubble economy at that time. More recently, Asians, mostly from South-east Asia, have also arrived to work in factories, comprising a total of 45,000 registered workers in Ota city. Matsudaira said foreign workers are vital to the survival of Ota’s economy.

“In order to have a smooth process of accepting foreigners we provide support services such as language classes, driving lessons, private housing and counseling. The system works very well,” he told IPS. Hiroaki Watanabe, an expert at the Japan Labour Research Institute, a private think tank, said the latest move to accept unskilled migrant labour, in contrast to skilled foreigners, must be accompanied by such support services. “Moreover it is important to start with accepting small numbers of unskilled workers to minimise social problems in a closed domestic society that is not ready for foreigners,” he said. But public opinion is sharply divided on foreign workers. A survey last year asked people how they would feel about a foreigner taking a job which no Japanese wanted. Thirty-three per cent rejected the idea, 31 per cent had no objections and 29 per cent would support it if there were no other option, with the rest having no opinion or undecided.

Polls also show more Japanese fear foreigners as a source of crime. Figures for 2004 show serious crimes fell by 4.4 percent year-on-year, but crimes by foreigners — while accounting for a minority of incidents — shot up by 16 per cent.—Dawn/IPS News Service