Old friends picked up the tab for Davos trip: PM

Updated 25 Jan 2020

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Imran says his visit cost 10 times less than those of past leaders. — File photo courtesy of CNBC
Imran says his visit cost 10 times less than those of past leaders. — File photo courtesy of CNBC

KARACHI: Terming his participation in the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting “cheapest” official visit, Prime Minister Imran Khan disclosed that his trip was sponsored by his friends and well-known businessmen Ikram Sehgal and Imran Chaudhry.

Addressing the ‘Breakfast at Davos’, an event jointly organised by Pathfinder Group and Martin Dow Group on Thursday, the prime minister said his Davos trip cost 10 times less than those of the previous leaders.

He recalled that his trip to the UN General Assembly last November was the least costly with $160,000 as compared to former president Asif Zardari’s $1.4 million expenditure, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s $1.3m and even $800,000 of former premier Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

Thanking Ikram Sehgal, a retired military officer and chairman of the Pathfinder Group, Mr Khan said: “He is instrumental in getting me here. Otherwise, I would not have burdened my government to pay a sum of $450,000 for two nights.”

It is perhaps the first time that the expenses of a prime minister’s official travel have been covered by private citizens or businessmen.

Imran says his visit cost 10 times less than those of past leaders

Reiterating that this was an ‘austerity programme’, PM Khan said the government should rely on the over nine million Pakistanis residing overseas. “The GDP of those nine million overseas Pakistanis in my opinion is almost 50pc of Pakistan’s [overall] GDP of 200m people. So we can use this resource and they can sponsor these things,” he said.

The premier said he had stopped his ministers from going on junkets. “Whenever they say they want to go somewhere, I immediately cancel the trip until they convince me that it will be productive for the country. I don’t allow them to go anywhere,” he said.

Expenses at Davos

To be able to attend the WEF annual meeting, a person has to be invited — in which case the event is free — or has to be a member of the Forum.

A membership of the WEF costs about $60,000 to $600,000, plus an additional fee needed to acquire an attendance badge, which runs about $27,000 per person to get into the conference.

Earlier in a press release issued prior to the PM’s visit, the government had said that the trip was expected to cost only $68,000 to the exchequer.

“Saving is part of the prime minister’s ongoing robust drive in which he has also directed that the expenditures upon his upcoming WEF participation be minimised,” said the press release.

‘Sponsored’ breakfast

According to an article authored by Ikram Sehgal in a local newspaper, the Pathfinder Group joined by the Martin Dow Group has been working at Davos since 1992 towards projecting a soft image of Pakistan before the world.

Among the many initiatives taken by the group at the meeting is the ‘Pakistan breakfast’ that is held every year since 2002. The breakfast event is entirely funded by private corporate entities, mainly the Pathfinder Group that provides security services and Martin Dow Group that is a multinational pharmaceutical company.

Prime Minister Khan has previously attended the Pakistan breakfast in 2011, 2012 and 2013 as a chief guest. Former prime minister Abbasi, former army chief Raheel Sharif and former chief justice Saqib Nisar among many others have also spoken at the event in the past.

Who is Imran Chaudhry?

Prime Minister Khan’s decades-old close friend Imran Chaudhry has been an ardent donor towards his charitable causes, mainly the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital. Mr Chaudhry is a Dubai-based businessman and philanthropist, having investment in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

According to media reports, Mr Chaudhry played a pivotal role in supporting and promoting Princess Diana’s visit to Pakistan in 1996 and generating contributions for the cancer hospital.

The prime minister was also accompanied by Mr Chaudhry at a charity dinner hosted by Prince Charles and Duchess of Cornwall Camilla in London in 2013.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2020