The Indian Express | 2 weeks ago | 18-05-2023 | 11:45 am
Six Pacific countries are at a high risk of debt distress in part due to government spending to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, the World Bank said in a report on Thursday.The report, titled Raising Pasifika, said fiscal consolidation was needed in Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu because these countries lack domestic debt markets and access to international capital markets.Among other countries in the region, Vanuatu is rated at medium risk, while Palau and Nauru’s debt is sustainable, the report noted.“While public debt levels as a share of GDP remain modest across most of the region, the PIC9’s economic geography and volatile revenue bases mean debt distress risks remain elevated,” it said.Debt has surged in the region since 2019 as the tourism-dependent economies were hit by COVID border closures, trade was hurt by logistical challenges and weather events caused damage. The World Bank last month said that Fiji must also take urgent action to reduce its debt burden.Stephen Ndegwa, World Bank Country Director for Papua New Guinea & the Pacific Islands, said reducing debt, strengthening revenue and improving the quality of government spending are critical areas for Pacific countries to address.The report said continued access to grants in line with pre-pandemic trends is also essential to find capital investment projects for sustainable development and climate resilience.The World Bank report recommends that, together with more efficient spending, improvements to tax collection must be a priority for Pacific governments to ensure individuals and businesses are contributing their fair share to the region’s economies.It also said that Pacific countries should allocate more to social assistance and protection measures.“These investments would help reduce poverty and inequality, while also supporting communities in tough times, including in the aftermath of climate-related disasters or major economic shocks, such as the region saw from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent natural disasters in Tonga and Vanuatu,” it said.
Lionel Messi is no stranger to Saudi Arabia. More than a decade ago, he visited the country for a friendly match. In subsequent years, he made numerous visits for friendlies and glorified friendlies (2019 Superclasico de las Americas) for club and country. Last year, he penned a lucrative (which goes without saying) contract to be their tourism ambassador. The unveiling ceremony happened in Jeddah, the port city on the shores of the Red Sea. This year, he spent a week with the family in the country, exploring Al-Turaif, the 300-year-old Unesco World Heritage Site in Diriyah, attending a traditional wedding, diligently and aggressively photographed and tweeted by tourism minister Ahmed al-Khateeb. In another two months, his ties with the country could get firmer as he could receive a $400 million per year offer to join Saudi club Al-Hilal. Perhaps, citizenship too in the future.It’s understandable, the rich need the famous. The kingdom needs a global sporting identity. They have none. They don’t have time to make one either. So just buy the most famous sporting specimen in the world, which is Messi. The Argentine is not bothered by what they would say or how they would perceive him. Forget the activists, the “wokes” and communists. There is little obligation for a sportsman to embrace a politically correct path, or to ride a moral high horse. Diplomacy is the more practical virtue.🔝👟 Congratulations to Leo Messi, best passer of the season in #Ligue1!#HistoryIsMadeInParis pic.twitter.com/Vbo5Vt7rig— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) June 3, 2023Only a few truly great athletes are sensitive to social and moral concerns. Mohammad Ali was one, Jesse was another: Pele and Usain Bolt were not. Perhaps, Ali and Owens were aberrations. The demands of modern sport is such that theirs is a cocooned existence, their life trapped in four walls of an arena, glory and adulation their drug. Often, it’s the less great athletes that turn activists or stand for a cause (Megan Rapinoe and Marcus Rashford for example).Maybe, Messi is truly ignorant of the politics of the country he was endorsing. But before he was unveiled, the families of political prisoners sent him a letter organised by human rights advocacy body Grant Liberty to refuse the offer. “If you say ‘yes’ to Visit Saudi you are in effect saying yes to all the human rights abuses that take place today in modern Saudi Arabia,” read the letter, which was first published in February 2021. “But if you say ‘no’ you will send an equally powerful message – that human rights matter, that decency matters, that those who torture and murder do not do so with impunity. The world must stand up to those who trample on others. The Saudi regime wants to use you to launder its reputation.”Their voices went unheard and unheeded. Maybe, there was external pressure, maybe he truly did not care, maybe the lure of the lucre was irresistible. None of these would, at the end of the day, affect Messi’s fame, or his place among the great athletes of all time. But by happenstance or not, Messi is emerging as the face and scale of the ambition of rich and powerful Middle Eastern states. For two years, he was part of PSG, purchased by Qatar to beautify its image before the World Cup. Messi was on the payroll of a Qatar-owned club when the country hosted the World Cup. It is difficult to see him playing football in 2030, the year Saudi is striving to host the World Cup, but it is not hard to imagine that Messi would still be the poster-boy of the tournament, or even the glittering face of it. Maybe, he would hand over the trophy to the winners, clad in the traditional Middle Eastern cloak. It’s like you need Messi to host the World Cup, either as their ambassador or playing for the club they are pay-rolling.Messi lifting the trophy with the black bisht, thin and see-through, wrapped over his Argentina shirt by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, could well be a symbolic moment. A symbol of vaulting sporting ambition, to promote a sport-loving, outward-facing image, a thick coat of paint to wash over their supposed conservative image.To a large extent, it worked in Qatar. Lazy stereotypes were busted, Qatar gained acceptance and won a lot of love. Saudi would believe the ploy of making Messi its tourism ambassador could be a perception breaker. The country should not be projected as some kind of evil. It has money and resources, it wants to remould its image, and for that it seeks some of the most recognizable faces in the world. Football stars are the safest bet too.So Messi could shutter down his glorious career in Saudi. As would Ronaldo, who is already playing in the Saudi league. Other greats in the sunset of their career could join them, and make Saudi an unlikely destination for the semi-retired titans. It’s not because Saudi wants to improve the standard of the league, or the game in the country, but to create a brand and image, just as it was for Qatar when it acquired majority stakes in PSG. Had the intention been to construct a world-beating club, they would have aspired to create a system and structure, and not make an aimless ensemble of expensive players. And there’s no bigger brand or powerful image-builder in the world than Messi. If any, Messi’s real association with Saudi might have just begun, and that makes him neither a saint nor a devil.
The third G20 tourism working group meeting is set to begin in Srinagar Monday amid elaborate security arrangements. The three-day meeting will see the highest participation of foreign delegates as compared to the two previous meetings, said G20 Chief Coordinator Harshvardhan Shringla Sunday.“We have the highest representation from foreign delegations for the tourism working group meeting in Srinagar, than we have had in the previous working group meetings. Our experience is that in any working group meeting, to get such a large turnout of delegates not only from G20 countries but also from international organisations that are part of the G20 is an incredible process,” Shringla told reporters.At least 60 foreign delegates will participate in the meeting although not all G20 member countries will be participating in it. Singapore has the largest contingent among the member countries attending the meeting, including its High Commissioner Simon Wong.Bangladesh High Commissioner Mustafizur Rahman and South Korean Ambassador Chang Jae-bok are among other senior diplomats expected to attend meetings over the next three days.Highlighting the significance of hosting the event in Srinagar, Shringla said, “If you have to do a working group on tourism in India, we have to do it in Srinagar. There is no option.”This is the first such international event in Jammu and Kashmir since 2019, when it became a Union Territory. The first G20 tourism working group meeting was held in Gujarat and the second in West Bengal.Shringla said the meeting has the broader objectives to present India’s rich and diverse cultural identity to the world and to promote tourism potential of India to the world. “We have tried to bring in the sustainable tourism, eco tourism, adventure tourism themes that are relevant to J&K,” he said.The meeting also aims to strengthen economic growth, preserve cultural heritage, and promote sustainable development of the region. J&K Tourism Secretary Syed Abid Rashid said that 300 new tourist destinations on various tracks are being promoted in J&K to accommodate the burgeoning tourism industry in the region.Sources, meanwhile, said an unprecedented security apparatus has been put in place in Srinagar for the G20 meeting. This includes reinforced CCTV surveillance, anti-drone system, deployment of the elite NSG and elite Marine Commandos and restrictions on civilian movement on key roads.The J&K administration has dropped Gulmarg from the itinerary for security and logistic reasons. Security has been tightened in other parts of the Valley as well to thwart any militant attempt to disrupt law and order.“We have placed a multi-tier security system in place,” a senior police officer told The Indian Express. “While some elite forces from the Centre have arrived in the Valley, the main responsibility of security has been given to police and paramilitary forces. There is an increased coordination between various security and intelligence agencies to prevent any militant design.”Official sources said for the first time, the NSG and Marine Commandos have been deployed to secure the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC), the venue for the meeting, and its surrounding areas.While hundreds of security cameras are in place in the city already, the officials said the CCTV surveillance has been reinforced as more cameras have been installed to keep an eye on emerging situations. “The footage from the cameras is being monitored in real time,” the officer said.On Saturday, traffic police issued an advisory restricting the civilian movement on the main road leading to SKICC for three days. All schools in Srinagar will also remain shut from Monday to Wednesday.As a precautionary measure, the security agencies have asked members of the minority community and workers from outside to stay indoors. “With such heavy security bandobast, it is possible that militants might try to choose soft targets like outside workers or minorities,” said another police officer. “That is the reason such an advisory has been issued.”J&K Lieutenant-Governor Manoj Sinha, meanwhile, said the G20 meeting in Srinagar is a “historic opportunity” for people of J&K to showcase their culture, heritage, tourism and warm hospitality.“G20’s third tourism working group meeting starting from May 22 is a historic opportunity for 13 million citizens of J&K to showcase priceless culture, heritage, tourism and warm hospitality. All the citizens should come forward and be a part of this memorable event,” he said in his ‘Awaam Ki Awaaz’ Radio programme, seeking support of the people for the successful conduct of the event.
THREE DAYS before the G20 tourism working group meeting begins in Srinagar on Monday, three countries – China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – had not registered till Friday.A PTI report from Beijing quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin as saying: “China firmly opposes holding any form of G20 meetings on disputed territory… We will not attend such meetings.”There was no official word from Turkey or Saudi Arabia.However, Union Tourism Secretary Arvind Singh said the window to register would remain open till the morning of May 22.Besides India, the G20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States, and the European Union.Officials confirmed that delegates from the remaining countries have signed up for the three-day event.Besides G20 members, delegates from guest countries and several international organisations have also been invited. These include Bangladesh, Egypt, Mauritius, Netherlands, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Spain and the UAE. Officials said that barring Egypt, all other countries have registered to send their delegates.The Srinagar G20 meet will be the first major international event in Jammu and Kashmir since August 2019, when the state was divided into two UTs — J&K and Ladakh — and its special status under Article 370 of the Constitution was revoked.On the sidelines, a major event will also be held to highlight film tourism, which the UT administration has been promoting in a big way in the last few years. While the inaugural day is devoted to cultural events, the deliberations will be held on the second day. Another side event highlighting eco-tourism has also been planned.This is the third meeting of the tourism working group, after the ones held in Rann of Kutch and Siliguri/Darjeeling. Besides Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy and MoS Jitendra Singh, the event will see the presence of G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant and G20 Chief Coordinator Harsh Vardhan Shringla, officials said.Singh said that the discussions of the first two tourism working group meetings will be taken further during the third meeting as well before the drafting of the final ministerial communique. The fourth meeting of the tourism track group, in Goa next month, will be followed by a ministerial meeting.Meanwhile, ahead of the meeting in Srinagar, officials said security arrangements are being supervised directly by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the city has been spruced up to host the delegates. A visit to one of the Smart City projects in Srinagar is also likely to be included. Officials said that hotel staff and emergency-service providers have also been sensitised.
Nearly 350 film crews have been permitted to shoot in Jammu & Kashmir over the last two years, a record number in the past four decades. Besides mainstream Hindi films, movies and series in Punjabi, Urdu, Telugu, Kannada and a series for History TV18, called OMG! Yeh Mera India, have also been shot in Kashmir.Just last month, actor Shah Rukh Khan had landed in the Valley for Rajkumar Hirani’s Dunki, in which he plays an Army officer. A song for the film was shot in Sonmarg and the crew did a recce in the neighbouring Thajiwas glacier. Earlier this year, filmmaker Karan Johar had arrived at the Gulmarg Ski Resort with the crew of Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani, including lead actors Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt. While Gulmarg remains a favourite, besides Srinagar, Pahalgam and Doodhpathri, filmmakers are now being encouraged to explore unknown locales.The J&K tourism department said recently that it had selected hundreds of destinations to promote film tourism in the UT this year. The G20 tourism working group meeting, to be held on May 22-24 in Srinagar, will include a mega side event on film tourism.“Our focus this year is to promote film tourism, for which we have kept 300 destinations on the table for producers and directors to choose from,” said UT’s Tourism Secretary Syed Abid Rasheed, adding that the department will promote film tourism in a big way so that many untouched destinations are explored.Talking about the G20 event, he added, “It will be a great opportunity for J&K to showcase its beauty. Through the meeting, we will be able to promote film tourism in J&K.”Late last year, National Award-winning filmmaker Onir shot his film Chahiye Thoda Pyaar in Gurez Valley, located close to the Line of Control (LoC). Officials said with the security situation improving, areas close to the border have been opened for film shoots. Places like Bhaderwah and Kishtwar are also attracting Bollywood filmmakers, they added.The new film policy launched by the UT administration in 2021, along with single-window clearance and subsidy options, also entails “appropriate security and safety arrangements to be made free of cost to enable filmmakers to complete shooting”. Officials said this has reassured many film crews seeking to shoot in tougher terrain and in picturesque villages close to the LoC.In Harwan, on the outskirts of Srinagar, veteran actor Zarina Wahab recently returned to Kashmir after 45 years to film the Urdu web series Armaan. Noted filmmaker Lokesh Kanagaraj’s upcoming Tamil project Leo, featuring Vijay, Trisha and Sanjay Dutt, also included a schedule in Kashmir.“All the spots in almost all the districts in the UT are open for filming,” said a senior official, adding that the maximum number of requests have been received for shoots in and around Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens, Sonmarg and Doodhpathri.During the Covid-19 lockdown, when international travel remained largely curtailed, several filmmakers from regional film industries — particularly Telugu and Tamil — fell back on Kashmir to shoot song sequences, which they otherwise would have shot against the backdrop of the Alps. This gave a boost to J&K’s allied industries, including hotels, tour guides, taxi operators, translators and film production facilitation enterprises.Raj Kapoor’s 1949 film Barsaat is credited to have introduced the Valley to a larger audience, following which several filmmakers made a beeline for Kashmir. However, things began to change in the 1980s, after insurgency reared its head.In recent years, films like Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir, Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan and Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan were shot in Kashmir. But now, officials said, 350 of 500 requests for permission to shoot films in the Valley have already been granted.The official added that the biggest change the new policy introduced was the single-window clearance system. “It is a seamless portal, where a simple application and minimum documentation is solicited from applicants and permission to shoot is provided within a month of the application being received,” he said.The applicant only interacts with the portal and clearances are coordinated from all the departments concerned. The official added that besides the location permission committee, headed by the respective divisional commissioners, the script screening committee looks at scripts for sensitive or anti-national content before giving the nod.In fact, there are incentives connected to the themes of films and series. For instance, as per the policy document, films produced to inspire the feeling of ‘One Nation, Best Nation’ shall be given 50 per cent of their cost or Rs 50 lakh, whichever is less, by way of subsidy. Films related to child and women empowerment will be given an additional financial assistance of 25 per cent.The 2021 film policy, which sets the vision till 2026, also aims to uplift the local film sector. A filmmaker giving work to local artists will get an additional subsidy of up to Rs 50 lakh, over and above the Rs 1 crore subsidy, in case more than 50 per cent of shooting days have been spent in Kashmir.Local Kashmiri actors are being taken as main leads, something that has not happened before. In fact, most actors in Onir’s Chahiye Thoda Pyaar are said to be Kashmiris.To popularise Indian films, the UT is also hoping to reopen closed cinema halls and upgrade existing ones. Last September, the UT got its first multiplex, with INOX opening doors in Srinagar. No wonder then that the epic moment was marked by the screening of two epic films — Vikram Vedha and Ponniyin Selvan.
The Partition Museum was inaugurated Thursday at the Dara Shikoh Library in Ambedkar University Delhi, Kashmere Gate.Inaugurating the museum, Education Minister Atishi, who also holds the portfolio of Art and Culture, said: “ I come from a family of Partition survivors. My grandfather worked as a clerk in the Government of India and had to stay with his parents in Pakistan till the very last moment… my great-grandmother planned to take a train from Pakistan to India, but did not…it had no survivors… this was a divine intervention.”“It is very easy to destruct the social fabric of the society with hatred, but it takes hundreds of years to heal those wounds… vested interests of some people broke the social fabric of our country, and till today, lakhs of families are traumatised because of that,” she added.Atishi appreciated the uniqueness of the Partition Museum and highlighted that not only does it speak about history but also connects people with the past.Along with interactive media, the museum will feature a ‘virtual reality experience’, belongings donated by people who witnessed the Partition, and a souvenir shop.The library will also serve as a cultural hub with exhibits on different aspects of the city and its history.The museum would endeavour to depict memories of the Partition as experienced by people, officials said.The period transformed Delhi significantly and major parts of the national capital, including the areas like Lajpat Nagar, C R Park and Punjabi Bagh, were established after the Partition.The museum will feature seven customised galleries designed to explain aspects of the Partition and the struggle for Independence.Witnessing the rail coaches, ancient havelis, and replicas of refugee camps would be an eye-opening experience for many, said an official statement, adding that the museum has a special gallery dedicated to Sindh.The museum also includes a ‘Gallery of Hope and Courage’ which would display photographs, mementos, and experiences of people revisiting their ancient properties and places in Pakistan decades after the Partition.The project has been taken up under the Union Ministry of Tourism’s ‘Adopt a Heritage’ scheme, which involves adopting and maintaining such structures.The building itself, which had issues of leaking roofs and damp walls, was restored by the Delhi government and retains parts of its colonial and Mughal pasts.The library building that was Dara Shikoh’s, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s son, in the 1600s, was later inhabited by David Ochterlony, the British Resident in Delhi.