SpyCam Moment: WCEI in Easton with Stacie Monz

StacieMonz

There is something irresistible about small-town radio stations. It might be the big personalities in tiny communities, or the community projects they help sponsor, or the devoted fan base for morning show hosts like Easton’s Matt Spence, but WCEI meets all the criteria for one of the best examples of what might considered a somewhat rare species.

And at the center of a radio station like WCEI is the famously multitasking job of general manager. While there are stereotypes like hands off Arthur Carlson in “WKRP in Cincinnati” or “NewsRadio” and the long-suffering Dave Nelson, the fact is that most station managers have to play many, many hats, including being on radio themselves.

This is the case with Stacie Monz at WECI. From sales to working with local elementary kids do the weather reports of Fridays, Stacie seems to do it all. The Spy caught up with her in the WECI studio for a SpyCam Moment.

Oyster Aquaculture in MD, VA Hits Snags in 2014

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Oyster aquaculture production continues to rev up the seaside economies in Maryland and Virginia, but the need for better leasing laws and procedures coupled with a tough year for hatcheries slowed production in 2014.

Hatcheries from Maryland to North Carolina experienced water-quality problems, and scientists haven’t figured out why. Unlike in 2011, when hatchery managers and scientists blamed a slog of freshwater from hurricanes for poor production, this year’s problems seem site-specific.

Technicians at the Horn Point Laboratories warm up the water to induce spawning in brood stock oysters in 2010. Production was down about 30 percent in 2014. (Dave Harp)

Technicians at the Horn Point Laboratories warm up the water to induce spawning in brood stock oysters in 2010. Production was down about 30 percent in 2014. (Dave Harp)

At the University of Maryland’s Horn Point Hatchery in Cambridge, production was down about 30 percent, according to Don Webster, an extension agent who specializes in aquaculture. Horn Point is the largest hatchery in Maryland, and the state owns and operates it. Unlike many private hatcheries, Horn Point’s is loaded with top-notch equipment and several filtration systems. Webster said Horn Point staff consulted with oyster experts elsewhere, but couldn’t figure out the problem, which lasted from May until July.

“This was the first time we’d seen it widespread, and for that long,” Webster said. “Nothing seemed to work on it.”

Horn Point will close the year with about 900 million spat, which oyster farmers and the state plant on the bottom after the larvae set on oyster shells. In 2013, Horn Point announced it produced more than 1 billion spat, more than any other hatchery in the country. That was after several years in the 500-million range.

Spat-on-shell is how most oysters are grown in Maryland and Virginia’s aquaculture operations. These oysters largely go to the shucking house market.

In Virginia, the half-dozen private hatcheries cater to both the spat-on-shell market and those who grow individual oysters in floats and cages. They fared better than Horn Point overall, said Jim Wesson, who is the head of conservation and replenishment for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

But individual hatcheries had their own crises. One on the Eastern Shore lost several days of production because a neighbor removed creosote from pilings during the spawning season.

Another, on Gywnn’s Island, was having its most productive year on record until the Virginia Department of Transportation began sandblasting paint off the island’s tiny bridge. Two days later, nothing would grow, Wesson said.

When asked what specifically killed the larvae, which are extremely sensitive, Wesson said it was a combination of the zinc, copper and cadmium in the paint and stripping materials, all of which got into the water.

“If you had to list things that would kill an oyster larvae, those would be on it,” he said. “Whatever this was, it was messing up their digestion. You could see it in the microscope. The metals are definitely there.”

State officials persuaded the transportation department to halt the project, and production resumed. But much had been lost because of the timing of the painting. Wesson said his department is trying to educate environmental engineers so they plan around the spawning season. Had the bridge been painted anytime between July and December, he said, the larvae probably wouldn’t have been harmed.

Despite the setback, oyster aquaculture in both states seems to be steady, with the Chesapeake Bay bivalves in both states plentiful enough to send to Louisiana for shucking.

Laws in both Maryland and Virginia have focused on making it easier for entrepreneurs to enter the oyster farming business. In 2009, Maryland passed a law legalizing oyster aquaculture in every county and requiring oyster lease-holders to work the leases they had or lose them. Now, Maryland has 318 shellfish aquaculture leases on nearly 4,000 acres. Karl Roscher, who manages aquaculture at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said he’s not certain how many jobs have been created. But the department has permitted and registered more than 1,400 individuals to have some role in leased-bottom aquaculture.

This number is poised to grow, as the department is reviewing 77 lease applications. Since the law changed, Maryland officials have struggled with the time it takes to issue leases, which has been up to a year and even longer in some cases. State officials have said they would like to reduce the time to three months, which is the average time in Virginia. The difference between the states is in the oversight of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Baltimore District’s review process takes much longer than the Norfolk District’s, even though the Baltimore district did adopt some of Virginia’s permitting practices.

Also helping Maryland’s numbers of aquaculture operations grow are several state programs that help watermen transition to aquaculture. Low-interest loans are available through the state agency, Maryland Agricultural and Resource-Based Industry Development Corp. Several programs within the Maryland Department of Agriculture have funded capital investments in oyster farms. Webster runs a remote-setting training program that teaches budding aquaculturists how to set oyster larvae on shells. He has established 32 tanks in 10 locations.

Virginia’s government has also invested in cultivating its oyster industry, and used some of the $15 million crab disaster funds it got in 2009 to help watermen buy materials and build cages.

In the past, Maryland has looked south and groused that Virginia had a better system for setting up and cultivating an aquaculture industry. A private oyster fishery, which is largely spat-on-shell aquaculture, has been thriving in Virginia for more than a century. It has 100,000 acres under lease. Last year’s combined public and private harvest topped $22 million, with the private leases comprising more than half of that.

But Virginia’s famed structure has hit a snag. It has no use-it-or-lose-it law. Anyone who pays the $500 application fee can get a lease of up to 250 acres and keep it for 10 years. It costs $1.50 per acre. After that, they have to show a plan to plant shellfish, but even that requirement is full of loopholes, Wesson said.

About five years ago, Wesson noticed many waterfront homeowners applied for large leases in front of properties with the hope of blocking would-be farmers from trying to plant oysters there. Those applicants are still holding on to those acres, many of which could be productive and contribute to both the ecology and the economy.

But another group has emerged: Poachers. They apply for leases on dead bottom just to have access to good bottom, so they can steal the crop. They will take oysters from private beds or the public bottom, Wesson said.

Many farmers will have oysters reach market size in March or April, but they won’t harvest them until the summer, when the wild fishery no longer operates and the price is high. Longtime watermen know that, he said, and will poach the crop and take the lower price. And they can see the police coming, if they’re on the waterways, and get away quickly.

Wesson said he can spot the applicants who are not serious; they’re asking for large plots, of 100 acres or more, and they’ll often apply for one in their name and then their spouse’s name. He knows they won’t plant the leases; there isn’t enough shell in the Chesapeake Bay for that kind of acreage.

Those who are serious about getting into the business will ask for one or two acres; those that are already in it might ask for 25 to 50. In the real industry, Wesson said, the trend is to get smaller; in “the lawless one,” as he calls it, it’s to get bigger.

Wesson is hoping to make the law change at an administrative level. If it’s not, he said, the commission will work through the legislature.

“It’s not doom and gloom. People are making money and people are doing this. But if we don’t get those loopholes closed up it’s going to get worse,” Wesson said. “We have got to change that old law.”

By Rona Kobell
Bay Journal News Service

Shore Bancshares Hires New Financial Reporting Officer

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Philip O’Neil III, Shore Bancshares Financial Reporting Officer

Philip O’Neil III, Shore Bancshares Financial Reporting Officer

Shore Bancshares, Inc. is pleased to announce that Philip O’Neil III has joined the Shore Bancshares team as the Financial Reporting Officer.

Philip will be responsible for managing the external reporting function in order to ensure proper controls related to SEC filings and other regulatory requirements.

Mr. O’Neil earned a bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Frostburg State University in 2005. He also holds a Maryland CPA license and is an active member of the AICPA and MACPA.

Prior to joining Shore Bancshares, Mr. O’Neil worked as an accountant for CBIZ/MHM, a public accounting firm in Easton, for over nine years. At CBIZ/MHM he provided tax preparation and planning for small businesses and individuals; auditing for governmental entities, various non-profit organizations, commercial manufacturing, and employee benefit plans; and preparation of financial statements for a variety of entities.

“I am excited to be working with a company that has a long history in supporting the community through various services; banking, insurance, wealth management, and trust,” said Mr. O’Neil.

Mr. O’Neil is a lifelong resident of St. Michaels. He has served as Treasurer for both the St. Michaels Community Center and Spring Hill Cemetery and a board member of the Young Professionals of Talbot County. Philip is actively involved in the Talbot County Toys for Tots program and a member of Real Life Chapel in Easton. In his spare time, Philip enjoys playing golf, watching the Ravens and Orioles, participating in Fantasy Football, and spending time with family and friends.

SMMHS Business Class Offered Banking Lesson from Talbot Bank

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The Talbot Bank welcomed visitors from Mr. Nick Werner’s Business Class at St. Michaels Middle/High School (SMMHS) on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. The students were treated to a tour of the bank and educated on many aspects of banking. Later that week, Parker Spurry, Talbot Bank St. Michaels Branch Manager and Dawn Henckel, Talbot Bank, St. Michaels Assistant Branch Manager visited Mr. Werner’s classroom where they continued the financial lessons for the students and answered any follow-up questions. The Talbot Bank is committed to supporting financial literacy for the youth in our communities and encourages parents to reach out to Talbot Bank representatives for financial education assistance.

Pictured are students from Mr. Werner’s Business Class at SMMHS, Parker Spurry, and Dawn Henckel.

Pictured are students from Mr. Werner’s Business Class at SMMHS, Parker Spurry, and Dawn Henckel.

Spy Chat: Bagels, Elks, and Veterans with Joe Landgraf

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While Joe Landgraf is mildly frustrated at times that a few folks can’t seem to get the full name of “Joe’s Bagel Cafe,” right — including a county sports team he sponsors getting it wrong on their jerseys  — it seems that no one in town is at a loss of where to find Joe’s. Each morning, and now during lunch, a good number of community leaders, civic groups, and assorted coffee clutchers find their way to Easton Plaza Shopping Center for their bagel fix and local chatter.

In his interview with the Spy, Joe talks about his long history with the food scene in Easton, including co-owning The Chambers in downtown, his service with the Elks, his support of war veterans, and the trials and rewards of running your own business.

This video is approximately five minutes in length

Habitat for Humanity Choptank Awarded State Tax Credits

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The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development has award Community Investment Tax Credits to Habitat for Humanity Choptank in support of its affordable home building program. Tax credits serve as incentives for individuals and businesses to financially support costs of approved projects while decreasing their state tax obligation. Habitat Choptank’s tax credit allocation is available to donors contributing $500 or more. Funds raised from this allocation help with construction costs at the five-home development on Port Street in Easton. Designated contributions earn state tax credits equal to 50% of the gift amount. This is in addition to the standard deductions on Federal and State taxes for charitable gifts.

“The state tax program has proven to be a benefit for our mission and our donors,” explains Nancy Andrew, executive director of Habitat Choptank. “It helps raise much need funds for our affordable housing program and helps our donors decrease their state tax liability.” The credits can be used by the donor in one tax year or carried out over five years.

For the local community and state government, Habitat’s home ownership program in turn helps to increase local property tax revenues. Habitat Choptank sells its homes for the cost of land, materials and supervision to qualifying working people who are not able to purchase a home through the conventional market. Provided with affordable mortgage financing, these home buyers become tax paying property owners thereby investing back into the community that has helped to make their dream of home ownership a reality. Since 1992, Habitat Choptank has completed 63 homes between Dorchester and Talbot counties. While selling its homes to mostly first time and even first generation home buyers, the nonprofit continues to maintain a less than 2% foreclosure rate with only one foreclosure to date.

For additional information about the tax credits, contact Nancy Andrew, executive director, at 410-476-3204 or director@habitatchoptank.org .

Habitat Choptank has Maryland state tax credits to offer donors contributing to its five-home development in Easton.  The first three homes on the site are completed and have been sold to home buyers.  The two home duplex is now under construction.  Tax credits provide donors with a tax credit on their state income taxes in addition to standard charitable deductions. Photo by: Tim Poly

Habitat Choptank has Maryland state tax credits to offer donors contributing to its five-home development in Easton. The first three homes on the site are completed and have been sold to home buyers. The two home duplex is now under construction. Tax credits provide donors with a tax credit on their state income taxes in addition to standard charitable deductions. Photo by: Tim Poly

Spy Spotlight: Easton Business Alliance’s Julie Corson

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Over the years there has been a few organizations dedicated to supporting businesses and retail operations for the town of Easton. But for some it has been a bit confusing on which group is helping which part of town. That seemed to be a challenge for the leaders of the Easton Downtown Partnership a few years ago. So much so that the organization renamed itself the Easton Business Alliance recently to emphasize their commitment to the entire town as well as their traditional mission in keeping downtown Easton vibrant.

And once there was consensus on how to reorganize, they turned to local native Julie Corson to take on the role as the organization’s their new staff member.

In her interview with the Talbot Spy, Julie talks about Easton’s post-recession commerce and the increasingly effective role that events and special weekends play in the town’s retail and hospitality businesses.  She also highlights the importance of having  a “think and buy local” message for the community.

The video is approximately three minutes in length

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Right of States to Tax Out-of-State Income

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The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case involving a Maryland couple who believe their out-of-state income should not be taxed by their state of residence.

Brian and Karen Wynne of Howard County argue the income they earn in several other states through Maxim Healthcare Services Inc., a company Mr. Wynne partially owns, should not be taxed by Maryland if they pay the income taxes in those other states.

Maryland has an out-of-state income tax credit that can be used to offset state income taxes. But there is no equivalent credit that can be used to offset county income taxes, so counties can tax the out-of-state income.

According to court documents, Comptroller of the Treasury of Maryland v. Wynne (No. 13-485) asks the question: “Does the United States Constitution prohibit a state from taxing all income of its residents — wherever earned — by mandating a credit for taxes paid on income in other states?”

The Wynnes argued in Maryland Tax Court that the partial credit violates the dormant Commerce Clause.

University of Maryland Carey School of Law Professor Mark Graber said the dormant Commerce Clause says “there are some state regulations of interstate commerce that are unconstitutional even when Congress does not act.”

“So there is no federal law that prohibits or requires states to give tax credits for taxes paid in other states,” Graber said. “But the claim the Wynnes are making is that, in fact, Maryland’s failure to do so sufficiently burdens interstate commerce.”

When the Maryland Tax Court sided with the comptroller, the Wynnes appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which sided with them.

Dominic Perella, the Wynne’s counsel, said his client believes he “shouldn’t have to pay double taxes” and that the way Maryland structures its taxes punishes him for growing a successful business.

But Maryland has argued in court documents that, among other points, it has the right as a sovereign state to tax the entirety of its residents’ income, regardless of where the income was generated or if taxes on that income were paid in other states. The Maryland Attorney General’s office said it does not comment on pending litigation.

A brief filed by organizations representing local governments also contends that counties would suffer if they offered credits against county income tax for income earned out-of-state.

“There would be significant financial implications for counties,” said Andrea Mansfield, legislative director of the Maryland Association of Counties.

According to the brief, if the Supreme Court sides with the Wynnes, estimates from the comptroller’s office are that it could cost local governments $120 million in retroactive refunds, and could reduce local income tax revenues by about $50 million annually going forward.

The Bureau of Revenue Estimates says the initial cost to local governments could actually be higher – $190 million plus interest in protected claims and retroactive refunds.

Graber said if that happens, the Maryland tax bill for all residents who earn out-of-state income will go down.

“Conversely, the revenue obtained by Maryland will also go down,” Graber said.

He said if the high court sides with Maryland, life will probably go on as usual as the Supreme Court has in the past left states alone to tax the income of their residents as they see fit.

The Supreme Court begins its next session Monday. This case is set to be argued Nov. 12.

By Ashley S. Westerman
Capital News Service

Real Estate Agents Build Houses As Well As They Sell Them on the Shore

Tracy Stone. Edey Cross, Gwen Eskridge, and Sharon Rieck

Coldwell Banker Chesapeake Real Estate agents sell a lot of houses every year on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. “We have been fortunate in these challenging times”, says sales associate Tracy Stone “My colleagues and I feel the need to give back to the community that has been so good to us.”

Tracy Stone. Edey Cross, Gwen Eskridge, and Sharon Rieck

Tracy Stone. Edey Cross, Gwen Eskridge, and Sharon Rieck

On Wednesday, September 24th turned out at 233 Port Street in Easton to volunteer a day of labor with Habitat For Humanity Choptank – a local affiliate of Habitat For Humanity International – the ecumenical homebuilding ministry which has built 64 houses in Talbot and Dorchester Counties since its founding in 1992. Hugh Smith, the Broker and an Owner of Coldwell Banker Chesapeake, is also the Founding and First President of Habitat for Humanity Choptank.

Building a Habitat House and Community years to come and know we helped to make a big difference in two family’s lives”.

“We believe that everyone deserves a decent house in which to live”, says Smith, “This program appeals to our sense of fair play”, says Smith

“Home ownership, sweat equity and community participation appeals to our business instincts”.

The build was organized by sales associate Peggy Neviaser, also a long-term volunteer of Habitat locally. “I have served on the Partner Family committee for years” said Peggy, “it’s fun to get outside and swing a hammer for a change.”

The “build” was led and supervised by Habitat for Humanity Choptank Construction Supervisor Steve Thomas

The real estate industry was well represented on the build site. Coldwell Banker Chesapeake agent and current Mid-Shore Board of Realtors President Gwen Eskridge helped her colleagues from the Easton Office to disassemble a scaffolding on the second floor of the house then re-assemble it on the ground outside to prepare for roofing the duplex. Easton associates participating also included Carol Harrison, Sharon Rieck, Chata Smith,Juliet Wells, Heather Hardisty and Laurie Renshaw to frame and erect interior walls.

No one was ready to quit at the end of the day. “We want to do it again” was the common sentiment. To help pay for all the nails they bent, Coldwell Banker Chesapeake announced a matching gifts program to its sales associates and employees. “The company” says Smith, “will match our associates donations

“It is hardly glamorous work”, said Eskridge, “but it sure is rewarding. We will drive past this site for to Habitat for Humanity dollar for dollar through the end of the year.”

Cautious Optimism Over Maryland-India Trade

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Despite exports from Maryland to India decreasing by almost 15 percent in recent years, Maryland businesses are optimistic about growth in trade between the two ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington.

Modi, who was elected earlier this year, will make his inaugural trip to Washington Sept. 29-30. It comes amid a downward trend in Maryland and India trade following a period of stalled diplomatic relations between the U.S. and India.

However, Maryland businesses are hopeful, based on Modi’s priorities and a recent trade delegation from the state, that they can benefit from trade with one of the largest economies in the world.

Economic Ties

Maryland exports to India have decreased from $233 million in 2010 to $202 million in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During the same period, imports from India fell from $465 million to $416 million, a drop of more than 10 percent.

But Maryland is looking to change that.

One sign is an upcoming Montgomery County delegation to India, said Dr. Vinod Jain, president and CEO at the Maryland-based India-US World Affairs Institute.

The delegation, which will be led by County Executive Isiah Leggett and leaves for India in November, is focusing on culture, education and business, Jain said.

Currently, trade between the two varies wildly from information technology to coffee. For example, the U.S. subsidiary of the Indian IT company Infosys has its headquarters in Rockville, while Eight O’ Clock Coffee, which has a production plant in Landover, was bought by the Indian company Tata Coffee in 2005.

Jain said the upcoming delegation would focus on improving trade and investment specifically in the biotechnology, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries.

The trip is looking to build on another Maryland trade delegation in 2011, when Gov. Martin O’Malley led more than 100 business leaders, educators and government officials to India.

It was the largest delegation to India ever sent from Maryland, and the first ever by a sitting Maryland governor. Jain believes it was among the largest sent by any U.S. state to India.

The trade delegation resulted in business deals worth almost $60 million being signed, a press release from the governor’s office said.

The hope among analysts is that trade delegations can overcome some of the hurdles in improving economic ties between the two.

Despite being the third largest economy in the world based on a metric known as the purchasing power parity (PPP), India ranks only 18 out of Maryland’s top 25 international trading partners in terms of exports from the state. That is well below exports from Maryland to smaller economies like Saudi Arabia and Belgium, according to data from the Census Bureau.

This can primarily be explained by the internal situation in India under the previous government led by Manmohan Singh, said Elisha Pulivarti, executive director at the Maryland India Business Roundtable.

“There were a lot of problems in India,” said Pulivarti, mentioning low investor confidence because of the perception of high corruption and bureaucratic red tape.

Based on 2013 data, India ranked 186 out of 189 countries when it came to enforcing contracts, according to the World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking. Only Timor-Leste (East Timor), Myanmar and Angola ranked lower, all countries that have suffered major internal conflicts in the past decade.

However, there is optimism that the issues can be overcome and Modi’s trip can foster better trade relations between India and Maryland.

“Economic ties are No. 1 on the list,” said Milan Vaishnav, an associate at the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank.

One Maryland business that made the 2011 trip to India was Shah and Kishore, a Rockville-based immigration law firm.

Calling the delegation a success and saying the results from the trip would take longer than three years to have an impact on Maryland, Devang Shah, the firm’s managing partner, said the future for Maryland-India trade is likely to improve.

Much of the optimism is based on Modi’s reputation as a business-friendly leader willing to create investor-friendly policies, said Shah.

Diplomatic Tensions

But bilateral ties must overcome recent diplomatic tensions at the national level, said Michael Kugelman, senior program associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank.

“In recent months relations have suffered from some of their greatest tensions in years, and certainly since the early 1990s, when decades of turbulent bilateral ties yielded to a new era of cooperation,” said Kugelman, in an email.

Diplomatic relations stalled last year when an Indian diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, was arrested on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny.

While Khobragade was eventually released to India, Indians were furious over what they perceived as high-handed tactics used by U.S. authorities, including her being strip-searched.

The Indian government responded to the arrest by, at one point, removing security barricades in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi and refusing to meet a visiting U.S. congressional delegation.

The meeting between President Barack Obama and Modi is likely to also, at least initially, focus on publicly making the Indian prime minister feel welcome in the U.S., said Jain from the India-US World Affairs Institute.

In 2005, Modi, at that time the chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, was the first person denied a U.S. visa under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The primary reason were the riots in Gujarat in 2002 between Muslims and Hindus, which led to almost 1,000 people being killed.

While there was no evidence that Modi, from a Hindu nationalist party, was responsible for the killing of hundred of Muslims, “he was responsible for the performance of state institutions at that time,” said David Mulford, U.S. ambassador to India from 2004-2009, in a statement soon after the visa rejection.

There is an expectation that Modi’s trip will focus more on “ceremony than substance” in order to overcome that incident, said Vaishnav, from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Optimism Moving Forward

As the Indian economy grows under Modi, it is imperative Maryland position itself to be the “gateway into the U.S.,” said Shah, from the law firm.

India’s economy is expected to become a “global economic giant” by 2050, with a GDP of $ 34 trillion – which would be more than three times that of Brazil – according to the “World in 2050,” a report by the accounting firm Price Waterhouse.

Economic ties between the two are “becoming more and more important,” he said, with the hope being that Maryland can benefit from India’s expected growth.

By Idrees Ali
Capital News Service