Dawn Editorial 13th May 2024

Climate authority

WITH the authorities dragging their feet for seven years on the establishment of a Climate Change Authority and Climate Change Fund, as envisioned in the Pakistan Climate Change Act of 2017, the Supreme Court has finally put its foot down. On Friday, a three-member bench hearing a related petition asked the federal government to establish the CCA within a fortnight and thereafter operationalise the CCF, reasoning that climate change is an issue that affects all Pakistanis’ fundamental rights and, therefore, measures to mitigate its harmful impacts should not be put off any longer. During the proceedings, which saw deliberations on Pakistan’s unique vulnerability to the changing climate, the attorney general described it as “the most serious existential threat to the people of Pakistan”.

With the memory of the devastating monsoon of 2022 still fresh in everyone’s minds and freak weather wreaking havoc in many parts of the country of late, it is understandable why the Supreme Court has attached such urgency to the matter. However, experts have previously pointed out that the establishment of the CCA and operationalisation of the CCF are not such straightforward matters that they can be resolved with a simple order. For example, there are various complexities involved in setting up the authority, as its mandate will likely overlap with subjects in the provinces’ domains, and with the work of the Ministry of Climate Change. Little work has been done since the passage of the Climate Change Act to identify the possible sources of friction and eliminate or work around them. Likewise, Pakistan’s indigenous climate fund will require engagement with a broad range of domestic and international stakeholders, and its modalities will need to be worked out in detail so as to avoid any conflicts that could arise. These are not issues that the judiciary can resolve. Therefore, while it has provided a much-needed push to the government to get to work, the court will need to be patient. On the other hand, the government, too, needs to demonstrate its commitment. After many years of complacency, a healthy momentum has finally built up in national-level efforts to address climate change. It is time for that momentum to be used to implement the Act in line with its vision. The costs of complacency can be extremely high for a climate-vulnerable country like ours.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2024

Spending restrictions

THE consistent contraction in the size of the federal Public Sector Development Programme for the past three years is yet another sign of Pakistan’s lingering financial and economic crisis.

New official data shows that the government has squeezed federal infrastructure development to Rs353bn — less than 0.4pc of GDP — during the first 10 months of the ongoing fiscal year to April, as the cash-strapped centre slashes its expenditure to meet the IMF goal of producing a primary budget surplus of 0.4pc of GDP this year.

The total spending for the period under review is 38pc of annual PSDP allocations of Rs940bn, and is 12.3pc less than what was spent on development projects during the same period a year before. That the government does not have enough money for new projects, or even for maintaining existing ones, underlines the costs Pakistan’s citizens are forced to pay to survive the country’s worst economic crisis ever. The lingering financial troubles also mean that most of the millions of people affected by the devastating floods of 2022 are still waiting to be rehabilitated.

A media report suggests that the IMF wants Pakistan to bring down expenditure by around 163bn to Rs183bn — to make up for a significant revenue shortfall — as the Fund is not willing to make concessions on the goal of achieving a primary budget surplus this year.

The government has hardly any choice in the matter, unless it is prepared to breach the IMF conditions for a primary surplus — which is an indication of a government’s borrowing requirements — that was agreed to under the recently concluded short-term $3bn Stand-by Arrangement. This would jeopardise its chances of getting a longer and larger bailout to stay afloat.

Another report suggests that, with the discussions on the new bailout approaching, Pakistan has committed to the IMF that it would aim for a primary surplus equal to 1pc of GDP in the next fiscal year. The Fund is already believed to have told the government to raise additional revenues of Rs1.7tr, contain its development expenditure, and increase the petroleum levy target by more than 24pc to about Rs1.1tr next year. The country has achieved a sort of economic stability in recent months and economic fundamentals have shown some signs of improvement.

But this ‘recovery’ remains fragile and any shock at this point can mean a relapse. The IMF, therefore, has been insisting that Islamabad persevere with economic contraction as long as the fiscal and governance reforms suggested under the SBA — and which are likely to be part of the next programme — create enough fiscal space to put the country back on the growth trajectory. In this context, it would be naive to expect the government to bolster investment in public infrastructure development anytime soon.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2024

Vending organs

IN these cash-strapped times, black marketers in the organ trade are returning to rake it in by harvesting the organs of the desperate. Sadly, recent reports of raids show that the racket is once again on the rise. The Punjab Healthcare Commission, FIA and the Punjab Human Organ Transplant Authority recently arrested three suspects for illegal renal transplants at a private hospital in Lahore, but some of the staff as well as the owner escaped. While officials speculate about the involvement of a large network in the kidney transplant scam, hospital employees confessed to 10 unlawful transplants at the facility. Two raids in March had also unearthed interests of criminal gangs. In one incident, the police busted an organ trade ring, which took poor labourers to Islamabad and removed their kidneys. Another six accused were taken into custody during a separate operation; they were performing an illegal kidney transplant of a female patient at a private medical facility in Lahore.

Pakistan had been the epicentre of organ sales — illicit domestic transplants and transplant tourism — until legislation in 2010 proscribed the practice. But the criminal justice system has, time and again, failed to take stringent action against organised organ trade and corrupt medical practitioners. The courts too should be clear about putting offenders out of business. Without sustained caution and application of the law, the country will relapse into savagery, becoming a global market for organs. Moreover, law enforcement should be brought up to speed on modern protocols to keep one step ahead of vile racketeers. The last thing our fragile economy needs is an organ racket revival. Hence, political parties, NGOs, health authorities and the police have to foster awareness and vigilance to prosecute unethical doctors, traffickers and brokers so that the menace is exterminated. As despicable edifices of exploitation are torn down, advocacy for deceased organ donations and lawful transplantations has to grow louder.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2024

May 18, 2024

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