Dawn Editorial 17 February 2021

Person-specific ordinance

THE PTI government has issued an ordinance to reappoint the prosecutor general of the National Accountability Bureau thereby setting a unique and unenviable precedent of promulgating person-specific ordinances. According to this ordinance promulgated on Feb 9, Syed Asghar Haider, a former judge of the Lahore High Court who was appointed as the prosecutor general in 2018, has now been reappointed for another three years. The ordinance says the president consulted the chairman NAB in reappointing Mr Haider. The PTI government has been issuing ordinances with alarming regularity in what appears to be a convenient bypassing of the regular legislative process because parliament has almost been made dysfunctional as a result of the acute political tension between the government and the opposition since the last elections. However, by issuing an ordinance solely for one person, by name, is by all measures a new low, and one that should have been avoided.
The basic purpose of ordinances has now been thoroughly compromised to attain partisan objectives. A presidential ordinance is meant to substitute for legislation only if there is an urgent requirement and if parliament is not in session. But, not unlike its predecessors, the PTI government has been taking advantage of this instrument to push through laws that it knows it would not be able to legislate through the National Assembly and the Senate. Such resort to presidential ordinances further weakens parliament and dilutes the efficacy of a public debate that forms the basis of regular legislation in democratic states. By using the presidency as a rubber stamp and a post office, the government is perpetuating a terrible practice which will not stop with future governments looking for shortcuts to legislative ambitions. The PTI government’s person-specific ordinance is even more inadvisable and debases the very spirit of the legislative system. The opposition is fully justified in raising an alarm over this development and crying foul. The government should reconsider its flawed approach towards legislation.



Increased remittances

PAKISTANIS living abroad are sending far more money back home through banking channels than before. The 24pc growth in home remittances in the first seven months of the ongoing fiscal year to January has defied forecasts to the contrary. The phenomenon has puzzled many because reportedly thousands of workers were forced to return home after losing their jobs amid Covid-19 restrictions imposed to halt the spread of the disease in the host countries.
There are reports that the State Bank is planning to conduct a study to analyse the remittance growth factors. Until we have something solid to explain this trend, some analysts are of the view that it is safe to assume that international travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic are a major reason for the increase in home remittances. This is especially true for countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh where a big chunk of non-resident citizens have in the past normally remitted cash through friends or ‘informal channels’ like hundi and hawala for numerous reasons — the low levels of financial inclusion and literacy among them.
Read: The rise and rise of remittances
The remittance growth rate in Bangladesh is even swifter than in Pakistan, which shows greater use of informal channels and travel by that country’s overseas workers’ sending money to families at home. Besides, remittances are growing rapidly from the US and Europe where travel restrictions are stricter. Another crucial factor is related to the measures adopted by the government and the central bank to block illegal and informal money transfers into and out of the country to comply with FATF conditions in order to exit the task force’s grey list.
Moreover, the State Bank has recently made it much easier for expats to send back money — and more swiftly — through banking channels. Further, the launch of the Roshan Digital Accounts for the diaspora has already attracted more reliable, long-term deposits of almost half a billion dollars in the last few months.
Whatever the factors, the increasing remittances that have averaged $2.35bn a month this fiscal are helping the economy in many ways and come in handy at a time when the trade deficit has again started to expand as imports grow on the back of slower economic activity on account of Covid-19, failure of the cotton crop, food shortages and rising global oil prices. But the question is: what happens when the world returns to normal and travel curbs are eased once the plague subsides? Will the remittance growth momentum continue?
The answer to these questions lies in the government’s ability to enhance customs controls at the ports to discourage currency smuggling, and the success of the central bank’s measures to curb illegal channels and encourage commercial banks to make their services accessible to people living in the country’s backward and financially unconnected regions. The return to pre-virus business as usual is not an option.



Vaccine concerns

IT is reassuring to see the Covid-19 vaccine recipient pool expanding further. Thus far, around 38,000 healthcare workers have been inoculated against the virus as the first group in order of priority, with individuals 65 years and above to follow in the second phase. The government on Monday opened registration for senior citizens to get in the queue for vaccination which is projected to start in March. It was on Feb 2, after receiving 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine the day before, that Prime Minister Imran Khan had launched the countrywide inoculation drive with the first jabs being administered to health workers in Islamabad. Vaccination campaigns in the provinces had begun immediately after. There have been concerns expressed that the campaign has until now proceeded more slowly than anticipated over misgivings about whether the vaccine was safe, especially for people above 60 years, an age group that was not included in the Sinopharm vaccine trials. In such a situation the government must be proactive in countering misinformation that can spread like wildfire creating unnecessary hurdles in the way of a population acquiring herd immunity. Evidence has begun coming in from some countries showing that vaccinations are already having the desired effect. In the UK, the country that launched the global vaccination drive in December, virus levels have come down to their lowest since last July. Israel has reported a 94pc drop in infections among 600,000 people who received two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine.
Aside from misinformation and a general distrust of vaccines in many segments of this country’s population, it is important that the vaccination drive not exploit existing income inequalities. The government had declared it would make the vaccine available for free to its population. At the same time it has also allowed the private sector to import the approved vaccines so that more individuals can get inoculated sooner. Fair enough: there is nothing wrong in that per se, but it is a matter of concern that the government has exempted the vaccines to be administered to paying customers from the price cap regime that applies to all drug sales in Pakistan. The absence of such a check would allow companies to make a windfall from this health emergency and drive vaccine prices beyond the reach of all but the most well-heeled individuals. Pelf and privilege would buy them protection while others less fortunate would still be waiting their turn.

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