ALL eyes are on the government as it pledges to roll out the Covid-19 vaccination programme to about 80m citizens by the first quarter of 2021. On several occasions, officials have said that Pakistan will kick off the vaccine drive in phases in March and that the target population will be inoculated by November this year. Given that the government is yet to procure the vaccine from the multiple manufacturers it is engaged in discussions with, this is a challenging plan. At present, the government is in talks with multiple entities, including Chinese pharmaceutical companies Sinopharm and CanSino, whose vaccines have been under trial in Pakistan. Yesterday, an announcement from Drap indicated that the Oxford vaccine AstraZeneca, too, has been approved for procurement. Aside from these, Pakistan is also eligible to receive free vaccines under the Covax programme which procures the vaccine for less-developed countries with the goal of equitable distribution. While these are promising signs, the big test ahead for the government still looms as an official order has yet to be placed and March is less than a month and a half away. Given the global demand for vaccines, and the priorities of these pharma companies to supply to their own countries first, the government’s pledge to start vaccinating the population in the first quarter appears ambitious. Even if approvals have come, orders are yet to be placed. Here, Pakistan’s low investment in the fields of biotechnology and education is evident. It means that we, unlike India, will not be able to manufacture the vaccine, and will therefore not only vaccinate our population later than others but also not generate any revenue during the exercise.
Beyond procurement and supply, the other major challenge for the government will be effective distribution through an uninterrupted programme. Logistics, effective communication and upholding the best medical practices will play a key part in a successful programme. Disinformation and propaganda about the Covid-19 vaccination is at an all-time high, as social media and private messaging groups are flooded with false information and fear-mongering content that can dissuade people from taking the jab. As it makes efforts to bring the vaccine to Pakistan, the government must also simultaneously have a roll-out plan. Improved inter-provincial coordination sans politics, too, will play a pivotal role here as both the federal and provincial governments, especially Sindh, should focus on the common goal despite their political differences.
Foreign funding case
THE Election Commission of Pakistan has summoned both the PML-N and PPP on Monday in connection with the foreign funding case. Both parties have been issued notices to appear before the scrutiny committee and present their defence.
The appearance will take place a day before the previously scheduled demonstration in front of the ECP offices by the Pakistan Democratic Movement opposition alliance, which is aiming to highlight the delay in concluding the foreign funding case against the ruling PTI. This case has been dragging on for more than six years without reaching a final judgement. The case pertains to allegations that the PTI has taken funds from dubious, prohibited and illegal sources which, if proven, can lead to severe consequences for the party.
For its part, the PTI’s lawyers have launched multiple attempts over the years to question the jurisdiction of the ECP over this matter. These petitions have been dismissed at various platforms and the ECP has maintained that it is fully within its jurisdiction to demand an explanation from the PTI about its sources of funding. It has formed a scrutiny committee to go over all the documents presented in order to reach a final conclusion. The PTI has also challenged the source of funding for the PML-N and PPP and their case is also in front of the ECP. The PDM is now demanding that the ECP bring the case against the PTI to a final conclusion.
At one point, the ECP had itself decided to fast-track the hearings but then the pace slowed over the previous year and the scrutiny of evidence was kept pending with each successive hearing. Therefore, the demand to complete the hearing and make a decision are justified. All parties have been given ample time to argue their case. There is no reason the issue should be dragged any further. As the ruling party, the PTI must display transparency in terms of proving the bona fides of its funding sources. If it has nothing to hide, or has done nothing wrong as it claims, then it has no reason to ask for more time or resort to delaying tactics. It should produce all bank statements and account details as demanded by the ECP and substantiate its claims that all its sources of funds are above board, fully declared and legal.