Dawn Editorial 19 November 2019

The legislation debate

IT was a rare but welcome day in parliament last week when the government and the opposition resolved a major dispute amicably and in the larger interest of the public.
After a productive meeting chaired by the Speaker of the National Assembly Asad Qaisar, the government agreed to withdraw the 11 ordinances it had rushed through the Assembly on Nov 7 and re-table them in the house or send them to committees for proper debate and scrutiny. In return, the opposition agreed to withdraw the vote of no-confidence that was filed against Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri who had allowed the treasury benches to bulldoze the ordinances amid furious protests from the opposition parliamentarians.
Some of these 11 bills will be sent to committees where the parliamentarians will get the time and opportunity to discuss them threadbare, call relevant officials and experts if a need arises to explore the ramifications of these bills in greater detail, propose additions or amendments wherever deemed necessary and only then send them back to the house for a final debate and voting. Those bills that will be re-tabled in the house will be discussed and dissected as per the spirit of a proper parliamentary debate and then legislated through consensus or voting as the case may be. This dispute resolution comes as a breather for parliament that is widely seen as dormant in terms of its legislative performance. Since the government does not have the required numbers in the Senate to enact laws, it has opted for issuing ordinances as a shortcut to barrel ahead with the reforms it wants to enact through such laws. This path to lawmaking has been rightfully criticised for undercutting the spirit of debate that is supposed to enhance the quality of legislation passed by parliament.
The government has calculated that it may get the numbers it needs in the Senate next year so it believes it can keep its reform agenda in motion through enacting ordinances from the presidency till then. This is a bad idea. The opposition has done well to take a firm stance against this proliferation of ordinances and brought the process of legislation back on track. However, the amicable resolution of this dispute between the two sides raises hopes that a working relationship can be built between them as far as legislation is concerned.
The political fight should continue to be fought, as that is what a parliamentary democracy is all about, but there should be a loose consensus that legislation should not get derailed as a result of this fight.
As long as the parliamentarians keep in mind that legislation is the core function of parliament, they can carry on with their verbal duels if in the end they vote on the bills as per requirement and keep the wheels of such legislation moving smoothly.


PIA mismanagement

THE national airline, which is a listed company on the stock exchange, may not have filed any financial statements in the last two years for its shareholders as the law requires it to do, but it seems that its CEO is feeling increasingly free to give talks in different places and at different times touting the financial numbers that have not yet been audited and released. The policy board of the SECP has raised the flag that this could constitute criminal conduct designed to manipulate the market and that it needs to cease immediately. To support the very serious view that the policy board has taken of the matter, they mention trading data of PIA shares that they say sees a spike each time the CEO makes similarly casual remarks about the financial health of the company. What now needs closer examination — and the SECP has done this in the past where similar concerns existed — is to see if there is any trading taking place in PIA shares during one of these episodes by anyone with close links to the PIA top tier. Secondly, it should also be probed whether the latter has any interactions with stockbrokers who are seen trading PIA shares during these episodes.
For a publicly listed company to not file audited financial statements is a grave violation, especially if this practice has continued for two years, and along the way, trading in the company’s shares has been suspended. This is currently the situation at PIA. Under these circumstances, when no auditor has yet signed off on the company’s financial statements, the head would be required to show extreme discretion before discussing the financial health of his company in a public setting. Price manipulation through these kinds of practices has occurred in the past, and any company head taking their reputation, and the reputation of the management team they lead, seriously, would desist from giving the impression of being engaged in such an unethical exercise. For the head of a company, as large and as much in the public limelight as PIA is, to give the impression of indulging in price manipulation shows extreme irresponsibility. The possibility of an SECP probe that could involve more invasive scrutiny by the FIA to determine associations and interactions before, during and after these short price spikes, induced by the CEOs words, only strengthens this view.


Karachi transport plans

IT is hardly a secret that Karachi’s public transport system has collapsed. Commuters face an uphill challenge every day getting to work, school and markets as most public buses have either disappeared, or the ones that remain are in decrepit shape, with passengers fighting to grab a seat, or ending up travelling on the vehicle’s roof for want of space. This, in a nutshell, is the state of public transport in Pakistan’s economic hub in the 21st century. Some private players have moved in to fill the gaps, such as ride-hailing apps (which are expensive) while app-based van services have also rolled out their fleets in the metropolis. But considering the fact that hundreds of thousands of commuters are on the move in Karachi daily, these interventions are inadequate. Yet we regularly hear in the media that various multilateral lenders are willing to finance public transport projects worth tens of millions of dollars; the people of Karachi read these announcements with some scepticism, and wonder when these buses will actually hit the roads. As reported in this paper, the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has approved a $71m loan for the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit Project. The deadline for the project has been mentioned as December 2023.
The latest intervention is welcome. However the question remains: will one bus line (that is able to carry a little over 300,000 passengers daily) be able to significantly improve the city’s public transport situation? Perhaps the bigger question is: will the project see the light of day, or be consigned to limbo due to unending delays? After all, the federally funded under-construction Green Line project — that was started in 2016 — still awaits completion, leaving a traffic mess in the centre of the city due to the closure of part of M.A. Jinnah Road. Both the federal and Sindh governments are experts in signing impressive-sounding transport deals for Karachi; yet the delivery and execution of these projects leave much to be desired.


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