Dawn Editorial 19 October 2019

Loans for youth

THE Kamyab Jawan Programme launched by Prime Minister Imran Khan to deliver on one of his party’s major election promises has wide scope. It aims primarily at creating new jobs and reducing poverty by disbursing interest-free microloans and subsidised small loans among young men and women, especially from the country’s 45 most backward districts, for setting up new businesses or financing existing small enterprises. The scheme is also expected to facilitate the establishment of smart science laboratories at seminaries in order to bring the students there into the mainstream, while also providing skills training to the youth in collaboration with the industry. Further, teachers will be trained to impart skills and provide vocational training, thus narrowing the skilled labour gap between industry and the services sector. Overall, the various initiatives under this programme will cost Rs100bn. Out of the total amount, 25pc is reserved for women. If spent well, all this money, which is to come from the UNDP, is projected to reduce poverty and youth unemployment in the country.
This is not the first scheme that has been launched in the name of empowering the youth. Successive governments have undertaken similar ventures in the past, with varying degrees of success. More recently, the Nawaz Sharif administration had introduced a similar, multipronged initiative — the Prime Minister’s Youth Loan Programme — shortly after coming to power in 2013, promising to give subsidised loans cumulatively amounting to Rs100bn to the youth over a period of five years. In fact, the PTI rulers’ youth project borrows generously from the previous government’s initiative. However, the earlier scheme could achieve very limited results because of several political, financial and administrative factors. Less than a quarter of the total funds allocated for disbursement in five years could be lent, mostly to applicants from the PML-N stronghold of Punjab.
Since no study has ever measured the outcome of that scheme — or any other such initiative in the past — it is hard to comment on the impact it might have had. Yet it is safe to assume that such initiatives are inherently constrained because they are largely driven by political motives. One big factor that had led to the failure of the previous youth programme was the lack of interest shown by banks for fear of losing money. The PTI has promised to maintain complete transparency and uphold merit to keep the programme free from political interference — no easy task considering the pressure mounted by its legislators who would want their voters to be accommodated. Moreover, since the scheme is based on the ‘push strategy’, whereby the government will be ‘pushing’ loan disbursement, it would be a good idea to organise sessions for the loan applicants to train and guide them on the different aspects of running the businesses that they want to invest in.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019


Talks’ offer rebuffed

JUI-F CHIEF Maulana Fazlur Rehman has upped the ante against the government by refusing the latter’s offer of talks.
In Lahore on Friday, the maulana appeared determined to carry out his ‘threat’ of a march on Islamabad on Oct 31. He stood by resolving not to back off as Mian Shahbaz Sharif told a media briefing about the PML-N’s plans. Mr Sharif said his party was committed to holding the rally in the capital in two weeks’ time, and repeated that the PML-N strategy after that would be decided later.
The former Punjab chief minister added his voice to the growing chorus calling for fresh elections in the country but chose not to answer questions about any tensions between him and his elder brother Nawaz Sharif over the JUI-F’s forthcoming protest.
It appears that if Shahbaz Sharif had any reservations about the protest earlier, he was now reconciled to the idea of going ahead with it. The opposition’s emphasis on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s resignation and the demand for fresh elections have become more pronounced after the government came up with a committee to engage the aspiring protesters in talks. The formation of a committee, headed by Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, was welcomed by many but dubbed as belated action by others.
According to one view, the government’s offer of talks took the opposition leaders, primarily the JUI-F chief, by surprise. It was argued that the ball was now in the opposition’s court that was in no position to spurn this gesture of ‘friendship’.
However, the so-called master stroke failed to secure any long-term gains for the government. This anticlimax is of the government’s own making, insists the maulana. He was given an opportunity to make this claim after Prime Minister Khan, speaking in the wake of the offer of dialogue to those who threatened his government’s ouster, adopted a sarcastic tone and passed remarks about the chief architect of the agitation in the making.
The current assembly is found to be lacking in a number of things — and much of the blame for this should be put on the treasury members. Mr Khan’s statement that the house was running without diesel — an obvious reference to Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s unhappy sobriquet — was nothing short of adding fuel to the fire. It hurt his challenger and unnecessarily gave him more reason to go ahead and plan for his advance on Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019


CDA vs hostels

THE move to seal a hostel in Islamabad’s E-11 area for violating CDA bylaws reveals a severe lack of forethought on part of the development authority. On the one hand, the CDA, by turning a blind eye to the many commercial enterprises that function illegally outside its own headquarters, has implicitly condoned the former’s practices. On the other hand, a very large number of students will be displaced as a result of the CDA’s efforts to seal private hostels. Thousands of students enrolled in many public and private universities in Islamabad have no choice but to live in private hostels because the educational institutes where they study do not provide them with adequate lodging. Many students come from outside the capital and do not have any relatives in Islamabad. Most of these private hostels are overcrowded and lack proper amenities but there is no alternative to them. Though the HEC is responsible for ensuring that university campuses have adequate facilities before taking in students, even the basic requirements are often overlooked when awarding NOCs to sub-campuses or private higher educational institutes. It is an open secret that all high-rises and apartment buildings — except for three — in Islamabad functions without obtaining completion certificates.
Considering that there are far more serious violations of the rules, if the authority wants to act against establishments that operate outside CDA by-laws, it should ensure that the implementation of its regulations is across the board. As far as the hostels are concerned, most students stay there out of compulsion. It a fact that the owners and managers of private hostels exploit the situation for their own benefit, but it is equally true that it is the CDA itself that allowed its regulations to be flouted in the first place. Many of these hostels have operated for years and the CDA has tolerated them. If the CDA wants to take action, it should provide ample notice to the students to make alternative living arrangements instead of forcing them to live in constant fear of displacement.
Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019


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