Dawn Editorial 20 January 2021

Broadsheet judgement

THE PTI government has taken a welcome step in making public the judgement of arbitration between Broadsheet and Pakistan/National Accountability Bureau that was handed down in 2016. Kaveh Moussavi, the head of Broadsheet, an asset recovery company, had been saying on public forums that he was giving permission to the government of Pakistan to make the document public and that the judgement would clarify confusion about the issue at hand.
On Monday, the prime minister’s accountability adviser Shahzad Akbar said in a press conference that the government had received written permission from Mr Moussavi to make the judgement public and that Prime Minister Imran Khan had ordered that it be shared with the people of Pakistan without delay. The adviser said that the judgement clearly showed the cost that Pakistan had to pay for giving an NRO to those who had indulged in corrupt practices.
The judgement by Sir Anthony Evans spells out in great detail the follies committed since 2000 by NAB and its lawyers. It shows clearly how shoddy contracts and shady decision-making led to Pakistan cutting a sorry figure in court. This incompetence laced with political expediency has cost the Pakistani taxpayer $28m in addition to a loss of face.
According to the judgement, the contract that NAB signed with Broadsheet in 2000 included a clause that allowed Broadsheet to claim a 20pc commission on all NAB recoveries outside Pakistan and also domestically, including such cases that Broadsheet may not have been involved in. At the hearing, a former NAB chairman has been quoted as saying that he thought the contract was only for Broadsheet work outside of Pakistan. Such was the level of incompetence.
This trend continued and later it transpired, as listed in the judgement, that Pakistan agreed to settle with Broadsheet but ended up giving $1.5m to the wrong person. The judgement says the fault was clearly that of NAB and its lawyers who should have known that the person they were making the payment to was not the legal recipient of the money.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has done well to constitute a committee to recommend a line of action on the findings of the judgement, including those pertaining to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Those who are responsible for decisions and actions that have cost Pakistan dearly must be identified, investigated and taken to task.
At the same time, this committee should also look into the disclosures made by Mr Moussavi after the judgement, including the allegation that some people during this government’s stint had asked him for bribes. There are plenty of skeletons in the Broadsheet cupboard and they must be brought out into the open. The PTI government must ensure full transparency in the matter so that no facts are allowed to be obscured at the altar of political expediency.



Unequal justice

IT seems no one wants to testify against former SSP Malir, Rao Anwar. At least five prosecution witnesses, all police officers, have retracted their statements in the Naqeebullah Mehsud murder case in which the retired police official is standing trial. Even the prosecution, which represents the state, scarcely seems interested in pursuing the case. Little wonder then, that the slain man’s family, their lawyer and a PTI MNA on Sunday expressed their fear that a path is being cleared for Rao Anwar to be acquitted. The proceedings in the case are a chilling case study of the impunity enjoyed by some extremely powerful individuals in this country. So unaccountable are they that even the vicissitudes of politics do not affect them; the pomp and circumstance that accompanies them remains intact.
Naqeebullah, a 27-year-old aspiring model, was gunned down on Jan 13, 2018, along with three others in a fake encounter, allegedly on the orders of Rao Anwar, infamously known as an ‘encounter specialist’. The record of the Karachi police itself implicates the senior official in no less than 444 deaths in such operations. No action had been taken against him for this gruesome run of murders until the death of Naqeebullah, who was described by Rao Anwar as a terrorist. Perhaps it was the young man’s presence on social media and his obviously harmless preoccupations that struck a chord in civil society. A police inquiry also soon established that neither he nor the others killed with him even had criminal records, let alone terrorist profiles. Protests broke out demanding that Rao Anwar be brought to book. At this point, the state had a golden opportunity to turn the page on police brutality and extrajudicial killings, and demonstrate that no one, absolutely no one, is above the law. Instead, for five months the former SSP successfully evaded the law — with assistance from state elements — until he was finally arrested. Even that was a mere inconvenience; his Karachi residence was declared a sub-jail, from the comfort of which he could appear for his court hearings. When he did so, it was without handcuffs, surrounded by police officers treating him with deference, and sporting the demeanour of a man who knew he had nothing to fear. It was a mockery of justice in every sense of the word, an affront to the most basic civic values. Impunity on this scale destroys nations from within.



Schools reopening

THE disruptive impact of Covid-19 on education will be felt for years to come. For countries like Pakistan, where 44pc of the children were out of school even before the pandemic struck, the consequences will be devastating. In Pakistan, the extended closure of schools and colleges paints a bleak picture of the future. A recent World Bank report on education poverty had predicted that the pandemic could end up seeing at least 930,000 children out of primary and secondary schools in the country. This development, the report estimated, could cause losses of up to $155bn to the national economy over the next 20 years. It is in light of this challenge that the federal government’s decision to reopen educational institutions in phases must be viewed. At present, classes have resumed for classes nine through 12, while classes one through eight and university are set to resume from Feb 1. However, the federal education ministry has said it would reassess the situation after analysing the latest trajectory of Covid-19 cases in the country, and cities with high infection rates might be allowed to not reopen school for students of classes one through eight for some more time.
No doubt, while education has to be resumed, given Pakistan’s problematic schooling landscape the enforcement of SOPs will be a Herculean task. During the lockdown, while many private schools opted for online classes, students of public schools, where having a desk to oneself is often a luxury let alone owning a laptop, were left to their own devices. Moreover, how will proper handwashing and social distancing be ensured in thousands of public schools that have no walls and potable water? These are only some of the problems that will need to be addressed immediately. The situation is unprecedented, and requires innovative and urgent solutions concerning compliance with SOPs. The education authorities must be prepared to think on their feet to ensure that schools, colleges and universities do not contribute to the infection rate in the country.

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