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Dawn Editorial 27 January 2021

Increasing debt

THE numbers released by the State Bank regarding the government’s domestic debt stock and servicing at the end of November present us with a mixed picture. That the debt has increased almost 12pc to Rs35.8tr and debt repayments 38pc to Rs921bn from a year ago underscores the expanding gap between the government’s income and expenditure. Not only that, it also underlines the fact that the government is forced to borrow more money every year from domestic and foreign sources to pay its bills, including repayments on old loans, because it has utterly failed in its attempts to execute tax reforms in order to mobilise enough revenues. The hefty growth in public debt means that government expenditure on debt repayments will continue to rise quite substantially with the passage of time. The central bank, for example, reported in its recent monetary policy report compendium that the steep rise in interest payments consumed over 73pc of the total tax collection of the FBR and constituted close to 53.8pc of the total federal expenditure in the first quarter of the present financial year to September. It also means that the fiscal space available for undertaking socioeconomic development in the country is shrinking fast.
The positive side of the picture is that the composition of domestic loans is changing in favour of long-term, permanent debt from short-term, floating debt. This change is indicative of the improvement in the government’s debt management strategy. At the same time, we see a significant drop in unfunded debt or public investments and savings in the national saving schemes owing mainly to decreased interest rates. But the changes in the composition of the borrowings will only help us delay the loan repayments for a while without slowing down the pace of growth in the size of the debt stock. The only sustainable way of controlling debt and creating room for greater development spending lies in mobilising taxes in keeping with the economy’s true potential.

 

 

Pemra’s powers

IN an increasingly restrictive environment for the media, the last thing Pemra needs is more powers to tighten the screws on the press. And yet, that is what the PTI government is attempting to do in the guise of concern for the welfare of mediapersons. On Monday, the opposition-dominated upper house rejected a bill moved by PTI Senator Faisal Javed proposing that Pemra be given the power to inquire into complaints against private channels of violating contractual obligations.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman correctly described it as an attempt to gain further control over electronic media by using the “backdoor”. She suggested discussions be held with representative bodies including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists before enacting such legislation.
It is an undeniable fact that some media houses are violating their contractual obligations towards their employees, especially those lower down the pay scale. For example, payment of salaries can be delayed, sometimes by several months. However, it is scarcely a regulator’s job to delve into human resource management; its role should be limited to the content on electronic media. It is also ironic that the bill assumes the posture of looking out for media employees. The right to freedom of expression has been curtailed on the PTI government’s watch to such an extent that it invites comparisons with martial law times.
Intrepid journalism that speaks truth to power is an invitation to trouble in the form of threats, suspension of ads, etc. Some journalists have even been subjected to short-term abductions. To date, the government has released only a small portion of the advertising dues it owes to media outlets. This, coupled with the overall economic downturn, has resulted in hundreds of journalists losing their jobs as media houses try to cope with shrinking revenues.

 

 

Women in conflict

“WHEN the guns fall silent, it does not mean the suffering of women and girls stops. The suffering and abuse that women and girls are exposed to is long-term,” said UNFPA Regional Director for Arab States Luay Shabaneh, as she described the plight of women and girls in Syria last year. In fact, Ms Shabaneh’s words can be applied to the at least 630m women and children, who, according to a new study published in The Lancet, face serious health risks as the indirect effect of living in or near a conflict zone. The four-paper series of the medical journal, released over the weekend, provides compelling evidence that more women and children die from the indirect consequences of warfare — malnutrition, easily preventable infectious diseases, inaccessibility to proper reproductive health services, sexual violence and poor mental health — rather than the violence itself. The report explains through the data it has gathered over a decade that the risk of dying from non-violent causes increases drastically when people live in the vicinity of an ongoing conflict.
Citing one case study, the study maintains that between 1995 and 2015, at least 6.7m infants and more than 10m children under the age of five years born within 50 km of an active armed conflict died from the indirect consequences of fighting across Africa, Asia and the Americas. Moreover, according to the research, more than half the world’s women and children reside in countries that are in the throes of active conflict. In 2017, around 10pc of women and 16pc of children around the world were either living close to the site of conflict or had been displaced by the latter. Surprisingly, around a third of these women and children lived only in three countries: Pakistan, Nigeria and India, states that can hardly be described as active war zones but that continue to experience intermittent bouts of violence. These findings, as well as others contained in the report, have led researchers to call for a “radical rethink” of the world’s response to situations involving insecurity, and the logistics of high-priority interventions for women and children who live in or close to politically unstable environments. As Ms Shabaneh indicated, violence goes beyond the conventional meaning of the word where women and children are concerned. Already vulnerable because of unfair gendered norms, they are the ones who bear the brunt of the conflict.

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