Dawn Editorial 27 October 2019

Renal database

THE launching of the Pakistan Renal Data System by the Pakistan Society of Nephrology is a milestone in our attempts to assess the prevalence of chronic kidney diseases in the country. With this registry, clinical information will be collected from private and public hospitals across the country to make it easier for researchers and medical practitioners to spot and identify the causes of renal failure. It will also enable them to review patient demographics, and enhance the scope of local and clinical research on the subject. For many developing countries, including Pakistan, the challenge in countering various illnesses often stems from the lack of locally available clinical information due to which health practitioners have to rely on international databases that often overlook region-specific dimensions of an endemic disease. According to the Pakistan Medical Association, around 20,000 people die of kidney problems every year in Pakistan. With about 20m affected individuals, the country is said to rank eighth in the world with regard to the prevalence of chronic renal ailments. Besides helping improve research, this registry will also help pinpoint problems in renal therapy including dialysis and transplant.
Data collected so far by the PKRDS has already provided greater insight into the subpar dialysis standards in Punjab. It seems that almost half the 1,500 patients registered with this portal contracted hepatitis C within three months of starting dialysis. With time, and some help from the government, this registry can also function as a centralised network for dialysis and kidney transplant patients, enabling online registration for dialysis sessions and the listing of potential donors. Taking its cue from this initiative, the government can coordinate with health institutions to launch similar directories of other serious ailments, such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, to help expand research on disease prevalence. Such initiatives will make it easier for the government to plan and execute targeted interventions to manage chronic illnesses, as well as seasonal disease outbreaks such as dengue.
Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2019


FBR fear of traders

THE Federal Board of Revenue appears somewhat indecisive over the implementation of an array of measures introduced in the current budget to document domestic commerce by effectively taxing the flourishing wholesale and retail sector.
It is, for example, delaying the enforcement of the key CNIC condition on purchases exceeding Rs50,000.
Now a report indicates the board’s willingness to introduce a turnover-based fixed tax regime for small to medium traders, instead of taxing them on the basis of the size of a shop, and the nature and location of a business.
The report quotes the FBR chairman as saying that the government could accede to the traders’ demand provided it gets the IMF’s prior approval during the first quarterly review of Pakistan’s performance against the benchmarks set for its $6bn loan, which will get under way on Monday.
The tax authorities’ reluctance to implement the measures to bring wholesalers and retailers into the tax net is quite understandable.
They are afraid of the shutter-down power of the country’s large trading community, which has consistently refused to become part of the formal economy since the introduction of consumption tax in the late 1980s.
The traders brought the powerful military dictator, Gen Pervez Musharraf, to his knees in 2000 and forced him to withdraw a decision to register them under the general sales tax law.
Political governments have never found enough will or courage to tax wholesalers and retailers who contribute around 18pc to the nation’s economy but pay less than 1pc of total FBR taxes.
The traders do not want to pay income tax, sales tax or any other tax and have always resisted any effort that would help the government track their undeclared incomes and help document the economy. This is perhaps the only issue that unites the otherwise politically fragmented community. Each time a government makes a move to tax them, they pull down their shutters and take to the streets to get a free pass. Several rounds of talks between the FBR and traders since the announcement of the budget have ended in a deadlock and the delayed enforcement of taxation proposals because of threats of a countrywide strike.
If the government thinks it can still persuade traders through negotiations to become part of the documented economy, or buy time to divide them, it is mistaken. And the rollback of the documentation effort is definitely not an option because it will jeopardise the government’s plan to achieve the targeted tax revenues and document the economy, especially at a time when the country faces a real threat of a downgrade from FATF’s ‘grey’ to ‘black’ list in February. It will have to enforce the measures to bring traders into the tax net sooner or later. The sooner it does the better it will be for the flagging economy.
Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2019


Kartarpur deal

WITH much bad blood currently being witnessed in the Pakistan-India relationship — primarily because of the crackdown in India-held Kashmir — the signing of the Kartarpur Corridor deal between the two states on Thursday is a welcome bit of news. High officials from both states signed the agreement that will allow Indian Sikhs to visit the revered religious site in Punjab’s Narowal district without a visa, after having registered in advance. As per the Foreign Office, up to 5,000 visitors can be accommodated daily through the agreement, with the capacity to handle more. The deal is evidence that the government is thinking ahead and making a peace offering despite strained bilateral ties. While there are many issues to be sorted out between Pakistan and India — with Kashmir topping the list — some progress can be made in other sectors, particularly people-to-people contacts. In this regard, the restoration of bus and train services between the two states could be a first step. In fact, progress on ‘soft’ issues may well lead to a breakthrough on the more difficult questions, as walls of hatred and mistrust slowly begin to crumble through engagement and dialogue at the popular level. This might seem like a far-fetched idea in the current circumstances, but such efforts may well break the ice.
Indeed, religious tourism has great potential on both sides of the border. Some of the most revered Sikh shrines are located in Pakistan, and perhaps if the Kartarpur experiment is a success more processes can be put in place to make it easier for Indian Sikhs to visit holy sites in this country. There are also some ancient sites sacred to the Hindu community, such as Katas Raj, which can feature prominently on the religious tourism trail. Similarly, some of the subcontinent’s most revered Sufi saints’ tombs are located in India, such as that of Khawaja Moinuddin Chishty in Ajmer, and Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. Countless followers of these revered individuals in Pakistan would be delighted to visit their dargahs if the visa regime were made less stringent. And of course the matter of divided families cannot be overlooked. There are many families who have relatives on the ‘other side’, and there are also cross-border marriages. Stopping divided families from meeting due to draconian visa regulations is cruel and unjustified. Political matters, such as Kashmir, need resolution, but people-to-people contact should not be abandoned due to frigid bilateral relations.
October 28, 2019

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