Dawn Editorial 28 February 2021

Underfunded police

FOR decades, successive governments in the country have talked about police reforms. While the latter are essential, it is absurd that politicians should harp on about enhancing the capabilities of the police without ensuring a commensurate increase in crime-fighting resources. Indeed, the required funds are missing in the police budget though crime figures keep pace with an increasing population. According to a report published in this newspaper, the Islamabad police can only spend Rs400 on average per case — around 8,750 cases were investigated last year. For the current fiscal, the capital’s police must work with a meagre sum of Rs3.5m. Understandably, the lack of funds impacts the overall quality of investigations since Rs400 is not even enough to cover the cost of one out-of-city raid while the processes involved in forensic investigations such as fingerprint processing, lab tests, crime scene mapping and sketching of suspects cost thousands of rupees. It is no wonder then that, according to the report, police officials resort to asking complainants for money or pay out of their own pocket for routine procedures that should be paid for by the government. Considering that the Islamabad police come under the purview of the federal government, this destitute state of the capital law-enforcement agency could not be more shocking. Even if the federal government is struggling financially, it should still be able to spare more funds to meet the recurring expenses of the police force of the nation’s capital.
Meanwhile, similar conditions persist in the police forces of all provinces. Effective and transparent investigations are one of the primary functions of any police force and if not performed properly, they can have a negative impact on the law enforcers’ public image. When police officials ask complainants for money for routine procedures, it only reinforces an undesirable public image of the force, and adds to demoralisation in the ranks. An independent and effective law-enforcement infrastructure is in everyone’s interest. The public’s sense of security and confidence in the police force cannot be taken lightly.

 

 

FATF decision

THE decision taken by the Financial Action Task Force to keep Pakistan on the grey list until June, despite the country making significant progress on the recommended actions, has disappointed many. There are examples where other nations were taken off the list of countries under enhanced monitoring by the global watchdog although they did far less than Islamabad which worked hard to tighten its anti-terror-financing and money-laundering controls over the last two years.
Pakistan has complied with 24 out of the 27 actions suggested by the FATF. One hopes that it acts vigorously in the remaining areas to be taken off the grey list soon. The FATF announcement that Pakistan has made “significant progress” even if some “serious deficiencies” remain in the mechanisms to eliminate terror financing, and the government’s view that the country would not be put on the blacklist again, has been a ray of hope for all concerned.
At the same time, the FATF decision should jolt the authorities out of their complacency. There is no option but to work quickly and show progress on the rest of the FATF action plan. Even though doing so will not be easy for the state, it is clear that unlike previously, the world wants complete compliance with the global body’s exacting standards this time around. The FATF president’s statement that the watchdog will verify the completed actions and members of the task force would vote (to remove Pakistan from the list of countries on the grey list) “as soon as they improve their investigations and prosecutions of all groups and entities financing terrorists and their associates and show [that] penalties by courts are effective” underlines this new reality.
It goes without saying that complete compliance will bring its own dividends for the economy. The increasing inflow of remittances through legal channels is only one of the many economic benefits that Pakistan stands to reap from adopting global standards on illicit financing.
Last but not the least, the battle to stay out of the grey list in future will not end once Pakistan is taken off it. There is bound to be a tough struggle for a much longer time until the world learns to look upon this country as a responsible and trustworthy partner in the international fight against terrorism. The end of the endeavour to get off this list is in sight and the country must leave no stone unturned to reach its goal.

 

 

Covid concerns

WITH every form of restriction now effectively lifted in the country after an assessment of the Covid-19 situation, the weeks ahead present a new challenge for the government. As schools, cinemas and mass indoor gatherings such as weddings begin to return to the pre-Covid era, a successful vaccine roll-out is imperative. In the UK, where both national morale and the economy have taken a colossal hit due to record deaths and cases, a successful inoculation drive is restoring hope and trust. Pakistan has been fortunate, that despite a weak and unsophisticated healthcare system and a large population, it has reported a far lower number of deaths and cases when compared to several higher-income countries. The exact reason for this is yet to be determined. But while experts scratch their heads, and factors such as herd immunity and a young population are mulled over, the authorities cannot be complacent. The Covid-19 nightmare is far from over. Therefore, the resumption of regular commercial activities must go hand in hand with a mass vaccination programme.
A successful programme hinges on a public awareness programme, a streamlined monitoring and distribution strategy and transparent communication. Thus far, China’s Sinopharm has arrived in Pakistan with over half a million doses. Covax has donated 17m doses which the government expects will arrive in phases from March to June. While the vaccine is being administered to healthcare workers across the country, registration rates remain low. Healthcare workers in some areas have shown reluctance citing several concerns, including fears about side effects and lack of information about efficacy. Here, the government must do more to raise awareness and build confidence so that people understand that the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh the perceived risks. Secondly, systems in place from past vaccination programmes must be made use of. This includes a plan for how budgets will be used as well as one for the detection and monitoring of new cases in order to determine the extent to which the population is protected. Third, a daily update on vaccinations is imperative, as it will not only build transparency but also reinforce the idea of how central the vaccine is to resuming normal activities.
Though cases in the country remain low, the story did turn grim during the first and second peaks. Today, anecdotal accounts of severe Covid-19 symptoms and deaths are not uncommon. Testing, however, remains abysmally low at between 30,000 and 40,000 daily. For a population of over 200m, of which 70m have been identified by the government as potential vaccine recipients, this figure is a tragedy. Increased testing is a must if the government wants to continue to keep commercial activities going. Failure to ensure this will mean we might be forced to face yet another peak — especially if the vaccination programme is slow.

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