Dawn Editorial 3 October 2019

Opposition protest

THE flurry of political activity focused on the JUI-F’s planned march continued on Wednesday. While there are no definitive answers, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, after a meeting with the PML-N, did say he would consider the opposition’s request to delay his advance on the capital. The latest meeting comes a day after an earlier session between the PML-N and PPP where it was decided that the two parties would meet the JUI-F chief — separately — to try and convince him to postpone the march. That in itself is an indicator of how far apart the two main opposition parties are on the issue; a joint approach could have reflected some progress on an agreement. But so far, the only thing that unites them is their desire to see Prime Minister Imran Khan pack up and go. The PPP and PML-N do not have a roadmap to accomplish this huge task. In fact, they have not unveiled any scheme to achieve even a smaller target than the overthrow of the PTI setup. For instance, they have displayed little interest in tackling the government head-on over many of the unpopular measures that have contributed to the current price hike.
For his part, Maulana Fazlur Rehman insists he has a map, not dissimilar to the one used by Prime Minister Imran Khan to come to power, even if the present challenger lacks the kind of patrons who allegedly sponsored the Khan journey. The JUI-F chief has implied that the protest will have the desired effect of unsettling the Khan government. He appears to be relying on a ‘tip-off’ by commentators who say that there is a public sentiment against the government that an opposition movement of sufficient proportions could ignite. But even if the PPP and PML-N are able to provide the numbers to back up the campaign, the leadership of the two parties has shown itself to be incapable of rising above their own interests and readily throwing their weight behind the maulana.
The opposition is generally tentative about the campaign. The voices of caution emanating from the opposition camp have been joined by observers who say that the situation is not conducive to a protest march against a government which only recently completed its first year in office. While this may be a valid argument, the opposition, that is often advised to protest and debate in parliament in the interest of democracy, is right in pointing out the scant respect that the prime minister and PTI politicians have shown towards the legislature. What option does it leave the opposition with, if not street protest? The onus is then on the government to demonstrate that it respects healthy opinion and is ready to listen to and address the opposition’s grievances. It will have only itself to blame if the opposition proceeds jointly outside the elected houses.


Online transactions

THE finalisation and approval of the first-ever e-commerce policy framework is a positive development. The policy framework focuses on protecting both the consumers and online retailers, implementing more effective regulations without hampering the growth of this industry, promoting financial inclusion and digitising payments, harmonising taxes, and creating new jobs. The good thing is that the policy has been developed after extensive consultations with private- and public-sector stakeholders. These have included e-commerce companies, the central bank, FBR, the ministries of IT and commerce, etc. Therefore, we see broad agreement by online retailers on the measures proposed in the framework to regulate the industry in such a way that it continues on its rapid growth trajectory.
Online shopping in Pakistan has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years due to advancements in communication technology, including the expansion of internet access and branchless banking. At present, we do not have reliable or verifiable data regarding the exact value of online transactions, because approximately 90pc of total purchases still remain cash-based. Yet the size of online retail business in the country is estimated to have grown to anywhere between Rs50bn and Rs100bn. The rapid increase in the popularity of e-commerce has also led many brick-and-mortar retailers, major brands and individuals to start their own online retail shops to reach out to the emerging market of online buyers. In spite of this significant rise in technology-driven business-to-consumer, or B2C, transactions, the size of the online market in Pakistan is minuscule when compared to what it is in China and India. In India, e-commerce retail sales are estimated at $38bn, while in China these stand at a staggering $1.5tr. Also, the Chinese and Indian markets have seen a huge influx of foreign investment in this sector. In contrast, foreign investors are reluctant to invest in the industry here because of connectivity problems as well as infrastructural and regulatory issues that impede the repatriation of their profits. The framework does not help in tackling such issues. All the same, we have a policy that can help grow this industry, safeguard the interest of consumers and mobilise significant tax revenues for the government. The next step is its implementation. Many remain sceptical on this count because our bureaucracy is not known for the execution of policies. The framework needs further refinement but that will be possible only when it is put into action.


Our plastic problem

THE Sindh government’s decision to enforce a province-wide ban on the manufacturing, sale and use of plastic bags shows there is a growing awareness among legislators about the importance of safeguarding the environment and public health.
Alongside the ban, an awareness campaign has been launched, and cloth bags distributed among some of Karachi’s residents. This is not the first time the provincial government has attempted to ban plastic bags. In fact, the Sindh Prohibition of Non-degradable Plastic Products (Manufacturing, Sale and Usage) Rules and the Sindh Environmental Protection Act have existed since 2014.
Just last year, the Sindh cabinet issued a notification on the use of polythene and plastic bags, which was to come into effect in phases within three months. But such a move was never successfully implemented. A similarly unsuccessful attempt had been made back in 2006, with the passing of the Sindh Prohibition on Manufacture, Sale and Use of Polythene Bags Ordinance.
The Pakistan Plastic Manufacturers Association estimates that approximately 55bn plastic bags are used in the country each year. Other estimates place the figure well over 100bn. While banning plastic remains a massive challenge, coordinated efforts amongst the various provinces may ease the burden.
On Aug 14, in an attempt to limit the damage, the Islamabad Capital Territory too placed a ban on the use of single-use plastic, which was expectedly met with resistance from various stakeholders. Unfortunately, whenever such a ban has been announced, there have been protests from the retail and manufacturing industries, which employ tens of thousands. This was witnessed on Tuesday, when scores of workers in Lahore held demonstrations against the government for potentially rendering them jobless.
The government must ensure that does not happen, and compensate workers and manufacturers and give them viable, long-term alternatives. Otherwise, in its attempt to do good in the long run, it might just end up creating a bigger problem for itself in the short term.


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