THERE is never a dull moment in Pakistan’s politics. Although the saga around the reappointment/ tenure extension of the army chief is over for now, another administrative crisis looms. The chief election commissioner will be completing his term later next week and his retirement will render the currently incomplete Election Commission of Pakistan, which is already short of two members who retired in January, dysfunctional. Given the deadlock between the government and the opposition over their replacement, few expect the process of finding a successor to the current CEC to begin anytime soon. When ECP positions fall vacant, the Constitution requires they be filled within 45 days. This condition has not been met in the case of the vacancies created after the retirement of members from Sindh and Balochistan because of a hostile relationship between the government and the opposition parties. It is feared that unless there is a sincere effort to come to an agreement, the replacement of the CEC will be delayed for a long time.
The failure of the government and opposition to appoint ECP members even after several months speaks volumes for the confrontationist nature of our politics and the existing acrimony between the two sides. The government is largely to blame for this impasse. The Constitution provides that the prime minister must initiate the process of replacing the CEC or an ECP member by consulting the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. A 2013 Supreme Court interpretation of the law requires these consultations to be ‘meaningful’, implying that the two sides should try to reach an agreement over the new appointments. In case of lack of consensus, they must send three names each to a 12-member parliamentary committee for decision. But the Constitution is silent on how to proceed in case of a tie in the parliamentary committee, which comprises an equal number of lawmakers from the treasury and opposition benches.
The scheme of ‘meaningful consultations’ can sometimes be quite frustrating, especially when the two sides decide to stick to their positions. But this is precisely the kind of situation where the ‘art of the possible’ can lessen mutual hostility and help resolve political differences for the country’s good. Imposing its choice on the opposition seldom works; such a move always backfires as it did when the PTI tried to unilaterally induct its own ECP nominees in August. In fact, the delay in the completion of the ECP has given the opposition the upper hand in the matter of appointments. It will now be in a stronger position to force the hand of the government when the latter tables the bill defining the terms and conditions governing the service of the army chief and his reappointment/ extension as per Supreme Court instructions. The sooner the government mends its ways the better it will be for all.
Power tariff increase
IT might sound like a nominal hike, but the recent approval given by the Economic Coordination Committee for a 26-paisa increase in the power tariff increasingly cements the impression that the government will continue passing on the costs of its own inefficiency and inability to make adequate recoveries to paying consumers. The power sector regulator, Nepra, had approved a 15-paisa increase in the tariff, but at the ECC meeting, the government went beyond that amount to satisfy a key IMF condition before the first review is taken up for approval by the Fund’s board in December. Raising power sector recoveries is a key IMF demand, and if the government is unable to comply, it is asked in the programme to pass through the unrecovered amount in the power tariff. This means those who are paying their bills will have to also pay for those who are not. It is called ‘full cost recovery’ in the euphemistic parlance of the power sector, and is designed to help curtail the growth of the circular debt. Average power tariff after this increase will now be Rs13.77, which does not include taxes, fuel price adjustments and other surcharges.
Average power tariffs have already been hiked by Rs2.33 per unit, mainly to help curtail the circular debt. As the principle of full cost recovery is increasingly applied to power tariff determination, it can potentially put the tariffs on an endless upward climb. The principle itself makes commercial sense but is vastly unfair. It drains any incentive from the distribution companies to improve their recoveries since their management have the assurance that they can collect whatever amount they are comfortable with and the government can always write the unrecovered amount into future power tariffs. Along with the expectation to ensure full cost recovery, the government is also committed to a new mechanism to regularly review power tariffs. At the ECC meeting, the task of creating some kind of an automatic mechanism for power tariffs was delegated to a new committee in an effort to make the process similar to oil price determinations. These changes are fine, but without a wider vision for the reform of power tariffs, in a way that allows a greater role for market forces in tariff setting, these changes will be mostly cosmetic and driven by expediency.
BEFORE Abdul Sattar Edhi breathed his last, he made it clear that he wished to donate his organs to help those in need and as a way of encouraging others to follow his example. Upon his death in 2016, at the age of 88, his corneas were donated to two blind patients at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation. Edhi’s final act of generosity gave two individuals the blessing of sight, something most take for granted. However, despite repeated efforts and lobbying by the SIUT and the Edhi Foundation, organ donation remains an alien concept for most Pakistanis. While it is practised in Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran and other regional states including Sri Lanka, Pakistan still does not have a culture of organ donation. Even when someone wishes to donate their organs posthumously, their families are often not ready to fulfil their last wish or other hurdles are created along the way. This glaring gap between demand and supply, and growing income inequality, has given rise to a black market for human organs, where surgeries are performed illegally and without the necessary post-operative care — often on the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. To counter these dangerous practices, while providing vital services to those most in need, some parliamentarians have been trying to pass laws that would encourage and facilitate deceased organ donation.
For instance, since last year, Senator Mian Mohammad Ateeq of the MQM has been trying to pass an amendment to the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Bill. The revision would allow for a distinction made on the CNICs of organ donors, which would make their consent clear in the event of a fatal accident. As noted by the senator, such a mechanism is already in place in several countries around the world. But it seems neither Nadra nor the other members of the Senate are ready for change.