Dawn Editorial 4 February 2021

The RDA investment

OVERSEAS Pakistanis are responding generously to the new initiative, Roshan Digital Accounts, launched by the State Bank in September in order to attract the diaspora to invest their savings in their country’s development. According to the State Bank, some 80,000 non-resident Pakistanis have already opened accounts, transferring their savings of approximately $400m from their respective countries of residence to the country of their origin. Their numbers continue to grow. Many may attribute the initial success of the initiative to the lucrative returns being offered to non-resident Pakistanis on their RDA deposits compared to the nearly zero per cent return they are getting in the host countries. Indeed, the rewarding returns must have played a major role in convincing the diaspora to open these accounts. But that is only one factor.
The entire RDA regime has been designed intelligently, keeping in view the needs of Pakistanis working abroad. These accounts, for example, allow their owners freedom to move their savings in and out of Pakistan — effortlessly — by clicking on their mobile devices from anywhere in the world. The account holders can also easily invest their money in real estate, stock market and government papers through the Central Depository Company. Moreover, the ease of opening these accounts in both Islamic and conventional banks within 48 hours in Pakistani and other eligible international currencies is an added incentive. Non-resident citizens of China and India have played a crucial role in the economic progress of their home country in recent decades. Overseas Pakistanis too have been contributing a great deal to the stability of the nation’s external account by sending home large remittances equal to our annual exports. Nonetheless, the bulk of the money sent back by them has gone into consumption or speculative investments with no channel available for them to bring home their savings owing to the unavailability of an official mechanism to repatriate their money when needed. The RDA initiative has provided them with that channel and they are responding to it as expected.



Vaccination begins

THE next phase in Pakistan’s fightback against the novel coronavirus has begun with appropriate fanfare. On Tuesday at the PM Office, in the presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan, anaesthetist and critical care specialist Prof Rana Imran Sikander became the first person in the country to be vaccinated against the disease.
The first batch of Covid-19 vaccines, totalling half a million doses manufactured by Sinopharm, had arrived in Islamabad from Beijing on Monday, and the federal government dispatched the provinces their share from it the next day. Inoculation drives on a provincial level began yesterday. The National Command and Operation Centre deserves plaudits for the smooth start to the mammoth countrywide campaign. Judging by the detailed plan it has drawn up, considerable effort is being expended to ensure that vaccine procurement keeps up with the pace of inoculation, and a report in this paper yesterday quoted SAPM on Health Dr Faisal Sultan as saying he does not believe the supply side will pose a problem.
“We are more concerned about the demand side,” he said. The fear is that of the 70m of the adult population who should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, as per health experts’ view, a considerable number — up to 30m — may refuse it or opt out for one reason or another.
That is among several concerns in a situation where, at least to some extent, the authorities are flying blind. The novel coronavirus has been around for a little over a year. It is only recently that health professionals have got a handle on managing severe cases of Covid-19 to a certain extent, while the long-term and sometimes devastating implications of the disease are still being observed and understood.



Decision on BRT

THE Supreme Court decision to set aside a Peshawar High Court judgement ordering a NAB investigation into the Peshawar BRT scheme must have come as a relief to a provincial government dogged by the controversy generated by its flagship project. The move to stop the NAB probe comes in response to an appeal filed by the KP government. In July 2018, the Peshawar High Court had directed NAB to investigate the incessant delays and irregularities in the award of contracts and the project’s cost. In a separate case in 2019, the high court had asked the FIA to investigate any potential wrongdoing related to the project. This was also challenged by the KP government in the Supreme Court which has granted a month-long extension to its stay order on the FIA probe. The highly publicised, multibillion-rupee Bus Rapid Transit project had sparked concerns due to the long delays in completing it and the mismanagement during its construction. The KP government’s own investigation team had raised serious questions over the feasibility of the project, especially as the cost went from Rs49bn to over Rs68bn. In April 2019, the team in a 27-page report had highlighted a number of issues with the BRT project. The report had brought to light challenges pertaining to the mismanagement of development funds, political hubris and improper design and planning by the authorities, along with mass-scale public inconvenience to the residents of Peshawar. In fact, it indicated the project had misused public money through negligence in the execution of the construction.
The BRT project was announced by the KP government just months before the 2018 general elections, and there were rash promises that it would be completed within six months. Several deadlines, design changes and tens of billions of rupees later, the project was finally opened for the public in August 2020. However, soon after, the mass transit system witnessed more problems as a few buses caught fire and operations were hampered. The question that then arises is this: if the government’s own inspection team recommended a probe into the construction of the BRT, why did the provincial administration think it necessary to challenge the high court’s decision? Would it not have been better to investigate the concerns raised and find solutions that could have put to rest the misgivings? After all, transparency in public works underpins a people’s trust in their government.

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