Proceed with caution
ONCE again, Eidul Fitr is around the corner. Last year at this time, the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic had not yet peaked in Pakistan. The authorities had perhaps not realised the scale of the devastation the contagion would end up wreaking across the world. Whatever the reason, and despite the misgivings of some provincial administrations that were urging caution, people were allowed to indulge in the customary tradition of shopping for the festival. It proved to be a short-sighted decision that undoubtedly contributed to the spike in cases in the following weeks.
This year, with the ongoing third wave, and having realised the impact that abandoning social-distancing measures can have on the rate of infection transmission, the timings for shops remain curtailed. The National Command and Operation Centre has also announced that during the May 8 to 16 Eid holidays, all retail outlets, aside for those providing everyday necessities or services, will be closed. Tourism has also been suspended, which is just as well because the extended holidays would have encouraged people to throng to holiday spots.
On Monday, Pakistan documented 3,377 cases — the first time in over a month that less than 3,400 cases had been recorded. The very next day, however, the daily tally went up to 4,113. All indications are that we must continue to take full precautions in the coming weeks. Thankfully, the response to the inoculation drive is picking up and on May 3, the number of vaccinations administered in this country was 164,168, the highest so far — bringing the total figure to 2.7m. The near-apocalyptic scenes of Covid-19 ravaging India and making headlines across the world, have almost certainly contributed to people here deciding to take the jab. With the momentum of inoculation picking up, it makes little sense to close the vaccination centres for three days over Eid, as the NCOC is considering. Surely, if the emergency facilities at hospitals can remain open during religious festivals, so can vaccination centres. We are living through exceptional circumstances, and exceptions must be made in response. For many people, the Eid holidays may be the most convenient time to get themselves inoculated. It is also critical that the supply of vaccines does not dry up.
Pakistan may yet again be standing at a crossroads where the pandemic is concerned. The slightest loosening of SOP protocols could send us hurling in the direction where India finds itself today. The decision by the centre and second-tier governments to call on the army’s assistance to enforce SOPs appears to be bearing fruit. According to the NCOC chief Asad Umar, the national average compliance has doubled from 34pc on April 25 to 68pc on May 3. If this is sustained beyond Eid holidays, we could ride out the third wave without our health system buckling.
THE ECC decision to pay the first tranche of outstanding dues of one set of IPPs, and further delay the payments of unpaid bills of another is discriminatory given that the government has signed identical agreements revising the terms of their original power purchasing agreements. The government had renegotiated contracts with 47 IPPs set up between 1990 and 2013, which will potentially save it over Rs800bn in future payments to them and slow down fresh build-up in the power sector’s circular debt. In return, it had agreed to pay them their unpaid bills of Rs403bn in two instalments. But the first payment was delayed after NAB decided to investigate the 2002 IPPs. Now the ECC wants to clear the dues of the pre-2002 projects before the end of this month, holding back payment of the 2002 IPPs till the NAB inquiries are concluded. It may take years before NAB completes the probe, preventing both government and consumers from reaping the benefits of the deal, in addition to damaging Pakistan’s international image.
NAB’s intervention after the finalisation of the agreements is surprising, especially because the revisions in the PPAs provided for an independent arbitration under the Arbitration Submission Agreement option on alleged excess payment of Rs58bn made to the 2002 projects for an amicable resolution of the dispute between the IPPs and the government. There are quite a few theories about why NAB interfered with the process. But whatever the truth, the accountability authorities’ role of spoiler is only damaging the credibility of the government and strengthening perceptions that we are a country where contracts made with investors are not honoured and where economic policies are frequently altered with the change in political leadership. Hence, few foreign investors want to bring their capital here — and that too only when the government offers them a higher risk premium on their investments in the form of guaranteed returns as has been the case in the power sector. We have paid a heavy price for the shenanigans of successive governments. The current set-up has to pay the outstanding bills of the power producers one way or the other. If the accountability authority does not back off, the possibility of the affected IPPs using their right of international arbitration and invoking sovereign guarantees cannot be ruled out. This would harm prospects of future investment in this country and our relationship with multilaterals.
Violence against doctors
HEALTHCARE workers and doctors’ associations in two major hospitals of KP are adamant that the KP Healthcare Services Providers and Facilities (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Act, 2020, be implemented. The doctors of Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar and Dogra Hospital in Khyber district have been on strike for the past few days to protest incidents of hooliganism at their institutions and demand legal action against the perpetrators, who allegedly include two MPAs from the PPP and BAP, under the above-mentioned law. A group of people led by the lawmakers threatened the doctors while violently protesting the death of a young boy from Khyber district at the Hayatabad Medical Complex on April 30. A a day later, a PTI MNA with a group of people reportedly barged into Dogra Hospital in Khyber district where he had a heated exchange with the medical superintendent whom he is said to have held hostage for a couple of hours.
Such violence against doctors is not new, and often protesters, that include angry relatives, have resorted to damaging property and attacking medical personnel for real or perceived medical blunders. But for members of parliament to lead the charge is simply appalling. As holders of public office, they should be assuaging feelings of rage and working for the benefit of healthcare workers and the public instead of abusing their position and instigating brawls. Those responsible should face the law while the political parties to which these legislators belong should take strict action against them if their active participation is established. No doctor deserves to be hounded in this manner; there are less damaging ways of taking to task medics who are found wanting in their professional duties. In these times of Covid-19, doctors are working round the clock as wards fill up with patients. Their services are indispensable. In the current case, the doctors, who are rightfully demanding the law’s enforcement, should rethink their strike as there are thousands of people who need their healing touch.