Dawn Editorial 8 May 2021

Rise in dog bites

ON Wednesday, an unusually high number of dog-bite cases were reported in Larkana, when 19 people — the majority of them children — were admitted to the accident and emergency unit of Chandka Medical College Hospital. The next day, taking notice of the worrying rise in cases, the Sindh high court tasked the local government secretary to set up a mechanism for weekly updates with the district municipal corporations, with regard to the dog-bite incidents in their areas. Keeping in mind the shortage of rabies vaccines in hospitals, even if most dogs are not carriers of the disease, the rise in dog-bite cases is very alarming. In Karachi alone, more than 7,000 cases have been recorded so far this year. Last year, around 200,000 cases were reported across the province. Each time such an incident appears in the news, there is outrage, outlandish statements are thrown about, and the authorities respond by carrying out mass culling operations, shooting or poisoning dogs on sight in the streets. And yet the problem only seems to get worse, while the stray dog population keeps increasing. Clearly, these knee-jerk ‘solutions’ are not working, and might even be exacerbating the issue. Instead, trap-neuter-release — TNR — programmes need to be carried out on a mass scale, even if the process is more expensive and time-consuming.
Along with TNR operations, there have to be popular campaigns that aim to change attitudes towards animals. Issues like these cannot be left to a handful of individuals to ‘fix’ or ‘solve’ because there is a deeper cultural problem at play, and this concerns the general population’s treatment of stray dogs, which can range from demonisation to indifference. Few people with means are ready to adopt them, choosing breeds that are not local to the region. It is also not uncommon to see people treat stray animals with cruelty: teasing, torturing or beating them. Dogs are loyal companions and protectors, and only become a threat when they feel threatened.



Delayed poll debate

THE debate on electoral reforms is going nowhere. Even though the major political parties say reforms are critical, they are not getting any closer to even initiating a debate on the issue, let alone reaching a consensus. In fact, they appear to be either protesting and stalling the debate or forging ahead without engagement.
Given the storm caused by the recent bypolls, the issue of reforms is undoubtedly a pressing one with far-reaching consequences for our democracy. Why then, are stakeholders delaying the debate? And if this deadlock continues, will the government bring reforms without engaging the opposition, and choose the controversial route of making changes via ordinances which the federal cabinet has already approved?
The PTI has of late signalled its intent to push for reforms on several occasions. First, the prime minister in a series of tweets invited the opposition to sit with the government and discuss the matter. Next, his parliamentary affairs’ adviser Babar Awan held a press conference with key federal ministers and shared the details of the government’s proposals. In the midst of this, the prime minister even wrote a letter to the National Assembly speaker to initiate the process in parliament. Though these efforts reflect the government’s intentions, the opposition has rejected them.
There are two reasons behind the opposition’s pushback. The first is the acrimonious relationship between the opposition and the ruling party. Time and again, the collective opposition has criticised the prime minister’s attitude and said that he avoids debates by not coming to parliament — a valid criticism, given the hounding of opposition members in corruption cases and the prime minister’s poor attendance record in parliament. Secondly, as the PPP has pointed out, these reforms do not address the question of the proverbial elephant in the room: pre-poll and election day manipulation that has become a blight on the democratic process. This, too is a serious issue, and one that results in the creation and breaking up of political parties with pressure from external forces.
Though the opposition’s concerns are valid, its persistent refusal to participate in the process will mean that a solution will be reached without it. The government, which has not shied away from bullish behaviour in the past, will likely bring about electoral changes via ordinances, without the opposition’s input.
To avoid this situation, members of both the government and opposition need to take off their boxing gloves and really think of the chaos the country will be plunged into if yet another general election takes place in the midst of serious challenges. Key points of contention, such as electronic voting, electoral and software manipulation and the eligibility of dual nationals to contest must be ironed out. A sincere debate on a truly free election is in everyone’s interest. Those shying away from it have nothing to gain.



Reducing deficit

THE numbers show that the government has managed to arrest growth in fiscal deficit — the difference between the government’s income and expenditure — as a ratio of GDP during the first nine months of the present financial year to March. But the problem with numbers is that they are often used by governments to mask the reality. The government may have brought down the deficit to 3.6pc of GDP from 3.8pc a year ago through a reduction in development spending and a provincial surplus of nearly 1pc of the size of the economy. But the question is: can it keep it at that level during the last quarter of the fiscal? That would be near impossible. The fiscal gap is estimated to grow to at least 7.5pc by the close of the fiscal year as the government’s bills become due, the expenditure side of its balance sheet expands and the provincial surplus disappears into thin air. That makes a lower deficit number at this stage irrelevant unless the government can contain it at that level in the last quarter as well.
The more important numbers in the summary of the country’s fiscal operations relate to the spiking cost of debt servicing, and the burden placed on common people through indirect taxes and levies. The debt-servicing expense has shot up by almost 12pc to Rs2.1tr or equal to 82pc of total revenues, forcing the government to borrow more money to pay its other bills. The share of indirect taxes and levies — which impact, directly and heavily, low-middle-income groups — in revenues is surging. The collection of petroleum levy, for example, has jumped by a whopping 87pc and of indirect taxes by 14pc (compared to 9pc increase in direct taxes). The fiscal deficit is at the heart of our chronic economic troubles and the government’s inability to invest in infrastructure to forge growth. Indeed, the government has been successful in achieving primary surplus — the difference between revenues and expenditure excluding debt payments — in the last two years. But this was done by curbing essential expenditure, especially development spending, at the cost of people’s well-being and jobs rather than by increasing its tax revenues. There is no possibility of decreasing the overall budget deficit and controlling growth in public debt without rapidly raising tax collection. For that the PTI government will have to undertake tax reforms, which may hurt powerful lobbies. Does it have the political will for that? It has not really shown any so far.


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