Dawn Editorial 8 September 2020

Fight over Karachi

THE proverbial ink had barely dried on the Rs1.1tr Karachi Transformation Plan when cracks appeared between the centre and Sindh over the implementation of the agreement, particularly its financial details. Talking to the media on Sunday, federal minister Asad Umar criticised the PPP for publicly discussing the financial breakdown of the plan, a day after the prime minister had announced the ambitious scheme for Karachi while visiting the metropolis. Mr Umar was apparently not happy with a video clip of PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in which he had said the Sindh government would contribute Rs800bn to the KTP, with Islamabad covering the rest of the cost. Mr Umar claimed that in fact the centre would be picking up 62pc of the tab, while observing that “there should be no politics” over the KTP’s implementation.
Even the greatest optimist would admit that putting things right in this teeming metropolis is a gargantuan task. Apart from the logistical challenges of fixing Karachi’s water, sewerage and solid waste disposal problems — as the KTP envisages — getting the political stakeholders who claim to represent the city on the same page is easier said than done, given petty rivalries and at times competing agendas. Moreover, there is a wide gulf of mistrust between the PPP-run Sindh government, and the PTI-led centre; evidence of this was on display during Mr Umar’s presser in the city, as no PPP representative participated. Indeed, the Sindh government has reason to believe the centre is seeking to establish a toehold in Karachi through the KTP. When Mr Umar says that the 18th Amendment is a “hurdle” to the city’s uplift, the PPP’s misgivings are strengthened. In fact, centralised control is not the way forward and the spirit of devolution must be respected.
Having said that, the Sindh government must also realise that its local government law has failed, and failed miserably. Ever since the SLGA 2013 became law, Karachi’s degeneration has picked up pace as the provincial government snapped up nearly all the powers of the local bodies, leaving the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation a largely toothless body. The PPP upholds the rights of the provinces when criticising the centre’s apparent attempts to roll back devolution, yet is not ready to give the third tier the rights the Constitution promises. Instead of wrangling over the details of the KTP, all stakeholders must work for the uplift of Karachi by putting political point-scoring aside. Meanwhile, ‘silver bullet’ solutions may only provide temporary relief, as the civic duties the plan focuses on are part of every modern city’s permanent governance structure. In the long term, only an elected, empowered local government system for Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh can succeed in bringing this forsaken metropolis out of the morass of hopelessness and neglect, and on to the path of progress.



Innovation blues

A FURTHER drop of three places in Pakistan’s ranking on the Global Innovation Index to 107 this year from 104 in 2019 speaks volumes for the country’s eroding ability and capacity to emerge as a modern, vibrant economy on the global map. It also reflects poorly on the quality of our institutions, human capital, infrastructure, markets, etc and generates little hope for the future of the nation’s struggling economy, which has been stuck in a rut for the last several decades. The new ranking shows that indicators such as the ease of getting credit and credit to the private sector as a percentage of GDP have worsened, infrastructure has deteriorated and the country’s ability to attract investment weakened. The major reason behind Pakistan’s poor performance on the GII is its unwillingness to invest in education, human capital, productivity, research and technology. Sadly, Pakistan finds itself far behind India which ranks 48 on the index in the innovation rankings. Even other South Asian nations such as Nepal at 95 and Sri Lanka at 101 have fared better than us on the index. According to some, it is only a matter of time before Bangladesh, which at 116 has done worse regionally, will leave us behind, unless we begin investing heavily in our people. It is already leading on many other fronts. Another report, Invisible Barriers to Trade — Pakistan 2020: Business Perspectives, recently released by the International Trade Centre, also points to self-created regulatory barriers as a reason for our poor export performance.
According to the report, market frictions such as regulatory obstacles and lack of information transparency put up to $7bn of untapped export potential at risk, especially for small businesses looking to trade more across borders, in spite of the disruptions caused by Covid-19. More than half the country’s exporters struggle with domestic and foreign regulatory barriers, the report said. Indeed, Pakistan has immense potential to grow into a strong, educated and healthy economy. It only needs to correct its policy direction, and start to invest in education, health, research and innovation for long-term, sustainable growth. Yet this simple shift requires a big change in the vision of those who have been given the task of setting the government’s spending priorities. Until now, the economy has survived on crutches provided by multilateral and bilateral lenders for geopolitical considerations. However, the situation is now changing. We should learn to stand on our own feet.



Former MPA’s acquittal

THE acquittal of former MPA Majeed Khan Achakzai by a model court in Quetta in a case of manslaughter highlights what ails our justice system: if one has enough resources and influence, the chances of a favourable verdict are greater than in the case of a poor man accused of the same crime. The former MPA was released by the court for want of evidence in a hit-and-run accident that killed a traffic warden at Quetta’s GPO Chowk in June 2017. A few days after the incident, CCTV footage of the accident surfaced on social media showing Mr Achakzai’s vehicle, evidently driven by him, hitting the traffic warden. The video led to his arrest but he was released on bail by an anti-terrorism court six months later. The initial FIR registered against Mr Achakzai had included terrorism charges but those sections were removed when he appealed for the case to be transferred to a local court. It is difficult to come to terms with the reasons — lack of evidence — given for his acquittal, especially after the footage of the accident went public. Moreover, Mr Achakzai had also come on television where he admitted to driving the vehicle at the time and talked of settling the matter according to tribal customs.
The decision to acquit the former legislator for want of evidence also raises doubts over the efficacy of the model courts that were set up by former chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa to expedite the process of justice. Indeed, it is true that cases tend to linger for years on end in this country, and the idea of model courts was to reduce this judicial burden and ensure quick justice for the litigants. But speed should not come at the cost of the quality of justice. Better prosecution, improved evidence gathering, witness protection, etc are needed if the ends of justice are to be served and the law applied equally to all.


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