Dawn Editorial 9 November 2019

Undermining the NA

THE optics couldn’t have been worse for a government that is already facing a huge protest.
On Thursday, the PTI forcibly completed the formality of running 11 ordinances past the National Assembly. It took the treasury only a few minutes to get the job done as the deputy speaker played the role of a partisan referee, ignoring the opposition protestations.
On a day of truly shameful events, the person technically in charge of this do-it-yourself-exercise, the prime minister, held a meeting with his party legislators and then was in his chamber throughout. Even if he hadn’t taken the trouble to turn up at the house that gives him his powers, there was little doubt that the rush to pass the ordinances enjoyed his full blessings.
This was truly in keeping with PTI tradition which attaches little respect to those who make up parliament. For the ruling party, all who oppose it in the assemblies are relics of a corruption-filled past that Prime Minister Imran Khan is keen to rid this country of. This line is applied to justify everything the PTI government takes up, including the passage of presidential ordinances.
The laws promise a profound impact. Among them is one that replaces the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council with the Pakistan Medical Commission, which has kicked up a heated debate. Another seeks to protect whistle-blowers reporting benami properties and assets, while one more focuses on the rights of women to own property.
For long, the people have asked for simplifying the process of issuing a succession certificate, which is what one of the new laws is aimed at. ‘Establishment of legal aid and justice authority to provide justice to the poor and vulnerable segments of society’ is the stated purpose of yet another law in this set, which again sounds like a good cause. But a cause worth pursuing must first appear worth discussing.
The imposition of legal provisions the way it has been done in this case — and under previous governments as well — smacks of a dictatorial disposition the country can ill afford, especially in these times of increasing polarisation.
The president should never have issued these ordinances, and if somehow he committed that error, the National Assembly should have been allowed to stamp respectability on these proposed laws by debating them.
It is clear that the ruling party has led a successful campaign against its opponents in parliament. It has exposed the opposition members to public scrutiny and any act on their part that is seen as compromising improvements in the system can easily land lawmakers belonging to the anti-Imran Khan camp on the wrong side of the people.
The PTI has evidently betrayed its lack of confidence or it wouldn’t have looked for ways to undermine parliament.


FATF grey list

LITTLE by little, the truth about Pakistan’s difficulties involving the Financial Action Task Force is coming out. For a while, the attitude towards the global financial watchdog and its repeated warnings about the vulnerability of Pakistan’s financial system to terror-financing and money-laundering risks were received with a casual shrug, as if none of it was to be taken seriously. Then came a period when we were told it was all a political conspiracy against Pakistan, and the vulnerabilities themselves deserved no consideration. Matters began to be taken more seriously by November 2017 with the first indications that the move towards blacklisting Pakistan could be real after all. By February 2018, this became quite evident, and Pakistan scrambled on two separate action plans, one for the Asia Pacific Group, which is a regional grouping of FATF, and the other submitted directly to the latter body. Since then, action has been patchy, but all along we were being told by different authorities that Pakistan was making progress, that soon the tide would turn and the movement would be in the opposite direction, away from grey listing and certainly not towards full blacklisting.
Now, suddenly, we have a new turn in this evolution of Pakistan’s self-reckoning exercise where the demands and conditions of FATF are concerned. We are told by Hammad Azhar, the minister directly tasked with coordinating the implementation of the action plans as well as presenting Pakistan’s case before the global watchdog, that grey listing is likely to continue all through next year since more than one action plan has to be completed — one of which is due to be evaluated next October. But then, he reverted to the comforting presentation of “partial compliance on 22 of the 27 points” in the action plan due for evaluation in February. There is no longer any point in putting a smiley face on the realities that Pakistan is facing on the FATF front, and it is high time the authorities told us exactly what is going on. The truth is that Pakistan is having a difficult time complying with the terms of its own action plan, and long after the expiration of its deadline for completion, it can at best report “partial compliance” on most actionable items. The journey of denial needs to end soon so that the truth can be told in clear, unambiguous words.


Polio persists

EXPLOSIVE revelations in a recent investigation into Pakistan’s polio programme by The Guardian have rattled the trust of many. Citing unnamed sources and a member of the polio eradication programme, the investigation alleged there was a re-emergence of the P2 virus in the population, possibly through an ill-administered vaccine. Furthermore, the article claimed, efforts were made to cover up this disturbing new development, while a furtive vaccine programme was planned to target the outbreak of the P2 virus this month. Presently, Pakistan uses P1 and P3 vaccines, as the P2 virus was thought to have been eradicated in 2014. The special assistant to the prime minister on health issued a statement denying these very serious allegations, but also confirmed there were seven new cases of vaccine-derived P2, after The Guardian story created a storm. He mentioned that the resurgence of the vaccine-derived P2 virus was not unique to Pakistan, as similar outbreaks were witnessed in countries that had long been declared polio-free. While there has indeed been a resurgence of the vaccine-derived P2 in some countries over the past two years, this cannot be accepted as a valid excuse.
There is a need for greater transparency, accountability, and perhaps an official investigation. One cannot help but question the former and present leadership of the polio programme, at a time when there has been a massive spike in the number of new cases in the country. Pakistan has the misfortune of being one of three countries in the world that are yet to be declared polio-free. In 2017, there were eight cases of polio recorded in the country. In 2018, this figure rose to 12. As of writing this editorial, three more cases have been reported, increasing the number of new polio cases to 80 this year. Pakistan’s polio vaccination efforts have battled religious militancy and misinformation. It would be a tragedy if they failed due to the ineptitude of those overseeing the programme.


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