The Express Tribune By Editorial August 17, 2019

Domestic debt: historical rise

A recent critique by former SBP chief Shahid Kardar and former federal minister Hafeez Pasha should be raising eyebrows. The two economic experts, as quoted in a recent newspaper article, say the domestic debt to GDP ratio has gone up six points to 53.8% in just one year. They also mention that until March 2019, most historical increases in domestic debt were largely proportionate to the budget deficit, but after that, there has been a sharp escalation in outstanding domestic debt of Rs2.6 trillion in just three months from April to June 2019.
Overall, domestic debt has increased to Rs20.7 trillion, or 26.3% more than the previous fiscal year. Long-term debt more than doubled within a year, going from Rs7.5 trillion to Rs15.2 trillion by the end of June 2019. Yet, one year into its tenure, the PTI government continues to blame its predecessors for all that ails the economy. According to a most recent claim by Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar, the government added Rs1.2 trillion to the public debt in the last fiscal year in a bid to build a ‘cash buffer’ for timely debt repayment in the future. This, he insists, was necessary because the IMF had placed a ban on fresh borrowing from the central bank. The government borrowed the money through Market Treasury Bills and placed the amount with the central bank for future payments.
The Rs1.2 billion figure is, however, just a fraction of the Rs7.6 billion in public debt the PTI government added in its first year. The amount is equal to nearly 16% of the public debt that the government added in the last fiscal year. The minister also says that Rs3 trillion from the increase – i.e. 40% – was the devaluation effect on the old debt stock inherited by his party. He claims that the cash buffer will be needed for bond repayments beginning soon, and will also help the government shift its policy from debt rollover to debt repayment. The minister insists that the interest rate hikes and currency depreciation were the only solutions to the current account deficit.
All this, and we have still not even begun to get out of the rough economic waters yet.


Prison housekeeping


Prisons are a hard space – a number of criminals, with varying behaviour, are confined in small quarters. In Pakistan, prisons are generally overcrowded. Owing to these reasons, the Federal Ombudsperson had presented a set of recommendations to ensure that prisoners come out of jails in somewhat better shape from when they had gone inside in terms of health and education, at least. It is heartening to note that only months after these recommendations had been presented on the directives of the top court, most of the provinces have started implementing them in varying degrees.
In Punjab, for example, the government has started screening prisoners and has found that at least in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail there are no HIV-positive prisoners, but there are more than 300 Hepatitis prisoners there. Elsewhere in Punjab, the government is working on setting up detoxification centres within jails for those addicted to drugs. Moreover, psychologists are being hired at jails across the province to work on the mental health of prisoners. In Sindh, the government is working on setting up separate barracks for prisoners who are either infected with contagious diseases or are addicted to drugs to keep them away from the general prison population and prevent further spread of infections. Both Sindh and Balochistan have started treatment programmes for prisoners as well. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is working out the best possible ways to implement the ombudsperson’s recommendations. Efforts have also been made to increase access to educational material.
Issues in Pakistan’s jails extend far beyond drug addiction and infections. Overcrowding and cleanliness are some of the biggest issues which contribute to most if not all the issues in our prisons. Some of these can be solved without massive infrastructure investments. A will in a prison goes a long way to reforms. In this regard, those mentioned above are all very encouraging measures that can really help the authorities turn our jails into true reform institutions rather than mere punitive centres.


Minority MPA from ex-Fata


Wilson Wazir is the first from the minority communities of tribal districts to become a member of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly. His is the story of humility, perseverance and dedicated service to fellow humans. He was among several applicants for the lone reserved seat for minorities from the recently merged tribal districts in the provincial assembly. He topped the list for his educational qualification and services to community development. He was awarded with the Pride of Performance in 2015 for his social work. He has recently joined the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
A Christian from Landi Kotal of Khyber tribal district, Wazir is a man of humble origin. He, along with his two brothers, lives in a four-room government servant quarter in Landi Kotal Degree College residential colony. The quarter was allotted to his late father 30 years ago. He has a master’s degree in chemistry and another master’s in education with a teaching experience of more than 10 years. He says it was his mother’s desire to achieve excellence in education so he knows that the key to success is education.
Wazir and others worked tirelessly to win the right for minorities to acquire tribal domicile. Their struggle bore fruit as recently the minorities achieved the right to acquire tribal domicile. He says minorities in the erstwhile Fata were not entitled to local domicile despite living in the region for more than a century. He says the minorities in the tribal districts have other economic and social problems for the resolution of which he will raise his voice in the legislature. He says he will work for the betterment of all communities. We appreciate the measures the government has taken for the welfare of the minorities. No nation can make real progress without including the minorities in the march to development.

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