The Express Tribune Editorial 1 January 2021

Entering 2021 with hope


So the Covid-infected world lurches into 2021, with a mix of hope and concern related to the vaccine — like on its efficacy to the mutating virus; its availability in the poor and developing world; and a pretty serious resistance to vaccination even in the developed world, threating an extended run for the deadly microbe. But while the world vigorously fights Covid-19 to get back to normal business, the raging pandemic is just another problem for the people of Pakistan, in general. Having a host of pressing problems to wrestle with, they don’t precisely care about avoiding the lethal virus, be it by wearing the face mask, or using hand sanitiser, or keeping a safe physical distance.
At the official level too, the challenges abound. And while vaccination against the coronavirus does dominate the government’s dispensation strategies and emerge as one of the foremost challenges, the heavy heap of perennial problems that the country carries into the new year constitutes the real burden. These problems are well-known: political instability, economic crisis, lack of internal security, though external one is pretty satisfactory, deplorable justice system, absence of transparent and across the board accountability, bad governance, poor service delivery, crumbling civic infrastructure, social inequality and human rights violations — not to mention some serious diplomatic challenges lurking in the background in view of recent realignments in the region and beyond.
So the new year throws the same old challenges at us — apart from Covid, of course. Unfortunately, these challenges have grown even more serious during the two and a half years of the incumbent government. The hostility between the government and the opposition has peaked way above the levels seen in the 1990s, denying the rulers the much-needed political calm to focus on issues of fundamental importance for the country and the people — mentioned above — apart from those that the reigning digital era demands.
The Prime Minister will have to understand — at least now that he is half way through his tenure — that the country cannot afford an ‘us versus them’ approach which has already given rise to extreme polarisation in society. There is no way the government can run the country by being at daggers drawn with the opposition all the time.
The wide-ranging impact of such an aggressive attitude of the government towards its political opponents is pretty visible — the economy is down in the dumps, with the depleting fiscal space taking its toll on the government’s promises made with the public; governance remains a disaster; social services needs continue to go unmet; the business of legislation is only moving by fits and starts, with even important laws being framed through presidential ordinances; and the writ of the executive is virtually non-existent, as evident from the opposition’s public rallies in Multan and Lahore that were staged despite the government refusing them permission in view of the mushrooming virus.
It is the lack of performance on the part of the government that the opposition that was initially divided and subdued has now grown defiant and is even planning to overthrow the government. Both sides are getting stronger on rhetoric by the day — something that must stop in order for the business of the state to run as desired. The government, being a major stakeholder in the current dispensation, will have to step out to bring the political temperature down and look for way to enter into some kind of working relationship with the opposition. Dialogue is the only way forward. The nation can’t afford mistakes of the past year repeated.



Delay in pensions


Dues and pensions of the former employees of Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) are being delayed in such a way that it looks like they have not retired from service but they have ceased to exist after reaching the age of superannuation. One reason for the procrastination in payment of financial dues of retired employees is seemingly lack of funds with the municipal body, though it is difficult to be convinced that the employers have no money to pay pensions to retired officials and workers, because employees contribute to pension funds during their working life. So it is their own money, the payment of which they are demanding, and needing after the end of their working life. So there are no plausible reasons for delaying the pensions.
It, however, appears that the KMC is short of funds for payment of pensions which became evident when during the hearing of a petition, KMC officials told the Sindh High Court that sufficient money could not be realised by selling KMC-owned huts at the seaside for clearing outstanding dues and pensions. The court was also told that of the other properties owned by the organisation, some had been rented out while some were under the use of KMC officials.
The KMC went to court asking it to instruct the provincial government to issue a special grant for payment of dues and pensions. The court expressed the view that the Sindh government should release a grant to the KMC for the purpose on the lines of the federal government package of Rs24 billion for retired employees of the Pakistan Steel Mills.
The issue of delay in pensions and dues is not confined to the KMC alone. Retired employees of several other departments of the provincial government too are facing hardships on this account. Many of those entitled to EOBI pension also are confronting agonising delays in this regard. Life is entirely changed after retirement. After superannuation, income diminishes substantially, and there is old age. Delays have dangerous consequences. Inflation erodes the value of money, so delay increases deprivation.

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