The Express Tribune Editorial 14 January 2021

Cabbie’s murder


If there are some irresponsible policemen, so are there irresponsible citizens. Both go out of control over trivial matters and kill the innocent. Recently in Lahore, a passenger shot dead an online cab driver after they had arguments with each other. The poor cab driver lost his life for not doing the bidding of the arrogant passenger. In order to mislead investigators, the murder accused took away valuables in the car and also those belonging to the driver. The accused has been arrested and has confessed to the killing. He told the police that he was getting late in reaching his destination and the cab driver was driving slowly. This led to an altercation during which he lost his temper and opened fire on the driver.
Online cab drivers complain that companies give priority to passengers and do not care about the safety and issues concerning them. So they try to avoid passengers’ complaints. On the slightest pretext, passengers lodge complaints with companies. Some passengers behave as if drivers were their personal slaves. In this situation, they always feel under pressure. Considering that passengers are of different temperaments, they are polite to them all. However, some passengers are hot-headed and they have to deal with them tactfully. Besides, they also have to face life-threatening situations and are exposed to other kinds of hazards given the state of law and order. They have a feeling of insecurity.
The police say the accused has no previous crime record. However, one thing remains certain. He is a bully with the capabilities to make him arrogant, and so for him a poor taxi driver’s life was of no consequence. Hail-ride service cabs have several security features to provide a sense of safety to passengers, but the present tragic incident indicates that there are no safety measures in place to protect drivers from unruly passengers. Society too bears some responsibility for such tragic incidents. Something is seriously amiss.



Good news’


It may have been good news for Pakistan from a macroeconomic angle, but the resumption of talks for revival of the IMF loan programme must have set alarm bells ringing for the masses as well as the business community — both of whom bore a terrible brunt of the fiscal reforms imposed by the global lender before the Covid-19 outbreak led to the suspension of the bailout programme.
Pakistan entered the three-year $6 billion programme in June 2019. The incumbent government has received two tranches from the IMF — $991 million upfront payment in July 2019 and another one of $452 million in December 2019 — but it still has its second review pending. Early last year, the two sides had reached an agreement to pave the way for the disbursement of a $450 million tranche pending approval from the Fund’s executive board, but the same has yet to come.
But now, during a recent interview, SBP Governor Dr Reza Baqir has expressed the hope for “good news for the market and the world” that the program is being put back on track. The central bank chief says there is no disagreement on the ‘end goal’ between the two sides, and that Pakistan needs to increase its low tax-to-GDP ratio — something which implies that the disbursal of $450 million tranche is linked to an increase in the amount of taxes on the common man.
Actions taken as part of the IMF-supported reforms after the approval of the loan deal included adoption of the market-based exchange rate regime, increase in the charges of utilities, and raise in the SBP’s policy rate to as high as 13.25%. Meant to put the country on the path of economic statbilisation, these actions slowed down the economy and wreaked havoc with home budgets. With the talks all set to resume, the IMF must realise that the reform measures should not be harsh enough to affect the implementation capacity for the reforms themselves. By the way it is also in the IMF’s own interest that a feasible path of reform is followed under which can enable Pakistan to increase its debt repayment capacity.



Defining ‘workplace’


Meesha Shafi’s sexual harassment case against fellow singer Ali Zafar has reached the Supreme Court, a turn of events few would have expected when it began two years back. The apex court is clubbing her appeal against a Lahore High Court ruling with a suo case relating to the legal definition of sexual harassment. Shafi initially filed suit with the Punjab Ombudsman’s office in 2018, soon after her claims were first reported. The ombudsman rejected the case on a technicality without commenting on the accusations. The technicality was that Shafi was not Zafar’s employee under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Work Place Act at the time of the alleged incident. She then appealed to the provincial governor and the LHC. Both upheld the earlier ruling.
Shafi’s latest appeal argues that the court and authorities in Lahore misinterpreted the law in rejecting her case. Without commenting on the authenticity of the accusations themselves, we do agree with her.
Harassment — whether sexual, physical, or mental — does not exclusively require an employer-to-employee relationship. Shafi’s lawyers and supporters have rightly argued that under such a definition, the harassment of students by teachers would not be prosecutable. But we would go further by clarifying that harassment does not even require the culprit to be in a position of authority. Harassment can come from a bystander, a customer, a subordinate, or even someone with whom the victim does not share a workplace or have any direct contact. Online harassment is proof that a power imbalance or even proximity are not required for the crime to occur.
While the top court will probably not rule on who, out of Shafi or Zafar is telling the truth, with regard to workplace harassment laws, the verdict on the appeal will provide great clarity on how contractors or those hired through third-parties are treated under the law. This, in turn, would address a massive grey area in the law and go far beyond the celebrity case that has made national headlines. The benefits would extend to millions of women and men who may be in similar vaguely-defined employment scenarios.

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