The Express Tribune Editorial 21 September 2019

Global climate march

On a sweltering Friday afternoon, thousands of citizens in different cities of the country braved the heat to march for a critical cause — climate change. The marches are part of a larger global movement on climate. And while all of those who participated in these marches may not know if they have been affected by climate change, they certainly do know that it is a real thing and with very real consequences. Curiously, the marches came about after 15-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg sat in front of parliament in Geneva, urging lawmakers to take stronger climate action. Her protest quickly snowballed and just over a year later, it turned into a global movement.
On Friday, millions of people across the world were out on the roads calling on their respective governments to take decisive action to mitigate the impact of global warming and ensure a greener future for coming generations. In Pakistan, most of those who came out have been impacted by freak climate events brought about as a consequence of climate change. From extreme temperatures which claimed hundreds of lives to flash floods which brought vast destruction, and to rising sea levels which are forcing those living in coastal areas to relocate.
Those on the march across Pakistan have demanded the power brokers of the country to declare a climate emergency, adopt a low-carbon economy, and create awareness at the grass roots. It is heartening to note that unlike some other heads of government around the world, Pakistan has a PM who is quite cognisant of the threat posed by climate change and has done much to counter it. The marches present an unprecedented opportunity for the government to engage with people who are affected by climate change and involve them in symbiotic efforts to turn around global warming.
At the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015 participating nations had agreed to cut temperature by 2 degrees Celsius over the years. However, African countries said it is hard for them to agree to this because this might wipe them out. They said, “We want 1.5 degrees Celsius cut, 1.5 to survive


Irregularities or corruption?


The Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) has come up with a charge-sheet against the previous government — of the PML-N. In a report presented before parliament, the chief auditor has pointed out irregularities in the use of public funds, worth more than Rs15.67 trillion, by the federal ministries and divisions. The funds audited pertain to the fiscal year 2017-18 which is described as audit year 2018-19. For the sake of comparison, the amount that attracted audit objections is more than twice as much as the total outlay of the country for the ongoing fiscal year, which is Rs7.02 trillion. Furthermore, the amount in question is equivalent to a staggering hundred billion dollars — equivalent to our total external debt.
The AGP report, also submitted to the President of Pakistan, is based on the scrutiny of public funds of 40 out of 50 federal ministries and divisions and does not cover amounts less than Rs1 million. The regularities, according to the audit report, came in the shape of violation of rules and regulations, weaknesses of internal control, misappropriation or overpayment of public funds as well as negligence. As against the huge irregularities of Rs15.67 trillion, the reported cases of fraud and misuse of public money only account for a meagre Rs862 million. It’s because big wasted amounts are considered irregular and unauthorised rather than misappropriated, in view of a number of unforeseen expenditures like increase in exchange rate and increase on interest repayment on loans. Such big amounts are, thus, eventually regularised by the Public Accounts Committee.
Such a big waste of public funds in a cash-strapped country like ours is simply intolerable. As recommended by the audit report, all cases of embezzlement of public money and fictitious payments should be sent for investigation. As a foremost measure to mitigate the risk, internal control system needs to be strengthened as a weak internal control has led to the waste of Rs14.56 trillion which forms the bulk of the total worth of irregularities.


Slow mass transit


The chief characteristic of the biggest metropolis of Pakistan is that its population is increasing at a rapid pace but public services in the city go on shrinking. Karachi’s population has increased to 16.6 million in 2016 from 9.8 million in 1998. These are national census figures. This is evident from gutter overflows in most parts of the city and roads that are full of potholes, big craters and ditches. This also shows up in the fast-disappearing public buses from the city roads. Once again the Sindh government has announced a few a days ago that 200 new buses will be run on 14 different routes of the city. These buses will start running in the next few months. The provincial government has signed an agreement with a private transport company under which 1,000 new air-conditioned buses will ply the city roads.
One can only take the government’s promise with a pinch of salt considering numerous such unmet promises made in the recent past. The government had made a similar announcement more than six months ago. Also, there is the Karachi Greenline rapid mass transit project. The project estimated to cost more than Rs26 billion was launched in 2016 and it was to be completed in early 2018. It remains abandoned. Many roads were dug up to make way for the public transport project. They remain in that way adding to the problems of commuters. The long-persisting state of affairs with regard to the condition of roads and the ever-shrinking number of buses has made it very difficult for the people to believe the government’s promises.
Now only few rickety buses are there on the road. They are mostly overcrowded. The few seats in these buses are very uncomfortable. Yet we hear somewhere a regional transport authority exists. People take solace in the saying, “When there are takers for husk who is going to sell wheat? (Jiska bhoosa bikta ho woh kanak kyon bechay?)”

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