The Express Tribune Editorial 23 September 2019

Sindh varsities’ shutdown


The problems afflicting the country’s educational system took another ominous turn last week. Academic activities at all public sector universities in Sindh were suspended for a day due to a teachers’ boycott of classes to protest the financial crisis plaguing the province’s higher education institutions. The boycott call, given by the Federation of All Pakistan Universities Academic Staff Association (FAPUASA) Sindh chapter, was based on teachers’ claims that they had not been paid the 15% increases in staff salaries and the Centre-run Higher Education Commission (HEC) had slashed funding to the universities by 10 per cent each. FAPUASA has also alleged victimization of faculty members, unjustified dismissals, suppression of their right to freedom of speech, and harassment, and has warned of further action.
Ironically, however, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood has categorically denied any cuts in the budgetary allocation for the HEC. In fact, he has claimed that the government was attempting to enhance funding for research and other HEC projects. The federal government has also repeatedly claimed that there will be no cuts in higher education spending. It is imperative, therefore, that FAPUASA meet with the Education Minister to iron out the misunderstanding regarding HEC spending. The government’s stance on the education issue is clear. So there is every prospect that the teachers’ financial grievances would be resolved.
As for the other complaints of the faculty association, it is essential that a “Charter of Rights” be formulated to protect the personal and intellectual rights of all faculty members. In addition, a “Code of Conduct” is also necessary to monitor behaviour towards teachers. Such measures safeguard faculty members’ rights in many countries around the world and must be strictly implemented by all university administrations in our country as well.


Netanyahu’s political demise


Earlier this month, Israeli citizens voted for the second time in five months. The voters had to choose between their longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu or his opponent, a moderate former military chief Benny Gantz.
The result gave Gantz a razor-thin lead over Netanyahu’s Likud party, which secured 31 seats, but not enough to form a government. The tightly contested September election leaves Netanyahu, fighting the toughest battle for his political and personal survival. While the result brings no surprises for many Israelis, it is shocking for Netanyahu’s supporters, who were counting on him for the much-awaited annexation of West Bank territory.
Perhaps dissolving the Knesset, triggering repeat elections, and being overconfident about his political survival, was a miscalculated move for the Israeli prime minister, who is known for his political sorcery.
At this point, chances of Netanyahu’s political and personal survival look bleak. The prime minister, who also goes by the nickname Bibi, is facing a long list of corruption charges not to forget the atrocities committed against Palestinians and while he faces no penalty for the latter, Netanyahu might not be able to escape the corruption trial and an inevitable indictment, if he loses the keys to the highest office.
With Gantz refusing to form a unity government with Netanyahu ‘s Likud party, there is a significant chance that the prime minister might end up serving a jail term without the immunity that comes with the premiership. Sailing against the tide, Netanyahu’s reign is nearing its ends. For the millions of Israelis who voted against him, and politicians like Gantz, the final departure of Netanyahu, might slow down the continuation of a rightward, religious shift in the country. But knowing Netanyahu, he might try, one more time, to prolong his political demise by cajoling other political players into forming a unity government.


Not a bad start


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has acknowledged the promising start of the $6 billion Pakistan bailout programme, a deal struck by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led government in May this year with the lender of last resort to salvage an economy under considerable strain, but said that ‘decisive implementation’ was critical to its success.
At the conclusion of its country visit, the IMF gave Islamabad a pat on the back but stopped short of issuing a downright clean bill of health. It has kept the low economic growth rate outlook and ‘ambitious’ fiscal targets unaltered at the end of the first year of the Imran Khan-led government. IMF Mission chief to Pakistan, Ernesto Ramirez Rigo noted: ‘The near-term macroeconomic outlook is broadly unchanged from the time of the programme approval, with growth projected at 2.4 per cent in the fiscal year 2019-20.’ The 2.4% economic growth rate is lower than the 3.5% projection of the State Bank and is also equal to the county’s population growth. The IMF Mission chief also said that the inflation was expected to decline in the coming months, while the current account was adjusting more rapidly than anticipated. In its staff level report, the IMF has projected 13% inflation rate for this fiscal year, although its press release was silent on the inflation number.
While discussing the possibility of resetting the over-ambitious targets, the IMF once again ruled out any change in the primary budget deficit and revenue collection targets. The IMF mission had visited Islamabad and Karachi from September 16-20 to take stock of economic developments since the start of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) and discuss progress in the implementation of economic policies. The stigma of requiring support from the Fund, with its attendant conditions, means it is a politically difficult option in many countries, but none more so than in Pakistan. The government, nevertheless, swallowed the bitter pill. Let us see how things pan out.

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