The Express Tribune Editorial 25 December 2019

Celebration time


Time to rejoice. Pakistan has not just successfully hosted the historic Test series — one that marks the revival of the five-day cricket in the country after a gap of one full decade — but has also won it quite convincingly. The Azhar Ali men defeated Sri Lanka in the second Test at the National Stadium Karachi by a huge margin of 263 runs while the first one played at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium had ended in a draw. Thus a 1-0 victory for Pakistan in the two-game revival rubber. Takeaways for Pakistan from the Test series are too many — the biggest one, of course, being the stamping that the country is a safe place for sports. The successful hosting of the series has sent a strong message the world over that the security situation in Pakistan is as good as any other cricketing nation and that it’s unfair, illogical and discriminatory for international teams and players to avoid visiting a country that loves cricket and that is brimming with cricket talent.
Opener Abid Ali and young pacer Naseem Shah are the discoveries of the series. The former has hit back-to-back centuries in both Tests of the revival series and is now in a position to match the yet-unmatched feat by former Indian skipper Mohammed Azharuddin of hitting three centuries in his first three Test matches. Abid has already held the record of being the only cricketer to have scored a century on both Test and one-day debut. Naseem Shah, on the other hand, has become the second youngest bowler in the world — and the youngest pace bowler ever — to clinch five-for in an innings of a Test match. And during the Karachi Test, Pakistan became only the second team in the history of cricket to have all of their top four batsmen score a century in an innings of a Test match.
While it’s a moment to congratulate the whole Pakistani nation, it is also time to thank Sri Lanka for aiding our efforts to bring big cricket back to our sports venues.


Ineligible BISP beneficiaries


The PTI government should be commended for taking steps to keep the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) safe from any fraud and misuse, and maintain transparency in the criteria for doling out sums under what is described as the largest social safety programme that caters to about 5.1 million needy families across the country. In a recent step, the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division – under the supervision of Dr Sania Nishtar, the BISP Chairperson and PM’s Special Assistant – used the Proxy Means Test (PMT) methodology to ascertain the eligibility of BISP beneficiaries, and detected no less than 600,000 individuals with “improved socio-economic status”.
In line with the PMT methodology, the division carried out an analysis of the living standards of all BISP beneficiaries. The division then made its recommendations to the federal government, noting that the “demographic and socio-economic status, as well as the composition of households, change with time” and “some of these [BISP] beneficiary households have become relatively better-off” over time which necessitates that their names do not feature among those benefiting from the social safety programme. Thus, on the recommendations of the division, the federal government approved the removal of the mentioned number of individuals from the list of BISP beneficiaries.
Misuse of public assistance programmes and welfare schemes is pretty widespread in our country. It’s done without a shred of shame, and carried on without a tad of guilt. There are people who find it their right to do whatever good or bad they can to prove their eligibility to grab any doles. And there are people who believe cheating is an art and hardly hesitate in making use of this art to usurp the rights of those truly eligible. Unfortunately, the absence of watchful eyes among the authorities and the absence of a proper system to detect fraud encourage con artists and provide them ample opportunity to display their talent and skill. Dr Nishtar thus deserves to be applauded.


Fall in lending, investment


Uncertainty still dominates the financial sector as new reports show that private sector borrowing in the current fiscal year is down 71% compared to the same time last year. SBP data shows that the private sector borrowed Rs88.1 billion between July and November, compared to Rs394.8 billion in the same five-month period last year. The massive decline is being blamed on the key interest rate — 13.25% — because of which banks are charging interest rates of over 20% on some loans. The key rate last year was just 6.5%. The government increased it mainly as an anti-inflationary measure.
While there may be a valid debate on whether or not the change achieved its intended goal, the unintended consequences on investment have been dire. While borrowers are understandably worried, bankers themselves have noted that the higher interest rates have led to an increase in defaults. Conversely, banks themselves are investing in government securities, which are offering high returns. This also works out for the government, which has become more dependent on private banks for cash over the past few months. The government borrowed Rs1.37 trillion in just the first month of the new fiscal year against net debt retirement of over Rs20 billion during the same month last year.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out for the economy in general. Even those in the private sector who can pay high interest rates can’t borrow from banks because they are busy maximising their profits using risk-free government securities. This essentially amounts to making money off taxpayers who must pay off the ever-increasing debt. The unrealistic rates have had a harsh knock-on effect on the economy in general, and particularly industry, where output declined over 6% in the first four months of this year. Even construction, one of the few ‘recession-proof’ industries in the country, has seen a 97% decline in foreign investment.
No, that is not a typo. The crash in investment will inevitably go beyond housing and hamper growth across the board unless a solution is found quickly.

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