The Express Tribune Editorial 26 December 2020

Brexit deal


The European Union and the United Kingdom have reached an eleventh-hour agreement on a Brexit deal. The deal came just a week before Brexit becomes official on January 1. The deal put to an end some of the stress that people, especially in the UK, had regarding the implications of a no-deal Brexit on trade and travel. While the finer details of the agreement had not been made public immediately, we know that they will include exemptions on tariffs and from any trade quotas. The UK and EU will continue cooperating on environmental and climate change issues, along with energy, transport, and security.
Competition rules were not initially elaborated on, but European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen did say that they “will be fair and remain so”. The British government says that the deal will cover over £600 billion worth of trade with the EU, which is also the country’s biggest trading partner. Potential border delays caused by increased checking of goods trucks have also been averted. This could have cost the economy billions and led to problems in the delivery of perishable products.
However, even though an agreement has been reached, it still requires ratification from the EU and UK parliaments. While the UK parliament is due to meet on December 30 to vote on the deal, the EU parliament is not likely to meet before early January. Experts are saying that the deal will still come into effect on January 1, even if both sides haven’t approved it by then. But less has been said of what would happen if the House of Commons rejects the deal.
There is also concern over how little time people and businesses will have to adjust to the new rules.
Regardless, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Britain’s ‘leave’ voters have their wish. Now Johnson must make his promises of post-Brexit prosperity come true. That may be a problem, since his own Office for Budget Responsibility said the UK would suffer further job losses, economic decline, and reduced export prospects after Brexit, even with a deal.



Census discord


Over three years after the last national census exercise – overall sixth in the country’s history – was completed, the government has finally approved its results and it has now been decided that the matter will be sent to the Council of Common Interests to get the final nod from the provinces to publish the results. Moreover, the federal cabinet has recommended carrying out the exercise every three years for greater accuracy of data.
The census – an essential data collection exercise in any country – has a direct bearing on governance. It collects data about a country’s population, covering over a dozen data points including demographics, population density and so on. It determines the democratic representation of a particular area, how many people live there – and therefore what kind of resources do they require in terms of utilities, education, health, food and so on. In most countries, the exercise is carried out every 10 years and offers critical course correction. In Pakistan, however, the latest one had come after 20 years.
Explaining the reason behind proposing census after every three years, Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz says that the country’s population is increasing at a fast pace, with certain models predicting it to double by 2050. Such a situation, insists the information minister, does necessitate short intervals in data collection exercise.
However, the expediency of holding such a gigantic exercise after short intervals is questionable given the fact that in the same meeting the cabinet approved results of the last census more than three years after the exercise had been carried out. The purpose of a census is to collect data, yes; but it is really a means to an end, and the end is to use the data produced by the census to course-correct allocation of resources and grant adequate representation to direct resources. But if it is going to take so long just to process information from one census that it coincides with time for the next exercise, when will we get the time to process the information and put it to use.
This is all the more important when you realise that even the federal cabinet was not unanimous in passing the census 2017 results. A dissenting note has been submitted by MQM, a major ally of the federal government from Sindh, whereby the party has rejected the results concerning the population of Karachi, and warned that it will not accept delimitations of constituencies under this census. Lately, the party has even threatened to quit the coalition ruling the Centre if the misgivings are not addressed.
An argument can definitely be made for using technological advancements to resolve many of the procedural encumbrances in the entire data collection process, including the cost and effort of mobilising data collectors to go door to door for the process. The biometric system introduced under NADRA can go some way on keeping tabs on the overall size of the population, particularly to cross-reference data gathered by field staff.
But this also does not resolve the issue of releasing the data, its timely analysis, absorption and assimilation in the decision-making process. Without resolving these aspects, revising the frequency of the census will be nothing but an empty and highly expensive exercise. On top of that, this traditional method of surveying the population – a colossal and costly undertaking – seems to have its days numbered in the modern tech-savvy world where Big Data is already in vogue.

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