The Express Tribune Editorial 26 November 2020

Face mask use


Wearing a face mask is the easiest of the Covid safety precautions — and the most useful too. Unfortunately though, this preventive measure is being neglected the most by people in our country who only wear a face mask when they are forced to — like by a policeman on the road or by the doorman outside a bank or a shopping mall. Men mostly carry it in their pockets, and women keep it safe in their purses. Motorists have it displayed on the dashboards of their vehicles.
Experts say the coronavirus can be spread simply through speaking, and according to a study, we spray thousands of droplets invisible to the naked eye into the air just by uttering the words “stay healthy”. A face mask is thus the best protection when one has no other option but to stay in close proximity with others, like on a passenger bus or in a classroom. This is why many countries have imposed heavy fines on mask violation. Some even show a zero tolerance, subjecting the violators to jail sentences.
In our country, new guidelines issued by the NCOC early this month included a Rs100 fine for not wearing a face mask in the public, but there is little to no implementation in this regard. Face mask is nearly completely ignored — rather spurned. We have even seen people avoiding this most important piece of safety even in most threatening situations — like during huge political gatherings, putting their lives and those of others in danger.
With the coronavirus infection peaking again — evident from the daily new cases having exceeded 3,000 and the deaths nearing 60 — the need for the people to follow the SOPs, including the use of face mask, assumes even greater significance. Thus the authorities must avoid being lenient with people, as has been the case thus far, and make sure that they wear face mask while in public.



Rape: harsher penalties


The government recently announced its plans to introduce new harsher penalties for rape and other sexual offenses. While some may appreciate the renewed focus on such crimes, we believe this is just a show, and a bad one at that. We were told as children that prevention is better than cure, but unfortunately, the government has done little to actually address the root causes of sexual crimes and is only looking at punitive measures. Although the plan to create a registry of sex offenders is welcome, it is probably the only part of the announcement that appears sensible.
Indeed, the government’s cure also seems terribly thought out, like a doctor that would rather amputate than treat because it takes less time. While the death penalty is, unfortunately, an all-too-common tool in the arsenal of the Pakistani judiciary, it has also been proven to have little to no impact, domestically and internationally, on reducing crime. Life imprisonment will also be introduced. This is probably a better alternative, especially since — considering evidence from abroad — it is usually easier to reach the threshold for convictions for this penalty. It is generally accepted that someone hanged after being wrongfully convicted will not significantly benefit from having a verdict overturned.
The most audacious penalty suggested, however, is chemical castration. The PM had suggested this, and public hanging during a TV interview soon after the motorway gang-rape case. We are unsure if this is a Trumpian measure whereby policymakers have to come up with something based on throwaway comments by the prime minister. Forced chemical castration is frowned upon and even banned in most countries that respect human rights. Law Minister Farogh Naseem tried to give the example of the US as a country where it is done, but even there, it has been withdrawn in all but a handful of ‘backwards’ states. Also, why ordinances? Why not debate and improve the proposals in parliament and make a ‘real’ law instead of this clearly rushed attempt to work around the people’s house?


Rise in smuggling


A report prepared by officials of the commerce ministry and Harvard economists reveals that a significant part of the demand for goods in the Pakistani market is met by smuggled goods. The commodities much in demand and illegally entering the country generate a huge amount of 3.3 billion US dollars a year, and law enforcers and regulatory bodies are able to seize a mere 5% of the smuggled goods.
Together with consumer goods, medicines valued at Rs44 billion have also been smuggled into the country in the recent past. This is an alarming situation as it remains unconfirmed whether these medicines are real, harmless spurious or toxic. From 2014 to 2018, the value of foreign goods entering the country clandestinely increased three-fold. In this period in terms of value as a share of the country’s GDP, smuggling jumped from 3.88% to 11.88%. Cellphones, tyres, tea, fuel, toiletries, medicines and cigarettes top the list of goods smuggled into Pakistan. Surprisingly, a large quantity of textiles is also smuggled into the country to fill the gap between demand and supply. Nearly three-fourths of the cellphones sold in Pakistan are brought in illegally.
Measures taken by the present government have brought about a slight decline in smuggling. Officials say efforts to curb smuggling are hampered by lack of resources, manpower and capability in the federal customs department and other relevant organisations. They also claim that some smugglers are politically influential and this makes action against them difficult. This shows that smugglers and corrupt elements walk hand in hand inflicting grave harm on the economy.
The multiplier effect keeps the economy going: increased demand creates increased production. This leads to increased employment, and also brings in more revenue for the government that it can spend on public welfare and development activities. In smuggling, the multiplier effect works in the reverse order causing job losses and making a severe dent into state coffers. Smuggling also increases if tariff is increased too much. Appropriate remedial measures are needed to combat the menace of smuggling.

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