PakistanToday Editorials | June 26, 2020

A loss of focus

  • Dealing with the pandemic and the locust

A PTI MNA has tried to kill two birds with one stone. He has advised the nation to eat the locust which he says can cure Covid-19 patients. On Sunday, Climate Change Minister of State Zartaj Gul told people that Covid-19 meant that the coronavirus has 19 points that can be applied to any country based on its respective immunity levels. A proposal prepared by the PTI’s Ministry of National Food Security and Research (NFS&R) is no less dumb. Coming as they do from government circles, the suggestions raise serious questions about the capacity in the PTI leadership to understand, let alone tackle, two highly serious issues with existential consequences for the people of the country.

The NCOC had evolved a test, trace, quarantine strategy (TTQ) to deal with the coronavirus. The government seems to have changed the strategy without explanation. Tests were reduced without explanation from 30,000 last week to 21,835 on Wednesday. It is being suggested now that despite a rise in deaths, the number of positive cases is coming down due to smart lockdowns or Pakistanis developing herd immunity. It is also being said that tests have been reduced because we have been getting fewer numbers of suspects in hospitals. The government wants people to look after themselves by observing SOPs instead of depending on government for support.

Quarantine centres across Punjab have been closed down, including six in Lahore, following a change in the policy which required the suspected and even confirmed Covid-19 patients to isolate themselves in their homes. The majority of people in the lowincome groups rarely have two bedrooms where children live with parents and grandparents. Quarantining suspected patients in such accommodations means consigning entire families to the pandemic.

The government was unprepared to meet the locust threat and whatever arrangements it made belatedly, failed miserably to stop the locust attack. Consequently the locusts have already destroyed crops in Balochistan and parts of Sindh. It is a cruel joke to call upon people to kill, collect and sell the locust to factories manufacturing chickenfeed or make plans to prepare compost from a mix of locust and other bio-waste material for sale in the market. The government has left people to fend for themselves.


Managing the economy

  • Energies must not be fittered away

That the covid-19 pandemic has caused the world’s economy to go into a tailspin needs no confirmation, but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided it anyway, in its latest World Outlook report, released on Wednesday. If anything, the report showed the IMF, through its downgrades of its growth estimates for all countries, as seeing the crisis grow worse for all countries. Pakistan is among those countries, which is particularly noteworthy because the IMF has got an ongoing Extended Funding Facility programme with Pakistan. It was positive that it revised its April forecast of -1.5 percent for the 2019-2020 to 0.4 percent, but it also revised its estimate for the fiscal year just begun (2020-2021) from 2.0 percent down to 1.0 percent.

The picture is hardly edifying, as if the population growth of 2 percent (itself unbearably high) is adjusted for, instead of being positive, per capita incomes will actually shrink. The high hopes that the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) held out, that its excellent management and anti-corruption campaign would create jobs, have been sacrificed at the altar of the pandemic; for the IMF estimates are of growth anemic even by the standards of a developed economy, let alone a developing economy with a burgeoning population. True, Pakistan is no exception, and the problems it faces are common to all economies, but what is more of a problem is that Pakistan has only obtained a deferral of its foreign debt repayments, which will fall due by the next fiscal year. With the world economy stuttering, major economies may take refuge behind protectionist walls, which will bode ill for economies like Pakistan, which will face a foreign-exchange crisis like never before.

It is not that Prime Minister Imran Khan pays no attention to the economy, but the kind of attention he pays reveals a worrying lack of ability to prioritise. He had a meeting with the gemstone industry, in which he expressed the hope that this industry could generate both jobs and export earnings. This industry has been around since at least the times of Alexander the Great, but has never developed into an economic powerhouse. It is as if the PM grants a meeting to any lobby that has his ear (witness the re-opening of the construction industry), rather than because of any economic potential.

Published in PakistanToday, June 26, 2020

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