Express Tribune Editorials | July 18, 2020

Wheat flour shortage

The federal government is now looking beyond the country’s borders to solve the wheat flour shortage. The ‘push’ has come after the provinces fell significantly short of their collection targets. Of course, this surprised no one except the government’s own planners, who are now having to expedite imports to fill a gap the rest of us could see months ago. Unfortunately, high international prices are keeping importers from risking running losses due to the low domestic control price. It is indeed these same control prices that generate much of the controversy and corruption around the wheat and flour industry

Although control prices are meant to keep prices low for consumers, the reality is that they often end up acting as a disincentive for mills and exporters by cutting into their profit margins. Meanwhile, given the variance between control prices and international prices, smuggling wheat to Afghanistan and Iran is generally a lot more profitable for those who can. That last point may also explain why Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa procured less than five per cent of its wheat target.

There is now some behind the scenes wrangling over subsidising wheat imports as it is the only way for traders to make a profit given the lower local control price. This wrangling, however, has also exposed the lack of planning on the government’s part. It appears no one noticed how wide the margin between the two price points had gotten, and no subsidy was set aside, despite the budget having been prepared barely a month ago. This is a critical level of incompetence and forces the question of whether the industry would be better off deregulated from top to bottom.

If a quality oversight structure could be created, this would assure that supply issues are a thing of the past. Smuggling and hoarding would largely be disincentivised, and importing wheat would be profitable at times of domestic shortages. Consumer prices would rise, but the government could use targeted rationing to ensure poor people can afford the commodity. It would still cost less than the current plan. Only those pocketing existing subsidies would lose out. Unfortunately, they are the ones that make the policies.


Fake or not?

Who should we trust? The aviation minister or the aviation secretary? What the minister said last month about the licences of commercial pilots in Pakistan has been falsified by the secretary in a recent communication. Let this be elaborated.

Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly on June 24, Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan made a shocking revelation that 262 — or nearly a third — of the 860 commercial pilots operating in the country hold ‘dubious’ licences. The minister’s statement — which came as he unveiled an inquiry report on the May 22 plane crash in Karachi that claimed 97 lives — triggered global concern that saw many countries of the world, including the 27 EU members, the UK, the UAE, Vietnam and Ethiopia either barring our national flag carrier from flying in or grounding the Pakistani pilots serving them.

A kind of contradiction has, however, come a couple of days back — from none other than the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority, Hassan Nasir Jamy, who also serves as Secretary Aviation Division. In a letter dated July 13 and addressed to a high-ranking aviation official of Oman, Jamy wrote that “all CPL/ATPL pilot licences issued by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority are genuine and validly issued. None of the pilot licences are fake, rather the matter has been misconstrued and incorrectly highlighted in the media/social media”.

In what makes Minister Sarwar’s claim even more questionable, a press release — issued by Aviation Division spokesperson Abdul Sattar Khokhar and catering to 10 foreign airlines seeking proof of the validity of licences held by 176 Pakistani pilots working for them — says licences of 166 pilots “have been validated as genuine and certified by the CAA Pakistan as having no anomaly” and the “process for the remaining 10 shall be concluded by next week”.

It’s not just a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s the matter of the credibility of our aviation industry and the reputation of our country. The truth must come to the fore.


Limiting families

In order to make the common people realise the importance of population control, the Sindh government has announced that family planning and reproductive health will soon be declared essential services. The process of providing legal cover to the issue is underway and would be completed shortly. The provincial government aims to reduce the population growth rate from the current 2.4% to 2% in the near future. In view of the fast growth of population among the poorer segments, the population welfare department would soon launch family planning initiatives in slum areas of major cities. Since education plays a crucial role in persuading people to limit families, the provincial government has prioritised education so that sustainable behavioural change is ensured in terms of population control.

Family planning services have been badly affected by the coronavirus lockdown in the province. So now the population welfare department has been asked to provide continued services to the people. The government has asked the health department to provide tele-health services to needy females. The Sindh government has also decided to fully revive the Lady Health Workers Programme, initiated by Benazir Bhutto during her second tenure as PM, to implement family planning and reproductive health initiatives. In line with Pakistan’s commitment on sustainable development goals agreed at the Nairobi Summit, the government had conducted an exercise to set contraceptive prevalence goal rates in the province. It had agreed with the federal ministry of health and the United Nations Population Welfare Fund to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate in Sindh to 43% by 2025 and to 50% by 2030. The Sindh government has also decided to ask the Centre to convene a meeting of the task force on population.

We hope that all these initiatives will produce the desired results because overpopulation gives rise to poverty, illiteracy and lots of social issues.

Disclaimer: Published in Express Tribune, July 18, 2020

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