Express Tribune Editorials | July 20, 2020

The cost of sit-ins

The interior ministry has disclosed to the parliament that sit-ins across the country over the past seven years have cost the country around Rs1.5 billion. In the estimates gathered by the ministry from the district administration and the home departments of the provinces, the 2014 sit-in by the PTI and the PAT in the federal capital had cost the exchequer Rs755.979 million. The Punjab government had suffered a loss of Rs2.5 million as their rally hurtled from Lahore to Islamabad.

As per the figures presented in the parliament, it was the tiny territory of the federal capital that had lost the most due to the myriad sit-ins there, suffering a whopping loss of Rs1.161 billion. By contrast, sit-ins caused losses worth Rs316.559 million to Punjab and Rs29.383 million to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. No losses were reported from Sindh and Balochistan.

What makes these figures even more troubling is that the interior ministry says that quantification losses to the economy in financial terms essentially fall under the domains of the Finance, Revenue and Economic Affairs departments as well as the Planning, Development and Special Initiatives divisions. This suggests that the actual financial impact of these sit-ins, particularly in the federal capital, to the country could be far higher.

The right to protests is inalienable under democracies. However, as certain court rulings have asserted, they cannot come at the cost of a paralysis of the state apparatus. The money lost by the federal capital due to sit-ins could have been spent on solving a host of civic issues in the city, starting from the acute shortage of water there. We are a country with limited resources. However, we continue to see gross injustices in many different formats. But one injustice cannot be compensated through another injustice as this cyclical spiral will only lead to greater misery.

 

Boosting agriculture

In Pakistan, the government has been providing subsidies to farmers on agricultural inputs since the early 1960s to boost food production. For the ongoing financial year, the federal government has announced a subsidy of Rs37 billion for famers on fertilisers and other agricultural inputs, especially in view of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy. Subsidy on financial assistance for setting up tube-wells for agricultural purposes and on electricity consumption by such irrigation devices will also likely be provided.

The subsidy package aims at boosting per hectare yield of major crops such as wheat and cotton. Efforts are also being made to provide high-yield variety of seeds to famers at subsidised rates. The government also plans to improve the canal system. More efforts are to be made for water conservation. Now most of the rainwater goes to waste as it flows into the sea, so big and small dams have been planned to be built. The Diamir-Bhasha dam is one of the significant components of the strategy aimed at overcoming water storage. The authorities have been stressing the need for building big and small dams in the country like China. Reservoirs will not only boost availability of water but will help produce hydro-electricity, a relatively inexpensive source of power. The government is making all efforts to improve the canal system and also to persuade farmers on the need for adopting efficient management of water.

In Pakistan, the per hectare yield of major crops like wheat, cotton, rice and sugar cane is much below that of China, the US, France and other developed countries. Per hectare yield of cotton is 2.5 tons in Pakistan, which is 52 per cent of what it is in China. Pakistan produces 3.1 tons of wheat per hectare while France gets a yield of 8.1 tons. Egypt’s per hectare yield of sugar cane is more than 63 per cent higher than Pakistan’s. These facts make a strong case for increasing crop yields in the country.

 

In this together

We have a tax problem. No, not just Pakistan, the world has a tax problem. For all the claims about poverty reduction that authorities around the world boasted about pre-pandemic, the wealth gap seems wider than ever. And while the wealthy may convince themselves that they are immune to its ill-effects, the fact is we’re all in this boat together.

The novel coronavirus has unravelled some basic assumptions we had about how the world worked. As it turns out, those who society considered replaceable were essential all along. But the pandemic is not the first wakeup call we’ve received on the perils of inequality. Looking back, we have been putting this alarm on snooze for a long time.

Is it any wonder that most of the countries that reported best results in containing Covid-19 were ones with lower inequality. In countries, like ours, that continue to struggle with the pandemic, much of the blame is put on ‘uninformed’ masses that refuse to take precautions. True to an extent, we conveniently ignore that this is simply a symptom for a fundamentally ill system.

By disregarding and actively increasing the wealth gap, governments and corporations around the world have created low-trust societies. This lack of trust is one major reason why people continue to buy Covid-19 conspiracy theories and vehemently refuse to follow SOPs. It is also why populist and majoritarian rhetoric is increasingly gaining hold around the world, and it doesn’t take a political scientist to tell you that there’s no light at the end of that tunnel.

On the bright side, at least some of the world’s rich and powerful seem to have realised this. Recently, a group of 83 of the world’s wealthiest individuals urged government’s around the world to ‘immediately and permanently’ increase taxes on the super rich. One hopes that their plea won’t fall on deaf ears and that other wealthy people will also realise the gravity of the situation. At home, one also wishes that our rich and powerful will understand the same. Rich or poor, we will all go down with this ship.


Published in Express Tribune, July 20, 2020

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