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Dawn Editorial 10 February 2020

Law of the jungle

THE cesspool of corruption that is much of Karachi’s land sector was thoroughly exposed during the Supreme Court proceedings on Thursday and Friday.
A three-judge bench of the apex court, while hearing a case pertaining to illegal construction and encroachments in the metropolis, pointed out the authorities’ brazen malpractices in the disposal of Karachi’s real estate.
Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed took Cantonment Board Clifton to task and ordered it to demolish unlawfully erected buildings within its jurisdiction. Officials of the Sindh Building Control Authority — the provincial body mandated to issue NOCs, approve building plans, etc in accordance with the relevant regulations — were also severely reprimanded for their dereliction of duty. Besides this, the court took note of a number of areas where the land was being put to use for purposes other than those for which it had been allotted and directed that the situation be rectified.
With its much-coveted real estate, Karachi has been no stranger to land scams. Nevertheless, until about two decades ago, there was a modicum of order, an attempt by officialdom to fulfil its responsibility to make the city livable for not only the well-to-do but also the lower-income segments of society. Construction was planned taking existing civic infrastructure into account; green belts and parks were seen as integral to the urban layout.
Now, the law of the jungle has taken over.
Increasing population and the huge, unmet demand for housing has made the real-estate sector doubly attractive in this teeming city. Building and town planning regulations, and environmental concerns, have been swept aside; anything is possible — and on a scale unthinkable before. All it takes are builders with the backing of rapacious elements among the power elite, and, if need be, some ruthless henchmen/local police to provide the muscle. Corrupt revenue officials are of course an integral part of this racket.
However, with officials from regulatory authorities themselves colluding in unlawful real-estate ventures instead of cracking down on them, residents of Karachi often have no idea of the legal status of the land they occupy.
Even if they do, what options do they have? No major, credible low-cost housing scheme has been launched for two decades, giving rise to a mushroom growth of katchi abadis and squatter settlements.
In an inequitable society like ours, it is always those at the bottom of the totem pole who are deprived of shelter and means of employment when officialdom wants to implement court orders “whole-heartedly” — as promised by the Sindh local minister on Saturday.
Consider that while the Empress Market shops were torn down, illegal constructions — particularly commercial ones — backed by powerful quarters remained untouched.
The only durable solution to this free-for-all is to punish to the fullest extent of the law all those complicit in this pernicious racket. The impunity with which Karachi’s precious resource is plundered must end now.

PTI in a quandary

THE PTI-led ruling coalition is under tremendous strain. Hastily patched together in the aftermath of the 2018 elections, the combination of the PTI and the MQM, PML-Q, GDA and BNP-M enabled Imran Khan to form a government and occupy the office of prime minister. The dynamics of this coalition suffered from inbuilt instability because without keeping its allies on board, the PTI could not survive at the centre. All knew this would entail a price in terms of cabinet positions, local patronage and power as well as a share in the official gravy train. This train chugged along merrily until a few weeks ago when it hit many roadblocks. After almost all the coalition partners publicly expressed reservations about unfulfilled commitments, the PTI formed committees to smoothen ruffled feathers and keep them within the coalition. So far nothing concrete has come out of these meetings that followed.
In fact, whatever give and take is happening behind closed doors has not produced anything conclusive. Of the manifold problems that the PTI continues to face, the matter involving the PML-Q seems to be the most serious. The Chaudhries and their colleagues say that the PTI had made very specific commitments to them which had led to the PML-Q joining the coalition. To date, despite repeated meetings, the promises remain unfulfilled as per the PML-Q. A reshuffling of the negotiating committee, in which Jehangir Tareen was dropped, also raised many eyebrows. The PTI is in a tough spot. Already bruised and battered by its own poor governance and close to losing the war of perceptions, the ruling party now has to compromise again with its allies in order to save the coalition. This means its already cramped political space will shrink even further. The divisions are exacerbated by growing incidents of fighting within the party. The prime minister’s economic team, led by his adviser on finance Dr Hafeez Sheikh, is under tremendous strain due to skyrocketing inflation and plunging key indicators. A blame game is reported to have already started with party members finding refuge in their respective camps. These are dangerous signs for a leader who is increasingly finding himself on the defensive. Political mismanagement exemplified by growing fault lines within the coalition, and the party itself, is fracturing the political will that is so essential to combating major problems. The prime minister should focus on cementing these ruptures in order to achieve the level of teamwork necessary for a result-oriented performance.


Fixing scandal

THE 17-month sentence handed out to former Pakistan opening batsman Nasir Jamshed by the Manchester Crown Court on Friday for his role in a fixing scandal is a stark reminder that the menace has not been completely eradicated. Jamshed, who represented Pakistan in two Test matches and 66 limited-over games, was jailed alongside British nationals Yousef Anwar (40 months) and Mohammed Ijaz (30 months), after the trio admitted they were part of a conspiracy to fix elements of the Bangladesh Premier League games in 2016. They pleaded guilty to the allegations last December after they were officially charged. Jamshed had previously said he was innocent. In fact, in August 2018, he had been banned for 10 years by an anti-corruption tribunal for his role as middleman in a spot-fixing scam that rocked the Pakistan Super League in 2017. Needless to say, the Nasir Jamshed episode has once again tarnished Pakistan cricket. Since the mid-1990s, when the fixing spectre first reared its head in the world of cricket, several players have succumbed to the temptation. Subsequently, the ICC and its member boards set up anti-corruption units to put in place stringent measures to curb the practice.
In countries such as Pakistan and India, where a majority of the cricketing talent come from backward areas, there is an urgent need to educate players so that they are able to discern between their fans and the scheming lot. The subcontinent has witnessed the largest number of fixing cases over the past three decades, simply because players’ aspirations to go from rags to riches quickly are often exploited by unscrupulous elements. With the fifth edition of the popular PSL set to kick off in four cities of the country later this month, the PCB is faced with, perhaps, its stiffest challenge to date. It not only has to guard the league against any untoward security incident, it will also have to be equally vigilant to prevent players from succumbing to corruption instead of bringing joy to a cricket-starved nation.


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