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Dawn Editorial 15 May 2020

University exams

COVID-19 is pushing tech-based innovation to new levels. As all areas of life prepare to put into practice a new workable system, the model is experiencing a baptism by fire in the most basic of sectors — education. Like the rest of the world, Pakistan is trying to find a way to handle the tough challenge the virus has thrown up. There are no easy answers and the solutions that have so far been offered for junior classes, in which millions of young Pakistanis are enrolled, have been controversial in many instances. Even where they have been accepted, approval has been accompanied by sighs of despondency. As primary and secondary levels are crossed, things become more difficult, and experts are calling for new ideas so that university students can emerge from this mess without their future prospects being harmed. The HEC has asked universities for exam and admission policies by the start of next week. “Examinations and assessments are an integral part of the teaching process. Attempts to eliminate exams will have severe repercussions.”
Quite clearly, the message is that the policy of promoting students to the next grade, which is being practised at levels up to Intermediate, cannot be applied to those pursuing higher education in the country. At a crucial videoconference the other day, institutes for higher levels promised to come up with strategies in accordance with the needs of their students. They will surely be looking at how other education systems around the world are tackling the coronavirus menace when it is time for exams. They are dealing with large numbers here and while it is impossible to hold online exams and assessments for primary and secondary schools, this could prove more practical at advanced levels. Postponement of exams for a few months could also be considered while the HEC and universities hammer out a strategy that allows students to be assessed in a manner that does not constitute a risk to themselves or their fellow students.


Dam deal

THE government has finally closed the deal for the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam.
The Rs442bn contract has been awarded to a joint venture comprising China Power and the Frontier Works Organisation.
The world’s tallest roller compact concrete dam is but a part of a multipurpose Rs1.4tr hydropower enterprise that will be funded through public-sector development and commercial loans.
The 4,500MW power station will be built later.
That the contract for the dam construction has been awarded nearly 40 years after the project was originally conceived, 16 years after its feasibility was completed, 12 after its design was finalised and almost 10 years after it was approved by the CCI speaks volumes for the financial difficulties and political issues in implementing a large water development scheme.
In between, one president and three prime ministers found time to lay its foundation stones between 1998 and 2011.
Recently, work on Diamer-Bhasha was delayed by international lenders’ decision to pull out of the project after India objected to the location of the dam, which straddles Gilgit-Baltistan and KP.
Last year, the government decided to split the project into two major components — the dam project to be constructed with public-sector funds and the power project to be developed in IPP mode — and involve Chinese firms and money to complete it.
The Diamer-Bhasha project is an economically important enterprise as it will create water storage of 8.1MAF for agriculture and generate 81bn units of clean electricity once it is completed in 2028.
It is also billed to save the economy Rs23bn in flood losses annually, bring 1.23m acres of additional land under cultivation, reduce water shortages from 12MAF to 6.1MAF, increase water storage capacity from 30 days to 48 days, and add 35 years to the life of Tarbela by reducing sedimentation.
During its construction, the project is expected to create 16,550 jobs (mostly for the local population), generate a large demand for cement and steel, and stimulate economic growth, which is estimated to contract by up to 1.5pc owing to the pandemic.
The years between 1958 and 1976 were seen as the best period for the development of the water sector and hydropower projects in the country.
Tarbela and Mangla are also from the same period.
It was followed by a largely dry spell until 2007 when the pace of such projects picked up as water shortages became more acute and thermal electricity generation unaffordable and erratic — this in spite of the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 between the provinces that underlines the need for building more water storages to store floodwaters and overcome growing shortages.
The availability of water for irrigation is declining and weather patterns are getting erratic because of climate change.
The country needs to build large storage capacity to save wastage of water in order to protect food security and the Indus Basin habitat.


NAB’s politics

THE National Accountability Bureau has stepped up its investigations against the PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif and has been summoning him for interrogations on a regular basis. Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, who is fond of making political predictions based on what he claims are his close sources, says there is a likelihood that NAB may arrest Mr Sharif after Eid. To inflame the situation further, the government’s accountability czar Barrister Shahzad Akbar hurled fresh allegations of financial wrongdoing at Mr Sharif on Wednesday and hinted that more legal troubles were brewing for the former chief minister of Punjab. The PML-N has termed these allegations a pack of lies and reiterated its position that NAB is unleashing persecution on opposition members including Shahbaz Sharif at the behest of the government. In the meantime, NAB has once again summoned former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi despite the fact that nothing substantive has been brought out against him in a court of law. Politics, it seems, is heating up in sync with the alarming Covid-19 situation.
There is much that does not add up here. The conduct of NAB has become so controversial that it is very difficult to believe that its actions are not laced with partisan politicking. This perception is solidified every time opposition leaders are hauled up on flimsy charges while government ministers charged with similar offences are left alone. NAB has done itself no favours by refusing to nullify this negative perception. On the contrary, the bureau has stepped up its activities against those who are opposed to the PTI government. This is unfortunate because NAB is a taxpayer-funded organisation that is mandated to carry out accountability in a manner that is impartial. In this respect, NAB has been a spectacular failure. Similarly, the PTI government has done a disservice to the cause of accountability by subordinating it to the political interests of the party leadership. By unleashing a torrent of accusations against opposition leaders, government representatives like Barrister Shahzad Akbar undermine the role that a sitting government should play. This role demands that the government either carry out thorough investigations and take the accused to court, or allow NAB to conduct its own inquiries through due process. By hurling accusations through the media, the government only reconfirms the perception that the real objective is less legal and more political. This cannot be justified on any grounds.


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