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Dawn Editorial 25 July 2020

Regulating real estate

THE federal government’s decision to set up the Real Estate Regulatory Authority is expected to deliver effective and fair regulations in the country’s fragmented, undocumented real estate market. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s directive for the creation of the proposed authority has reinforced hopes that his government is serious about regulating the informal real estate market in order to realise its true potential and boost economic growth. The development of a robust regulatory framework is crucial to creating an enabling environment for a vibrant, secure and reliable real estate market, and the proposed regulator is vital to its smooth implementation. The success of the government’s fiscal and monetary incentives for the construction industry largely hinges on the early implementation of a transparent regulatory framework. The growth of a healthy mortgage industry is also linked to the enforcement of a clear regulatory framework to mitigate risks to creditors.
Pakistan’s real estate market largely operates in the informal economy and is plagued with numerous issues owing to the absence of an effective regulatory framework that could protect the interests of all stakeholders — buyers, sellers, developers, builders, tenants, etc. The lack of regulations often draws the stakeholders into long court battles over property frauds and ownership/tenancy disputes, repels potential investors because of unclear land titles and undermines public confidence in real estate. More important, tax revenue collected from this sector remains far below its true potential because over the past few decades real estate/property has become a haven for tax evaders to park huge amounts of illegal money. In recent years, the government has taken several measures to regulate the real estate market in order to document it and increase tax revenues. However, these steps have met with limited to no success owing to the absence of a coordinated effort, and a non-existent regulatory and policy framework to streamline the market.
So far the scope and coverage of the proposed authority remains unclear. Nevertheless, it is expected to introduce the country’s real estate market to international best practices so that it can realise its untapped potential. In addition to streamlining, harmonising and modernising tedious processes and laws related to land and property development, it will be required to enrol builders, developers and real estate agents to properly document them so that it can swiftly find a remedy to their problems, as well as to protect the rights of consumers and tenants. The new body will be expected to work closely with all stakeholders and act as a bridge between the government and private sector in order to formulate policies and develop strategies to bolster the real estate market by removing impediments. Once the government has delivered a transparent investment ecosystem and a real estate market regulated by an efficient body, it will not be difficult for it to attract much-needed foreign investors to this sector.


Banning online apps

THE season of moral policing and censorship is yet again upon us. In a fresh move to clamp down on digital platforms, the PTA has banned video-streaming app Bigo and issued a final notice to short video app TikTok for allegedly encouraging “immoral, obscene and vulgar content”. (A ban on the online game PUBG has just been lifted by the court.) The regulator has said that despite communicating its reservations to both companies, it was not satisfied with their responses. Therefore, it said, PTA had decided to immediately block Bigo and issue a final warning to TikTok “to control obscenity, vulgarity and immorality” on its app. Worryingly, the Supreme Court has separately taken notice of ‘objectionable’ content on YouTube. The court regretted that people using the social media platform “incite people against the judiciary, the armed forces and the government” adding that “we are showing restraint but this has to come to an end”. The objections appear to have sparked fears that YouTube may be blocked in the country — as in 2012 when the platform was banned for four years.
PTA’s message that content on these platforms is “vulgar and obscene” is ambiguous. While there is no doubt that online content which falls under the category of death threats, hate speech and sexual violence must be reported and taken up with these platforms, the regulator’s reasoning that these channels feature material that “have a negative effect on society” is vague and reeks of moral policing. What are the regulator’s specific concerns? If they are about child pornography and explicit videos of minors, it must communicate this to the company. TikTok maintains that it has deleted 3.7m videos from Pakistan for violating its community guidelines in a crackdown against content featuring nudity or sexual activity. If the company appears to be open to taking action against content which is deemed criminal, the government must engage with these platforms so that concerns can be communicated effectively. As the Digital Rights Foundation put it, the justification of such bans to ‘protect’ children is akin to banning highways to prevent road accidents. Similarly, any move to ban a platform like YouTube, too, would be counterproductive; the earlier ban severely hurt content creators who later flourished by monetising their content. The state must not dictate morality to the people, especially when these apps are avenues for learning, income generation and creative expression by young people who are devoid of entertainment and opportunities.


Nuclear security

THE issue of security of nuclear facilities is a very sensitive one, and countries need to constantly upgrade their protocols to ensure fool-proof measures are in place to protect sites. There is reassuring news where Pakistan’s atomic facilities are concerned, as a recent American study has rated this country’s protocols favourably. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which conducted the study, Pakistan has improved the most in nuclear security and in fact overall, this country is ahead of India in the rankings. The study says that Pakistan “improved its overall score by adopting new on-site protection and cybersecurity regulations, improving insider threat protection measures and more”. This analysis from an independent concern should put to rest any irresponsible conjecture that questions the safety protocols of Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Moreover, on a visit to Karachi in 2018, then IAEA head Yukiya Amano had said that the metropolis’s nuclear plants were “heavily protected” and that Pakistan was “committed to nuclear safety”.
While the US body has praised Pakistan’s progress on nuclear security, it has also sounded the alarm regarding the “decline in the rate of improvement to national regulatory structures and the global nuclear security architecture”. Basically, the institute is worried that geopolitical friction and the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic was weakening global cooperation in the realm of nuclear security. Perhaps this should serve as a moment to ponder the future of atomic power, both for energy and weapons, for the global community. The risks associated with nuclear energy are far too great, compared to its advantages, and the world should think about shifting to safer, more environment-friendly alternatives. Japan’s Fukushima disaster of 2011 serves as a reminder of what can go wrong at even the best protected sites should a natural disaster strike. Moreover, when some states insist on being exclusive members of the nuclear club, this causes others — with legitimate security concerns — to proliferate to protect themselves. Perhaps in the best interest of mankind, it would be better to rethink nuclear power.


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