A RECENT decision by the government to disallow all institutional investors from placing funds in the products offered by the National Savings Scheme has narrowed the scope for participation of the very people the schemes are supposed to exist for. It makes sense to stop participation in NSS schemes of those institutional investors who operate for profit, as has been done since 2003. But pension and provident funds are non-profit entities and operate for the benefit of retirees and salaried people, and these funds should continue to have access to NSS products, because the benefits they derive from this participation go directly to the owners of the funds, and not the institution. By closing the door on NSS products for pension and provident funds, the government has succumbed to the pressure of owners of mutual funds in particular, who have long lobbied to either be allowed to invest in NSS products, or to turn away pension and provident funds.
The arguments made over the years by the mutual funds are specious at best. For example, they argue that the participation of pension and provident funds in NSS products has a disruptive effect on the financial markets of the country. In order to for this argument to hold any merit, it will first need to be established that the returns enjoyed by investors in NSS products diverge significantly from the returns offered on government securities, whether treasury bills or Pakistan Investment Bonds. If there is significant variation in the yield curves of these instruments then an argument for ‘disruptive impact’ can potentially be made. At the moment, however, returns on NSS instruments closely track the returns on government securities. Mutual funds have also complained about the redemption feature in NSS instruments, describing it as a ‘free lunch’, but this feature is necessary in a country where funded pension schemes are rare and people have few options to build up long-term savings.
The sad fact here is that those who have lobbied to close the door on NSS products for pension and provident fund managers are actually the ones in search of a ‘free lunch’. Instead of improving the quality of the product offerings or sharing the returns they make by investing other people’s money, they are trying to grow the size of their market by shutting down other people’s access. The reality is that retirement funds are solidly risk averse, and if shut out of NSS, are more likely to expand their participation in auctions of government securities rather than play into the hands of the sharks that rule the private and for-profit financial markets of this country. The government has allowed itself to be played by vested interests in making this decision, to the detriment of salaried and retired individuals. The decision should be reversed.
On merit alone
A CHALLENGE to the concept of merit has fortunately been beaten back. The Federal Services Tribunal has dismissed an appeal against the combined seniority list of male and female sub-inspectors of the Federal Investigation Agency. The appellant, a sub-inspector at FIA-investigation, had asked that the organisation issue segregated lists for sub-inspectors (investigation) and female SIs/ASIs (immigration) as being separate wings. Included among the respondents were the interior secretary, the DG FIA and 74 women FIA officials. The government since 2003 has issued combined seniority lists for FIA sub-inspectors belonging to the same group, on which their promotions are based. However in 2008, segregated lists were issued, based on a sexist presumption that women sub-inspectors were only fit to work in immigration — in other words, at a desk job. According to this mindset, men alone have the skills and mental capacity to undertake criminal investigations. The segregated lists deprived the female sub-inspectors of their upcoming promotions, and allowed newly inducted male sub-inspectors to be promoted earlier than their female counterparts. Naturally, this caused much heartburn and resentment among the women FIA sub-inspectors. They challenged the segregated lists, and finally managed to prevail. Indeed, they had a strong case, given it was based on their constitutional right to be treated equally under the law, and not be discriminated against on account of their gender. As in much of the world, women in Pakistan too have had to fight for equal opportunities. Even while things are changing, especially in the urban centres, the patriarchal mindset is alive and well. It surfaces frequently to ‘claim’ a self-arrogated right to the choicest pickings in terms of employment or to sideline women from decision-making processes.
In law enforcement, women have proved themselves to be more than capable of shouldering the same responsibilities as their male counterparts even in extremely perilous situations. When the Chinese consulate in Karachi was attacked in November 2018, it was a female ASP, Suhai Aziz, who led the successful security operation against the assailants. A few months ago, a woman police officer won praise across the board for standing her ground against a mob in a Karachi locality in order to enforce the ban on congregational prayers to prevent the spread of Covid-19. As the struggle of the FIA’s female sub-inspectors shows, more and more women are now determined to fight for their aspirations and not let misogynistic elements cow them into playing secondary roles.
Polio in pandemic
THE national tally of polio cases so far this year has already crossed 50. The latest victim of the crippling disease is from Sangtoi in South Waziristan district. All four limbs of the three-year-old boy have been paralysed. Such are the circumstances that he was not administered even a single dose of the anti-polio vaccine. Cases like these from various parts of Pakistan are viewed with disbelief by a world which is at a loss to understand the thinking that leads to opposition to immunisation against polio. As yet, however, there are no workable solutions in sight. What has happened in recent times, on the other hand, is that the Covid-19 pandemic has provided the authorities here with another excuse to cover their inefficiency. Pakistan has told the Independent Monitoring Board for polio eradication that the pandemic is the reason for the surge in polio cases here as it has “hampered routine immunisation and campaigns”. The IMB was briefed on various aspects of the anti-polio campaign in the country, a huge task that has engaged the best minds for years. But Pakistan did feel the need to reassure the global monitors that nothing about the national polio immunisation programme would be concealed from them.
Even before the pandemic struck, there were strong signs that 2020 was going to be a bad polio year for Pakistan. The novel coronavirus poses a huge danger and is a test of our resources — in terms of both finances and thinking out of the box. A viable strategy is needed to address other health issues too during the present crisis — such as building tighter networks with the help of our doctors practising at the grassroots. The government has told the public that Covid-19 is a reality that we must all learn to live with. We cannot forever go on blaming our failures and below-par performances on a single emergency. There are other battles in the health sector and these must not be neglected.