THE government has decided to hold fresh sessions of the National Assembly and Senate on Sept 14 to get the Financial Action Task Force bills passed. The sessions were scheduled for Monday but were postponed for a later date because, as stated by Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan, many legislators were busy in relief works after the heavy spell of rains.
The adviser said the government would not allow any delay in the passage of these bills. A few days earlier he had said if the opposition obstructed the passage of the two FATF bills, the government would call a joint session of parliament in order to get them passed. The opposition had blocked these two bills in the Senate because it had certain reservations and wanted the government to clarify them.
Prime Minister Imran Khan used harsh words against the opposition for blocking these two bills. In a meeting of party spokespeople, the prime minister was reported to have said that the opposition and India were on the same page on FATF because India was trying to put Pakistan on the blacklist. He said by blocking the passage of the bills, the opposition was trying to blackmail the government.
This was an unfortunate choice of words. There is no doubt that bills relating to the requirements of FATF are critically important and it is in the interest of Pakistan to legislate them, but the opposition is fully within its rights to raise questions about the provisions of these bills wherever required. This is what a parliamentary debate is meant for.
If the opposition feels that certain provisions of the bills could be misused for political purposes then the government must provide an explanation instead of hurling accusations. The rigid and confrontational attitude displayed by the government makes it difficult for parliamentarians to have a healthy discourse. It also creates unnecessary acrimony and makes the political atmosphere toxic. Questioning someone’s patriotism is condemnable and no one should resort to such rhetoric for political one-upmanship.
The government should therefore utilise the upcoming sessions of the National Assembly and Senate to not only table the FATF bills but answer all questions and allay fears voiced by the opposition. If need be, the provisions under question can always be amended to build a consensus on the text of the bills.
All agree that the requirements of FATF should be met not only to avoid the blacklisting but also to strengthen our laws in order to curtail crimes such as terror funding that have financed violence in Pakistan. Good legislation should not be made controversial on political grounds. The government should dial down its inflammatory rhetoric and get down to the business of negotiating with the opposition on the floor of the two houses. The need of the hour is to make these laws with consensus.
AFTER a six-month gap in in-person schooling, colleges and schools across the country are set to open their gates to students on Sept 15 — albeit in phases. The green light was given by Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood after a meeting with the provincial education ministers; the phased reopening plan which would see all students in class by the end of the month was discussed. Indeed, as the minister said, these have been difficult times, with pandemic-induced lockdowns throwing the academic year into disarray for millions of students and their teachers. At the press conference where this decision was announced, Mr Mehmood sat alongside Dr Faisal Sultan, special assistant to the prime minister on health, who expressed confidence in the testing capacity and appeared satisfied with the current rate of positivity in the country. Both stressed on the need to follow Covid-19 SOPs, with the minister saying action would be taken against institutes that violated them. For students returning to class after a long summer, there will be many changes to adjust to. The ‘new normal’ school experience will see fewer students per day, cancellations of some activities, distancing in classrooms, face-coverings, periodic Covid-19 screenings and frequent handwashing.
No doubt, the reopening of educational institutes is a welcome step. Schools are an essential component of communities and play a key role in the academic and social development of a child. While some teachers and students took schooling online during the lockdown to maintain the flow of the syllabus, there were scores of students who were unable to participate in virtual lessons due to poor internet facilities or lack of computers. School reopening will bring relief to many who have missed out, but increase the responsibility of both schools and the government as the threat from Covid-19 persists. Monitoring mechanisms should be developed and teaching staff must be supported if they take sick leave. Here, transparency, a proactive strategy and mass testing are crucial. Schools should chalk out a plan with the government and health departments in case of a Covid-19 outbreak in their locality, and not shy away from closure if the risks are high. Daily testing at between 20,000 and 30,000 is far too low. It must be ramped up dramatically to gauge community spread and formulate the next steps. Preventive behaviour ought to be encouraged and adopted, as it will not only allow schools to lower transmission rates but also help them to remain open.
THE natural state of humankind has been described as “nasty, brutish and short”, but this seems to be a more accurate description of the lives of many animals in human captivity. A team of experts from Austria, recently tasked by the government to check up on the condition of animals at Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo, observed a further deterioration in standards since their earlier trip in 2016. They expressed their disappointment at the lack of cooperation from certain authorities, and the absence of progress in implementing their recommendations from their visit four years ago. In particular, the six-member team observed the behaviour and health of Kaavan — the zoo’s lone elephant — to see if it was safe to relocate him, along with other animals, to a sanctuary, as ordered by the Supreme Court in May. Marghazar Zoo gained notoriety after Kaavan’s plight made international headlines. In fact, a number of animals have met early deaths at the zoo. In 2018, a solitary bear reportedly died of a tumour inside its small enclosure. Soon after, a wild animal — most likely a wolf — made its way into one of the zoo’s enclosures and mauled five deer to death. Then, between December 2018 and January 2019, eight nilgais were found dead inside their enclosure; medical reports later found that four had been poisoned, while the other four had died from the cold or injuries.
Most recently, two Marghazar Zoo lions died while they were being relocated to a sanctuary in Kasur, which led the Austrian team to deem the situation dangerous for all animals and humans involved. A disturbing video of the lions’ handlers surfaced, showing them lighting fires inside the animals’ enclosure. Of course, the issue is not about a single zoo, as the condition of many zoos in Pakistan is not up to the mark, and death and disease are frequently reported. Kaavan may soon be free, but many others remain trapped in lives that are indeed “nasty, brutish and short”.