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The Express Tribune Editorial 11 February 2020

Foxes in the hen house


Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered his economic team to bring down the prices of essential food items within two weeks. Wheat and wheat flour, sugar, rice, and pulses are among the priority items. An interesting tidbit that made its way to the media was that the PM apparently told meeting participants that if the government could not provide relief to the masses, it had no right to stay in power.
On the face of it, the decision is welcome and could significantly alleviate the suffering of the masses under skyrocketing inflation. Unfortunately, it does ring somewhat empty when the PM continues to blame the “corruption and plundering” of previous governments rather than focusing on his own team’s failures. Even worse is the perception that the PM is ignoring allegations of profiteering by his own ministers and advisers. His cabinet, his provincial governments, and his senior party members include men who have made a bundle off the rising prices of wheat, sugar and other commodities. Commodity barons are chairing meetings on those same commodities. Yet not a word has been uttered about these foxes setting hen house policy. Inflation is at a 12-year high, yet these men continue to profit.
The government has not even taken action against those responsible for allowing cheap exports of commodities that are now being imported duty-free and sold at backbreaking prices. Was it because the profiteers have spent extensive time in Bani Gala? Even the praise the PM had for the Utility Stores Corporation (USC) and its chief was problematic. In the past, a common criticism of the USC was that the prices were not low enough compared to the open market. This was because most consumers were okay with the prevailing open market prices. Now, even with prices only two to five per cent lower on most commodities, people are flocking to the USC because every little penny has become precious. Also, with more consumers turning to the USC, the government has to absorb heftier subsidies on sales at the stores.
Just last month, the government announced a Rs7 billion subsidy for the USC, which will invariably need to increase to satiate the greed of commodity barons.


Ski tourism


Malam Jabba is back to its touristic best. Part of district Swat in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the resort that lies about 2,590 metres above the sea level had been destroyed by Taliban militants before the Operation Raah-e-Rast carried out by Pakistan Army in 2009 restored the state writ on the picturesque hill station and paved the way for the revival of the one of the top tourist attractions in the country. With relentless efforts of the government and the armed forces of Pakistan, Malam Jabba has once again turned into a big draw for visitors. Millions of local and foreign tourists scale the scenic snow-capped peaks every year for recreation.
Malam Jabba is not a mere tourist destination, it’s a ski resort of international standard too. Having a ski slope of about 800 metres and equipped with modern facilities like roller and ice-skating rinks, chairlifts, and skiing platforms, the breathtaking alps hold special attraction for skiers from around the globe. Besides the National Ski Championship, global events like the International Alpine Ski Cup and the CAS Karakoram International Alpine Ski Cup are being held there with great success for a couple of years. This season’s International Alpine Ski Cup drew players from Canada, Greece, Turkey, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Timor Leste as well as a team led by British High Commissioner Dr Christian Turner.
The efforts of Pakistan Air Force and Winter Sports Federation of Pakistan must be applauded for successful holding of the mentioned mega events, featuring international skiers, which not only serve to raise the standard of winter sports locally, but are also helpful in the context of overall tourism promotion in the country. These sporting events help us showcase the immense tourism potential that is scattered, particularly up north, and that can be a big source of the much-need foreign exchange for our country.


Recycling plastic bags

The ministry of climate change is taking effective steps to curb environmental pollution with the aim of reversing the process of climate change. It is on the instructions of the ministry that the provinces have banned the use of plastic bags, and their efforts are giving out encouraging results. It is now only the ignorant and uninformed who have not cut down on the use of plastic bags, otherwise the government’s drive against plastic bags is having a positive effect on the educated classes as they are voluntarily shunning the highly harmful plastic.
Now the ministry of climate change has decided to recycle the seized plastic bags into dumpsters and waste bins. This is a two-pronged strategy. Getting rid of plastic litter and then using them to keep neighbourhoods and the environment clean. An official says since Aug 14 last year, around 21,00 kilogrammes of polythene bags have been seized and Rs1.2 million in fine have been collected from violators of the ban on plastic bags. The seized bags would be recycled into more than a thousand dumpsters and garbage bins and they would be placed in schools, hospitals and other government organisations. The official says a fine of up to Rs100,000 can be imposed on manufacturers and wholesalers of plastic bags, up to Rs10,000 on shopkeepers and Rs500 on individual consumer for first-time violation. The fine increases for subsequent violations. The use of plastic bags, according to the official, has now been reduced by 80%.
Plastic bags affect human health, wildlife, marine life and ecology. The biggest problem with plastic is that it takes 500 to 1,000 years to degrade, so it badly affects the environment. It chokes flows in gutters, rivers and other wetlands. Most plastic waste ends up in the ocean and this affects marine life. Fish eats plastic waste through which harmful substances are transmitted to humans. So far not much plastic waste has been recycled or incinerated.
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