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The Express Tribune Editorial 15 May 2020

Clean again

What else than ‘yet another U-turn’ shall we call it? Prime Minister Imran Khan has cleared corrupt individuals — those that were left off the hook by NAB on entering into a plea-bargain deal — for appointment as directors of public and private companies. The same Imran Khan who, as opposition leader, never spared an opportunity to lash out at the ‘shameful’ provision of the accountability law that gives a clean-chit to a corrupt official if he agrees to return to the exchequer a small percentage of the public wealth he had looted. Umpteen times has Khan been quoted as calling the plea-bargain clause of the law a slap in the face of transparency, honesty and justice, and demanding that the graft watchdog be disbanded for ‘patronising corruption’.
Last week, the PTI-led federal government promulgated a presidential ordinance to amend various sections of the Companies Act, 2017. One of these is section 172 that had barred officials and businessmen having clinched plea-bargain deals from becoming directors of public or private companies. The promulgation came only a week before the National Assembly was to go into a three-day session. The Companies Act, 2017 — that had replaced the Companies Ordinance, 1984 — had been enacted by the previous government, led by the PML-N. The new act carried Section 172 that lays out disqualification conditions for a person to hold the office of a director of a company for a period of up to five years beginning from the date of the order.
As the PTI government amended the Companies Act, 2017 through the presidential ordinance last week, it also deleted the sub-section M of Section 172 that reads: “the person has entered a plea bargain arrangement with NAB or any other regulatory body”. Thus, all those who had clinched a plea-bargain deal with NAB are now fit again to head any public or private company — courtesy the PTI.


Monsoon and dengue

It looks somewhat incongruous to talk of dengue fever at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is raging. No health issue can be ignored however smaller it is in comparison with the deadly coronavirus. Dengue appears to be less harmful but harmful undoubtedly it is. It is in the fitness of things that the District Health Authority (DHA) of Rawalpindi has started making preparations to tackle dengue in view of the approaching monsoon rains. A survey conducted by the authority shows that 64 suspected patients of dengue have been reported in seven tehsils of Rawalpindi district during the month of Ramazan. A relevant report presented to the commissioner says DHA teams visited houses and commercial outlets, and found dengue larvae at 61 places.
The DHA plans to launch fumigation drives in residential and commercial areas before the start of the rainy season to prevent the breeding of dengue mosquitoes. Attention will be focused on under-construction buildings and tyre repair shops where water accumulates. It will be ensured that water does not accumulate at these and other such places. All hotspots where dengue larvae are likely to flourish will be paid special attention during the fumigation campaigns. An awareness campaign will be launched to educate people about preventive measures to protect from dengue. People will also be sensitised on the importance of cleanliness and personal hygiene.
Dengue first appeared in Pakistan in a big way more than a decade ago, and every year a large number of people in various parts of the country suffer from this fever. Over the years, preventive steps have worked well to reduce the incidence of the disease. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, our health authorities have developed complacency in dealing with dengue. There is no room for complacency on other issues of public health even when faced with the bigger health issue of the deadly coronavirus. Nothing should be taken lightly. A small spark could cause a big fire.


Worrying projections

While major international financial institutions have predicted a worrying 1.5% contraction for Pakistan’s economy due to the rampaging coronavirus pandemic, a local business school, the Lahore School of Economics, has painted an even worse scenario — 2.9% to 5.5% contraction in GDP, depending on the length of the lockdown. These projections are a serious cause for concern — both for the rulers and the ruled. Unfortunately, while developed economies can still survive and recover from a sizeable one-off contraction, for a developing country like Pakistan, it could be a death knell.
Pakistan cannot sustain a recession, let alone a prolonged depression, which looks to be the case according to this projection by the LSE. The worst-case scenario assumes lockdown conditions will persist until November, while the ‘best case’ assumes the lockdown will be lifted this month. The LSE projections also warn of 1.5 million to 2.8 million jobs lost, and of them between 300,000 and 500,000 would be from the formal sector, and the rest from the informal sector.
The primary difference between the LSE’s modeling and those from the World Bank and others is that the former is made by adding a supply shock to the model, followed by a demand shock. This is based on the theory that like major crises such as the Great Depression of 1930s, the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, and the 2008 financial crash, the current situation was caused by a supply shock event, namely, production cuts effecting non-medical and other non-essential sectors of the world economy. That shock would create a loss of income for workers which would, in turn, lead to a demand shock caused by reduced consumption and investment.
We can assume that this cyclic condition would continue until a new normal is reached, or a successful intervention breaks the cycle. While we appreciate the hard work of our local scientists and researchers, we also fear what would happen if, on this occasion, they are right. Regardless, the findings do provide food for thought for the government. If the economy is not given proper support, it may take years, not months, for a recovery to begin.
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