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The Express Tribune Editorial 16 September 2020

Extrajudicial killing?


Controversy surrounds the death of a young man in Karachi’s Sohrab Goth neighbourhood last week. Police claim to have killed Sartaj alias Taju, “a drug peddler wanted in 12 criminal cases”. But the young man’s family insists that the man executed by the police was a resident of Larkana, named Faisal Abro, and he was on a visit to Karachi to attend a family wedding. Accusing the police of ‘extra-judicial’ killing, the family says that the police took Faisal into custody at a mosque where he had gone to offer Friday prayers. The family quoted worshippers as saying that Faisal was shouting that he was not Sartaj, but the police took him out of the mosque and pumped multiple bullets into his head that caused his death. The mosque’s prayer leader has also confirmed that Faisal had been taken away by the police.
The police insist that Sartaj’s real name was Faisal Abro. They have rejected the statements of the dead man’s family and the prayer leader. A police official has stated that an inquiry will be carried out to make the matter clear. The circumstances surrounding the death of the man raise questions. The police say the dead man’s brother Iqbal, whose real name is Abdul Ghaffar Abro, too has been arrested in a drug-related case. Why was one brother killed and the other was merely arrested for the identical offence of involvement in drug trade? Why were the police in such a hurry that they gave Faisal the harshest punishment for the same alleged crime and dealt with his brother in a relatively lenient manner? The police say a clear picture will emerge only after the inquiry.
Dead men do not speak. This would bring the matter to closure. In recent years, several such incidents have happened in the city. There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of enforcing the law.



Power overbilling


A new government report confirms what most people have long believed to be true — power distribution companies are robbing us blind. The ‘State of Industry’ report prepared by Nepra, the power regulator, suggests that overbilling is rampantly used as a tool to cover high system losses and inefficiency. It also warned that the only thing this accomplishes is to increase energy costs and eventually cause damage to the economy. The report suggests that distribution companies see inexplicable changes in their losses in certain months. Without any noticeable change in other factors, the only explanation is overbilling. In fact, distributors have not even reduced their transmission and distribution losses by any significant amount, nor have they seen any real improvement in bill recovery. The ‘improvements’ in both categories were less than 1% each. Even the improvements in revenue are tied directly to increased end-user prices, rather than any internal reforms.
As for broader reforms, Nepra hints at political interference hurting financial performance, transparency, quality, and competition. Where there is no political interference, there is political apathy. Nepra says the federal government has still not approved a National Electricity Policy — something that severely limits what Nepra can do in terms of planning, and could also create legal cover problems. Without a proper energy policy, planning becomes a day-to-day business as any regulatory framework needs to be based on a formal policy. Nepra also saved particular scorn for K-Electric, which still cannot meet its own demand needs, despite a flurry of benefits provided by the federal government. It also notes the company’s astounding ability to conduct load-shedding while its plants remain under-utilised. As for the company’s excuses relating to fuel supplies, Nepra notes that this is K-Electric’s responsibility, rather than the government’s.
Nepra is essentially calling out K-Electric for failing to negotiate its own supplies and instead relying on public pressure to get fuel allocations, possibly at lowered prices. At the end of the day, most issues identified in the report are emblematic of the country. Everyone wants money and power, but no one wants to do the work.



Development in merged districts


The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government is doing its best for rapid development in ex-Fata with its limited resources. According to the progress report issued by the provincial government on the first year of its Accelerated Implementation Programme for the newly-merged tribal districts, a sum of Rs24 billion was spent on 127 development schemes in 17 sectors in fiscal 2019-20. The biggest sum of Rs12.265 million was spent on the relief and rehabilitation sector followed by the restoration of businesses hit by conflicts in the merged districts. To boost commercial activities in the area, around seven trade routes were restored and improved at an expense of Rs1.869 billion. A total of Rs2.6 billion was spent on the health sector. The government spent around Rs2.9 billion on the primary and secondary education sector. Besides this, in order to encourage people to acquire education, Rs0.39 billion were disbursed for providing school bags and stationery, Rs0.23 billion for building play areas and Rs0.31 billion for free textbooks.
In normal circumstances, the largest chunk of the budgeted amount should have been spent on the priority sectors of health and education though. Circumstances out of the ordinary that prevailed in the tribal districts constrained the authorities to change the priorities. Considerable amounts have also been spent on the agriculture and irrigation sectors in view of the fact that these sectors generate sizable incomes. Under the AIP, around Rs1.5 billion were spent on irrigation schemes, including Rs0.85 billion on Gomal Zam Dam and Rs0.17 billion on the restoration of irrigation channels. The government has also paid attention to improving electricity availability in these districts, and Rs6.32 billion were spent on this sector. Under the AIP, the government had allocated Rs142 billion, but it could utilise only Rs24 billion, or 16.9% of the amount. The K-P government is facing challenges after the merger of tribal districts due to unavailability of proper record.
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