City on islands
The announcement by the federal government to build a new city on the twin islands of Dingi and Bhandar along Karachi coast seems to be made for the consumption of some particular groups of people, since it has met with stiff opposition from the Sindh government and the province’s civil society. Ismail Rahoo, a provincial minister, says the federal government cannot undertake construction work on lands under the jurisdiction of provincial governments without the concurrence of the latter. He has contended that the Centre’s proposal is in violation of both the Constitution and laws governing rights of nations over islands. Under international conventions, provinces are the rightful owners of islands and sea resources within 12 nautical miles off their coasts.
Civil society members have also come out in opposition, expressing fears that the proposed city would deprive 800,000 fishermen residing on these isles of livelihood and further impoverish the already poor fishermen and other residents. They are afraid that the proposed construction would also destroy the mangrove forests spread over thousands of acres on the islands. Their fears about destruction of mangroves are not unfounded as mangroves’ obliteration would result in multiple dangers. Mangroves help protect coastal areas from tsunami and other such threats. Their destruction will further upset an already deranged ecology. These forests serve as nurseries of fish and shrimps and creeks from Karachi to Thatta as fishing areas, so their disappearance would only result in miseries for residents of the islands. Civil society members are also critical of the proposed setting up of the Pakistan Islands Development Authority in connection with construction of the planned city and other such constructions.
The plan to build a new city defies comprehension since the authorities have failed to provide basic necessities to the already existing cities. Haphazard actions don’t bring results. Such actions could be cited as a bad example.
With contributions from exports and FDI being conventionally low, Pakistan’s major foreign exchange earning comes in the form of remittances from abroad. It is this money sent by overseas Pakistanis that has offered the successive governments something to boast about when speaking about their “ability” to pull in dollars. These remittances from abroad have, for years, been the lone support to the country’s foreign exchange reserves. Courtesy the foreign remittances, the current account balance posted a surplus of $424 million in the month of July, motivating the PM to claim that the economy was “on the right track”.
The volume of expat dollars has been on a constant rise annually over the last two decades or so — except for a fall once or twice during that period. From a meager $2.3 billion in FY2002-03, the size of foreign remittances reached $19.94 in FY2017-18 and $21.8 billion in FY2018-19. With the trend continuing, the remittances from aboard reached a record high of $23.1 billion in the previous fiscal year ending on June 30, 2020. The first month of the ongoing fiscal year i.e. July saw an all-time record high of $2,768 million for a month, only to see the figure dropping to $2,095 million in August, still higher by 24% year on year.
The SBP attributes the recent rise in the volume of expat dollars to their efforts under the Pakistan Remittances Initiative and the gradual reopening of businesses in major host countries in the Middle East and Europe, besides the US. And with expats being allowed to open bank accounts in local and foreign currencies in Pakistan through mobile and internet banking, officials are expecting the remittances to reach $24-25 billion in FY-2020-21. To the contrary, independent experts see temporary factors related to the coronavirus environment behind the record rise in remittances. Fitch Ratings too anticipates a 12% drop in remittances to five Asian nations, including Pakistan, in the second half of 2020. The government needs to be prepared.
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