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The Express Tribune Editorial 27 April 2020

Books galore


The coronavirus is literally everywhere. Not only has it ravaged countries all over the world and forced millions into quarantines, but it has also entered into our very minds through the news and social media. The internet is brimming with information about the deadly virus while television shows stop talking about it. Our leisure activities of surfing the web has also been infested by the novel virus. The more people are watching, the more anxious they are becoming. In an attempt to escape the dread of the pandemic, people all across the country have reverted back to a medium that has over the years been neglected and abandoned: Books!
People are finally moving away from their screens and have instead started purchasing books. Some seem interested in growth and personal development through self-help books. Business and tech-savvy folks have started investing in success and entrepreneurial guides while many are trying to escape into different worlds with the help of novels and fiction. Readers claim that its benefits are two-folds: it not only helps one explore different subjects and paths but it also acts as a remedy against the fright and anxiety that has been developed in people’s minds about the virus.
Avid readers have ordered as much as 20 books since the pandemic has erupted. Since physical shops are closed, distributers have started providing services through online delivery and have witnessed a boost in sales. They claim that there is a surprising increase in the sales of children’s books. This shows that parents are perhaps more eager to instill reading habits in their child rather than them having to watch mindless cartoons for hours while in quarantine.
However, such a beneficial habit should not only be reserved for children. People of all ages should indulge in the pleasure of reading. These few harsh days provide us with the perfect opportunity to engrain the habit of reading so that it remains steadfast even after the pandemic.


A feather in our cap


Islamabad has added another feather to its cap in the digital sphere where it is showing progress by leaps and bounds. The latest good news is that Pakistan has been ranked as a 4th Generation Regulator (G4) by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), becoming the only country in South Asia to have pulled off the feat. Out of the 38 economies in Asia-Pacific, only eight per cent states have managed to achieve G4 status. In the ITU report titled ‘Global ICT Regulatory Outlook 2020 (GIRO)’, Pakistan scored 88 out of 100. This shows that Pakistan’s ICT regulations are led by economic and social policy goals. Pakistan is also among the top five regulators in the entire Asia-Pacific region with a global rank of 48. The GIRO is structured on data provided by 193 nations, which forms the basis of ‘ICT Regulatory Tracker’. The tracker, developed by ITU, is an evidence-based tool that helps decision-makers and regulators monitor the rapid evolution of ICT regulation.
Pakistan’s telecom regulator, the PTA, is naturally delighted at the latest accomplishment. It says that it will continue to achieve new international benchmarks by showing its commitment to protecting consumer interests and enhancing public-private collaborations for the digital transformation and socio-economic benefit of Pakistan. It is indeed a gladdening sign that state institutions are committed to unlocking the exponential potential for new ICT products and services in the country with a view to carving out a respectable niche in the global telecom marketplace. The government and the private sector have often expressed their pledge to work towards digital transformation in Pakistan. A recent special report has highlighted expert analysis of Pakistan’s readiness to embrace future technologies and suggestions to use digital platforms for better service delivery and governance. Initiatives taken for the advancement of ICT sector hold promise of one day securing the country a high berth on the telecom landscape.


EOBI pension

The coronavirus epidemic is taking its toll on all aspects of life. The apprehensions of EOBI pensioners have come true. Several months ago, the federal government had announced that the monthly pension under the Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution would be increased from the existing Rs6,500 a month to Rs8,500 a month with effect from January this year. The raise did not materialise in January, and the beneficiaries were told that the payment of increased pensions would begin from March with arrears for the months of January and February.
However now, the federal government has deferred the planned increase in the pension, saying that an increase in the EOBI pension is linked to an ‘actuarial’ valuation. The Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis, Zulfi Bukhari, had also announced a 30 per cent increase in the existing pension formula. The increase in the EOBI pension was to benefit 400,000 pensioners. The estimated financial impact of the enhancement in EOBI pension and the 30 per cent increase in the pension formula would come to something around Rs5.9 billion during the fiscal 2019-20 and the EOBI was to bear it. The matter was placed before the EOBI Board of Trustees at its previous meeting on February 21, 2020. The board had recommended the increase in the minimum pension.
As per rules, the relevant ministry sought the approval of the federal cabinet to implement the proposed increase. However, at a cabinet meeting the minister of law objected to the proposed increase on grounds that under Section 21 of the EOBI Act, 1976, pension can only be increased on the recommendations of an ‘actuarial valuation’ to be done after every three years. An actuarial valuation establishes the relationship between a pension fund’s assets and the estimated returns on them. According to the relevant ministry, the process for the appointment of an actuary is underway.
Given the existing situation, the pensioners would have to wait endlessly for the promised increase. Perhaps, some official(s) somewhere had forgotten the requirement of actuarial valuation.
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