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The Express Tribune Editorial 6 June 2020

Failed pursuit

Amid the country’s struggles against the coronavirus, the NAB continuing pursuit of key opposition leaders is worrying some watchers. Most recently, the Bureau’s staff in Lahore tried to pick up PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif from his house in Model Town, but left empty-handed. Shehbaz had missed another hearing of the money laundering and assets beyond means cases against him. While there was no Shehbaz to greet the NAB officials, there were dozens of PML-N workers and media personnel, who were stopped from approaching by the police that was clearly dressed for a fight. Fortunately, it never happened. And the following day, Shehbaz secured a bail from the high court before he could be taken in custody by the NAB personnel present there.
Let’s not debate the charges against the Leader of the Opposition here, but it is worth noting that he did not simply fail to show up. He had made it known to NAB and the court that he was unwell, and that due to his preexisting health conditions, he was also highly susceptible to the coronavirus. “It has been widely reported in the media that some NAB officials have tested positive for Covid-19,” Shehbaz had told NAB in a letter. He had also offered to be interrogated via Skype.
Unsurprisingly — and perhaps accurately — the PML-N immediately pointed to the same coronavirus outbreak as being why NAB was insistent on making Shehbaz appear in person. They accused the PTI of using the case to distract from its mismanaged pandemic response, and the sugar scam in which key PTI leaders and allies were named. The PML-N is also claiming that the government is pushing NAB to prosecute Shehbaz so that he cannot attend budget sessions.
The PTI could have countered well; after all, one of NAB’s charges against Sharif did relate to a sugar mill. An eloquent speaker could well have done the job. But perhaps, it is another reminder that the ruling party appears to lack the parts that move the wheels of government.


PSM lay-offs


Asad Umar should be writing his resignation. After all, in 2017, he promised that if the employees of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) did not get their rights in a future PTI government, he would stand with the mill’s workers and not his party. In November 2018, he promised that a PSM revival plan would be presented within a few weeks, and the state-owned entity would be successfully made operational again. Weeks became months, but no plan was forthcoming. However, caveats were slowly added, like trying to convince people that privatising the loss-making mill would be a good thing, even though the PTI opposed this tooth and nail while in the opposition.
And when we finally saw the plan, it was to sack all the employees with all due earned benefits and one month of severance pay. But Umar, the Planning Minister, was only following the lead from his boss, Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had promised for years that if elected, he would not privatise PSM but would make it profitable. Imran said in 2016 that all that was needed for this was good management. But after almost two years in power, Prime Minister Imran seems to have been unable to find a single qualified person to run the mill.
On Thursday, the government had Industries Minister Hammad Azhar go out and telling the mill workers that being fired is a good thing for them because they could go and find work elsewhere instead of sitting idle. Granted, under normal circumstances, this might be a good advice. But who is hiring right now? Has the minister forgotten that Pakistan is in the throes of an economic depression? Perhaps he should speak to the health minister.
On a serious note, sacking 9,350 people is difficult, but there is a strong argument that it was necessary. The problem is that the PTI refused to let others consider such a step and is now hoping people forget its own broken promises. No one can accuse the ruling party of breaking PSM. It was already a flaming mess when they took over. PTI’s guilt is that it kept claiming it can bring a dead horse back to life, then trying to do so for two years, and after finally accepting that it was dead, claiming that it had said so all along.


Environmental degradation

In these times of distress, discouragement and confusion caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the consequent limited economic activities, the recent dust storm in Karachi has caused further harm to life and property in the most populous city of the country. The dust storm, or tornado, killed at least five people, left dozens injured and brought about significant destruction of property. Strong gales and rain battered many areas causing roof and wall collapse leaving behind death and destruction. The wind was so strong that they blew away thatched and corrugated iron roofs far in the air injuring a few people on the way before they landed on the ground. The storm, packed with winds of 95 nautical miles, also set off fires in cattle pens. Many buffaloes died and were injured in the blaze resulting in substantial losses to dairy farmers.
Dust storm usually strikes many areas in Pakistan, especially Sindh, during June and July. So people and the authorities anticipate dust storm and other such events and are prepared to face them. Experience, however, exposes claims of preparedness on the part of the authorities during heavy rains. During the rainy season cities and towns in Sindh and other parts of Pakistan present the scene of urban flooding. This is being witnessed more often in recent years than before. Long years of official neglect and corruption have left the drainage system unserviceable.
The recent tornado in Karachi and cyclones in Bangladesh and India once again call for governments to pay adequate attention to arrest the environmental pollution and degradation. Global warming caused by large-scale deforestation and burning of fossil fuels that emit toxic gases have dangerously upset the ecological system resulting in unusual natural phenomena such a no rain or excessive rains. The situation has gone on deteriorating in spite of several international agreements to cut gas emissions. This shows we are neither a good housekeeper nor a good cook.
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