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The Express Tribune Editorial 7 April 2020

Sugar inquiry report

Imran Khan is in a fix. The Prime Minister and PTI Chairman had promised action against all involved in the sugar crisis, and now he knows who they are. Top of the list is one of his closest advisers and his party’s most notable donor. Next up is the family that helped him break the PML-N’s dominance in Punjab by splitting seats in the Seraiki belt. The third is the family that helped him cobble together a government in Punjab. Fourth and fifth are relatives of the Sharifs and associates of Asif Zardari, respectively.
To his credit, the PM himself ordered that the report be made public. While opposition members may say it is because alleged profiteers come from all the big parties, Imran gains nothing by showing people that the Sharifs or Zardari may have profited off the crisis. True or false, his supporters already believe this and their supporters refuse to. But now, with possible proof of profiteering by those around him, his own Mr Clean image suffers.
Even when Jehangir Tareen was disqualified from politics for dishonesty, PTI supporters tried to defend him, and Imran still kept him close. So close, in fact, that there have long been questions on Tareen’s participation in policy-level meetings in Islamabad and Lahore on agriculture and other issues that may enrich him. Why was a man, declared dishonest by the highest court in the land, now helping make national policies? We might finally have an answer.
Unless there is a greater game at play, proximity to Tareen is now going to keep embarrassing Imran and his government. The same goes for Khusro Bakhtiar, the food security minister who was profiting off the country becoming less food secure on his watch. Both, and even Moonis Elahi of the PML-Q, have put up weak defences. Tareen claims he also profited from similar subsidies during the PML-N era. So basically he admitted that profiteering is nothing new for him, whoever is in power. Bakhtiar and Moonis tried to distance themselves by claiming that they kept away from policy-level discussions or from business concerns of the mills, but they still pocketed the money. Cleanly, no doubt.


Alarming projections

The coronavirus projections about Pakistan are alarming — more than 50,000 Covid-19 patients by the end of April, with 2,392 in critical conditions and needing intensive care, 7,024 serious and 41,482 with mild symptoms requiring home isolation. The projections — submitted before the Supreme Court on April 4 in the form of a report prepared by the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination — are based on the trends of the pandemic in other countries. The report does not say anything on the number of fatalities feared. But 52 deaths from 3,520 cases as of April 6 do give an idea. With every 3,520 cases producing 52 deaths, some 50,000 cases can be calculated to result in 738 deaths. Given that we have already been in the exponential growth phase, the numbers over another one month or so could be scary — simply beyond our handling capacity.
Even though, according to the ministry’s report, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan after 35 days of its outbreak remains low as compared to the numbers in neighbouring Iran and European countries, there is no room for complacency. All of us — the government, the law enforcement authorities, and the people in general — must be braced for the worst. While the authorities need to ensure that lockdown measures are abided by the people, it’s for the people also to cooperate with the authorities and be compliant as much as possible. The authorities must also ensure all necessary facilities for our doctors and paramedical staff. While these frontline fighters need to be armed the teeth to fight the deadly virus, we are not even able to provide them with personal protective equipment, forcing the young doctors in Quetta to go on a strike. The situation is still not out of control, as the ministry’s report presented in the top court also suggests. A stich in time saves nine.


Landmark ruling

The Islamabad High Court has given a landmark ruling that a prisoner could sue the state for the lack of facilities in jails of the country. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Sunday issued a 38-page judgment in a case pertaining to conditions of prisoners in jails. The court in its ruling said the condition of prisoners in jails is a constitutional and human rights case. The IHC CJ justified the demand of the prisoners for suing the state in this connection. The learned judge told the government to provide advocates to the poor prisoners free of charge and ensure implementation on the Legal Aid Office Act 2009. The court also issued instructions to the Islamabad chief commissioner to establish a prosecution branch within 60 days and ensure early construction of a prison in the country’s capital. The court also instructed the district and sessions judges and the DC Islamabad and Rawalpindi to visit Adiala jail and submit a report with the registrar’s office on facilities being provided to prisoners.
On being harassed in jails, the prisoners can file defamation suit against the state and the jail administration. The court also ordered the registrar to work out a mechanism to provide legal consultation to the poor undertrial prisoners, and said that subjecting prisoners to inhuman treatment “is a serious offence of basic rights”. The court in its order emphasised the urgent need to reform the criminal justice system, and underline the elimination of political interference, saying that an effective criminal justice system is the basic right of every citizen. The court in its decision also mentioned that Pakistan has signed seven international conventions on rights of prisoners. The court is sincere in its judgement, but its implementation might face some pitfalls. According to the government’s own admission 77,000 prisoners are packed into jails country-wide against a capacity for 55,634 prisoners. 60% of these prisoners are UTT’s. Most of them are in prisons because they can’t afford money bails.
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