PM Imran’s address
The Prime Minister’s supposed effort to reassure Pakistanis has only served to further concerns about the government’s priorities and ability to handle the Covid-19 coronavirus. Even at the start, it seemed uncertain what point he was trying to make. “I want to tell all of you, this virus will spread,” was followed by concern over the “state of panic” taking hold of the country. While much of the world is going virtual to make social distancing easier, PM Imran Khan categorically ruled out closing offices. Instead, he tried to reassure people that the virus only kills “four or five” per cent of people who catch it. The actual mortality rate is closer to 3%, though, it is significantly higher for elderly people. Given the fact that young carriers are often asymptomatic, if they do get infected and return to the joint family homes where most Pakistanis still live, it is their retiree parents who will suffer the consequences.
And while it is true that “Pakistan’s situation is not the same as the US or Europe”, this would have been a golden opportunity to begin the much-hyped digital revolution through government support for businesses that allow employees to work remotely. Another empty reassurance was about how he has told Pakistani embassies to “fully assist” citizens abroad. Perhaps he did not recognise the irony of admitting how the government had decided to let Pakistani students in Wuhan — the epicentre of the disease — fend for themselves after refusing to repatriate them.
Meanwhile, provinces are being forced to fend for themselves. On the same day that the number of confirmed cases in Sindh crossed 100, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said he is trying to increase coronavirus testing capacity, and the government has closed all restaurants and malls for 15 days. Intercity bus services are also being suspended, while schools and universities were already closed. The government has also established a Rs3 billion coronavirus relief fund. Unfortunately, the disease will keep spreading, because even though avoiding it is just a matter of staying clean, avoiding physical contact, and social distancing, pushing and shoving in public is a national pastime.
The coronavirus pandemic is taking its toll on the sports events the world over. Football’s Euro2020 Championship has been delayed till next summer. The French Open has been moved to September. The National Basketball Association of the US has announced suspension of all games until further notice. Even the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled between July 24 and August 9, are threatened.
Amid the unprecedented global situation which is evolving very fast at home as well, the PSL was bound to become a casualty too. The fifth season of the PSL — completely played at home for the first time — had to come to an abrupt halt. The PCB first reduced the number of days of the cricket league while changing the format of the knockout leg of the event. But then the cricket board, in consultation with franchise owners and other stakeholders, had to “postpone [the competition] indefinitely”.
The PSL did come to an unceremonious end, but it has, indeed, done its job. The game of cricket was at its professional best during the tournament. Keen contests were witnessed among the six participating teams that were studded with top local and foreign players — something that certainly helped lift the standard of the game at home, apart from boosting the coffers of sportsmen and the cricket board.
Finishing just shy of three matches, the event turned out to be the country’s biggest sporting extravaganza graced by who’s who of the cricket world. The full hosting of the event in Pakistan, with the presence of foreign stars, successfully sent out the message across the world that Pakistan is no more a no-go for foreigners — including those on the lookout for markets to make investment. The competition also promoted a soft image of Pakistan.
The Peshawar Bus Rapid Transport project has been surrounded by controversies, allegations of corruption and litigation and has gained infamy for an inordinate delay in its completion. Work on the provincial government project was launched on Oct 29, 2017. The government had promised to complete the project on April 20, 2018. But the completion date has gone on being extended several times and the project remains incomplete even after more than two years since work started on it.
There are allegations of corruption in the project, and the Peshawar High Court on Nov 14, 2019 had referred the controversial project to the FIA for a thorough probe besides formulating 35 questions. The Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government moved appeals through officials of several government departments in the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the high court judgment. During the hearing of the appeals on March 17, the top court made it clear that it intervenes in government development projects only if they fail the legal test of transparency, there are doubts concerning conflict of interest, or fail scrutiny by auditors; otherwise monitoring of such projects is not the court’s job. The court put off the proceedings for one month, and till then the stay earlier granted by it against the Nov 14, 2019 PHC order for a FIA probe into the BRT project will continue. The planners ‘assured’ the SC that they would ‘complete positively’ the scheme by the end of July this year, and said suggestions that the cost of the project had ballooned beyond Rs100 billion from the initial projected cost of Rs49 billion were mere rumours as the project would be completed within Rs69 billion.
It has long been felt that Peshawar needs a proper rapid public transit system because of a fast increasing urban population. The PHC in its November decision has also taken the K-P government to task for not taking steps to ease congestion on the city roads.