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DAWN Editorials – 15th May 2016

Panama: judicial commission

THWARTED first by a series of retired chief justices, the PML-N government has now been dealt another blow by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali in its increasingly futile bid to try and move past the Panama Papers debacle. Declining to form a judicial commission in unusually blunt language, the chief justice has effectively pushed the PML-N into negotiating with the opposition on the terms of reference of a judicial commission. On Monday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will have an opportunity to reach out to the opposition in parliament and expedite the work on resolving the differences between the two sides on the scope and powers of a Panama Papers judicial commission. The crux of the government’s demand is that whatever inquiry is conducted, it should not be limited to just the prime minister and his family. Meanwhile, the crux of the opposition’s demand is that the prime minister and family be investigated first. As already suggested by some in the opposition, a sensible compromise would be to establish parallel tracks: one for the prime minister and his family, and another for others incriminated in the Panama Papers and all other issues judged suitable for investigation.

Whatever the specifics that are hammered out between the government and the opposition, two aspects must be guaranteed in the final agreement. First, the judicial commission must be authentically empowered to seek whatever material it deems necessary. Be it by appointing investigators locally or using the state’s resources to acquire information from abroad, the judicial commission should be able to use whatever legal tools that it finds necessary to complete its task. Second, as the chief justice has indicated and as has been argued by opposition figures since the government first mooted its own ToR, the commission should be able to complete its work within a reasonable time span. There is a wealth of legal talent in both the government and opposition, and this should be used to draw up a framework for the commission that will ensure it can complete its work within a stipulated time frame.

Finally, there is the matter of speed in reaching an agreement on the ToR themselves. Since the Panama Papers revelations in early April, the wheels of governance have effectively ground to a halt and the political landscape has been transfixed by the matter. While the government has been keen to play up alleged losses to the economy as a result, it should be aware that its own campaign-style politics have contributed to the prevailing sense of governmental paralysis. Pakistan needs a number of things at the same time, as all states do, and those things are not mutually exclusive. A credible and legitimate head of government and a functioning and institutional form of government are both imperatives.

Flood protection

THE good news is that for the first time, an attempt is being made to prepare for monsoon-related flooding before the start of the rainy season. The federal Flood Forecasting Division is doing the right thing by coordinating among different federal, provincial and sub-provincial agencies to reach some level of preparedness. The list of bodies that must coordinate is long, showing the challenges inherent in the exercise. The bad news is that the response to the FFD’s initiative has been patchy at best. Only Balochistan managed to report compliance with a directive to remove all encroachments from flood-protection infrastructure and waterways. Punjab reported partial compliance, while Sindh, KP, Fata and Gilgit-Baltistan did not even respond, despite a passage of five months since the deadline. What should we make of this? Are the officials in the irrigation departments of these provinces too busy to worry about flood preparedness? Or do they believe they don’t need to coordinate with anybody to handle the floods should they come?

And that is not all. Besides irrigation, Wapda has returned to the FFD with the same answer it gives to any question from any quarter: we await the release of funds from the ministry before executing this job. Perhaps they should engrave these words on a plaque and hang it up outside their headquarters. The Met office too has failed to submit a plan for the flood forecasting and warning system. In all the floods since 2010, we have seen few short lead times of maximum 48 hours, and in the case of the flash floods in Chitral, which triggered multiple simultaneous glacial lake outburst floods, there was no warning at all. Have malfunctioning weather radars been fixed? Have new forecasting models to increase lead times been incorporated? Have new signalling technologies using mobile phones been deployed to issue alerts? If this year is like the previous ones, then one more time we will see the district administration struggling to organise an orderly evacuation and getting embroiled in heated disputes about where canal breaches need to be made to control flood surges. At the moment, it would appear the provincial government departments have a wait-and-pray approach to the approaching monsoon season. Wapda too is content to hide behind bureaucratic excuses. We can only hope that nature’s fury is restrained this year, because the season is about to begin and they haven’t even started to move in many government offices.

Medico-legal reports

A DRAFT law sent to the chief minister of Punjab seeks to address the complicated matter of medico-legal reports, while at the same time raising concerns that, contrary to the intent, the whole process may end up becoming quite tedious. Medico-legal reports are assigned to surgeons at big public hospitals. Medico-legal surgeons examine, whenever it is deemed necessary, patients brought to the hospital and file reports providing the very basis on which a criminal case may be formed. Over time, along with other defects in the system, medico-legal reports and those who write them have come under sustained criticism. Not only have these basic documents been found to be faulty, they have quite often been crafted to suit those who can pay the right price. For long, governments all over the country have been called upon to improve the law and prevent the misuse of medico-legal requirements. The five-layered alternative that Punjab officials have come up with now reflects the strong urge for fairer laws which are less vulnerable to various interest groups.

Instead of one form, the prosecution department has proposed five online forms which will make up one report. The paramedical staff of the ambulance service (Rescue 1122) will fill in the first form complete with a picture of the ‘victim’ and his or her injury. The police report of the incident will be the second layer, whereas the third would record the patient’s history. The fourth form will comprise a preliminary report by the medico-legal surgeon and the last will provide the latest picture based on medical tests conducted after the patient’s arrival at the hospital. The whole process is aimed at minimising chances of error, negligence and wilful misreporting, but it does require that many more responsible heads to complete. It may turn out to be too lengthy and cumbersome for those who are already routinely denied in the name of procedure. The idea is to keep procedures simple for the people’s benefit.

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