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DAWN Editorials – 22nd May 2016

Unachieved growth target

THE latest data on GDP growth may have come in below target, but the government will still try and claim that it has revived the economy despite facing serious challenges. According to data presented to the national accounts committee, this year the growth rate of the economy has been 4.7pc, compared to the target of 5.5pc. Some may well wonder about the merits of quibbling over a fraction of a percentage, but since the data refers to a Rs27tr economy, even that fraction adds up to a lot. Nevertheless, since last year’s growth rate was 4.23pc, the government can claim some success in raising that to 4.7pc this year. But there are two questions to ask regarding this. First, what has fuelled this growth? And second, where has it largely come from? In fuelling this growth, the government has also taken the public debt to unprecedented levels, both domestic and external. And the drivers of growth, when the data is looked at slightly more closely, appear to be temporary. In short, much work remains to be done to put this growth on a sustainable footing, failing which we are bound to be left with large bills to pay and not much to pay them with.

When looking at the drivers of growth, it is important to note the dismal situation in agriculture, which accounts for almost a fifth of our economy. The sector shrank by 0.19pc instead of growing. Some of this can be accounted for by factors beyond the government’s control, such as the collapse in commodity prices around the world, and serious drought and irregular rains. But much of the explanation also lies in the government’s failure to understand, much less reform, the agriculture sector. Smuggled GM seeds still form the mainstay of the cotton crop, even as the updated Seed Act awaits implementation. Crop economics, as the experts call it, have placed high-quality inputs far beyond the reach of farmers, making the sector vulnerable to exogenous shocks from the climate and global markets.

In industry, the story is a little more mixed. Much of the growth has come from construction, which is low-quality growth due to its fleeting nature. The services sector met its target largely due to an increase in government salaries, which says nothing about the underlying state of the economy. Power generation and gas distribution have improved undoubtedly, but this simply reflects better utilisation of the existing capacity rather than any improvement in the nature of the economy. A boost has come from increased consumption as in the automobile sector, while exports have plummeted. In short, the economy is sputtering to a short-lived revival of sorts, but can it last? Given the haphazard movements upon which it is built, the growth figure presented before the committee cannot be taken as a sign of an economic rebound.

Pemra pulls the plug

WHERE self-regulation fails, the situation opens the door to outside attempts to steer the debate. Unfortunately, that seems to have happened with Pakistan’s electronic media industry, which has in recent times been increasingly in the cross hairs of Pemra, the electronic media regulator. On Friday, Pemra chairman Absar Alam said his organisation had pulled the plug on re-enactments of crime stories, monitoring teams having found several instances where the lines of acceptable programming had been transgressed. These, according to Pemra, include the provision of information about rape victims, forced entry into private premises, the overly graphic representation of rape and suicide, and several other examples. Reportedly, this ultimate step was taken after Pemra received complaints and the channels in question had repeatedly been sent notices, in some cases with the imposition of fines.

It is regrettable that matters have come to this pass, but few would deny that unethical practices have over the years been embedded in some quarters in the country’s electronic media output. Take, for example, the concern about forced entry into private premises, which is illegal in addition to being unethical journalism. It had become fairly common for viewers to watch media personnel swoop down on the premises to sniff out some alleged wrongdoing. Such an intrusion can only be undertaken by law-enforcement authorities, and then too under a fully fleshed-out procedure. Similarly, crime story re-enactments have been found to at times breach the requirements of dignity and good taste. That said, however, such decisions are ideally left to professional news editors; it is, therefore, up to media houses and their employees to drastically and evidentially improve standards of journalistic judgment so that Pemra is left with no excuse to become involved. Issues of a criminal nature are tricky to handle, and the regulatory authority may not be the best forum to play adjudicator. The delicate balancing act that the media must achieve is perfectly summed up by the situation that the drama serial Udaari finds itself in, the associated television channel being issued a notice for scenes implying child sexual abuse. The fact that this programme is part of advocacy against this rampant scourge, and that it was created/scripted with the thorough involvement of NGOs working on child rights, appears to have escaped Pemra’s attention. Such matters must be left to the professionals, but those professionals must also prove themselves worthy of trust.

ETPB goes overboard

THE Evacuee Trust Property Board’s action in Nankana Sahib 10 days ago was a demonstration of how not to go about an eviction operation. The May 14 action was marked by the ‘overzeal’ of a senior politician — Siddiqul Farooq — in the role of administrator, and his highhanded subordinates keen on summarily displacing a set of families who have a long-running land ownership dispute with the ETPB. Some of the scenes have been doing the rounds of the social media and are a source of shame for all those Pakistanis who understand how important dignity is in all matters of life. The details about the latest action to throw these families out of the land they have tilled for decades are chilling to say the least. Claiming they are the legal tenants of the ETPB, they have nevertheless spoken of the violence unleashed on them by the brutal minions of an official who apparently suffered from an illusion regarding his responsibilities. Not only have they talked of being beaten and having sticks thrown at them but have gone on to accuse the ETPB chairman of firing at them with his personal weapon.

The trick appears to have backfired. Reports of a violent attempt at uprooting these tillers will add greater vigour and purpose to calls for an administratively just and humane solution to the issue involving the ETPB and some of the occupants of its lands. But before that important subject is taken up, with due empathy for these occupants, there must be an investigation into what went wrong with the eviction operation in the Nankana village on May 14. There have to be examples of how not to do it. Some of the officials — such as those in the police and the district administration — have expressed their shock and dismay at the way the ETPB raid was conducted. There have to be safeguards against one individual going on the rampage by over-asserting the powers at his disposal.

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