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Express Tribune Editorials – 11th February 2016

Fixing healthcare in K-P

Reforming anything in Pakistan is fraught, the more so when years of neglect or political interference has led to deficits in public services that are deeply systemic, only reformed by radical intervention. Hospitals in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are in need of root-and-branch overhaul and have been for many years, and as for many other entities, privatisation has been floated as a possible solution. As is common, whenever anything that smacks of privatisation, or a version thereof, is proposed, mayhem ensues, and such is currently the case in K-P. In broad terms, we support the K-P government in its desire for reform but yet again there is evidence of chronic ineptitude, nay incompetence, when it comes to complex and sensitive changes to systems that are highly resistant to revision of existing practice.

Imran Khan has clarified that no privatisation was under way when it came to the province’s hospitals; merely an improvement in standards and their management. He further said that the imposition of the Essential Services Act by the K-P government was in reality the provincial authorities acting in accordance with a decision by the Peshawar High Court on December 7, 2015. This has seemingly mollified nobody. There were strikes at some hospitals, partial strikes at others and no strikes at all at yet others. The Insaf Doctors Forum has condemned political interference, patients’ relatives have held protests and burned tyres and the PML-N leader Amir Maqam has stirred the pot by going to Hayatabad Medical Complex and appearing to incite doctors to strike. This has led Mr Khan to ask the chief minister to file an FIR against him and, in the midst of the political grandstanding, patient services are pushed aside and healthcare in general takes another step backwards. A poverty of competencies lies at the heart of the problem. Difficult as it may be, and inconvenient, stakeholder consultation prior to implementation is essential if the evident chaos is to be avoided. Un-making corrupt and bad practice is never easy, be it in healthcare or anywhere else. We prescribe a dose of management training for all concerned.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2016.

Criteria behind censorship

Is there any logic or coherence in the way the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has tried to block objectionable online content? The short answer is ‘no’. Last month, the PTA had provided internet service providers with a list of over 400,000 domains that needed to be blocked for pornographic content. According to the PTA, it had been asked by the Supreme Court to “take remedial steps to quantify the nefarious phenomenon of obscenity and pornography that has an imminent role to corrupt and vitiate the youth of Pakistan”. It has now emerged that among the hundreds of thousands of websites on the list provided by the PTA, there are countless websites whose content cannot be considered obscene by any stretch of the imagination. Among these is the microblogging website ‘Tumblr’ as well as websites for photography, ecommerce, blogging and business.

While not all of these websites may have been blocked yet, their mere presence on the list is disturbing, indicating that the PTA has little understanding of the nature of online content. It is completely baffling to comprehend how ‘Tumblr’ could possibly be considered a “nefarious phenomenon of obscenity”. Some time back, even Instagram, the popular photo and video-sharing social-networking service with nearly 400 million users globally, was blocked for some days. Clearly, there is no system or transparency behind these actions. What the PTA has ostensibly ignored is that people who want to access blocked content will be able to do so through the use of proxies and VPNs. The YouTube ban lasted for over three years. And who suffered? Mostly people who were not tech-savvy enough to find ways to access content blocked by the government. YouTube and social networking websites, among other online content, provide an avenue for people to educate themselves, find entertainment, launch businesses and expand their careers. Yet, the authorities conveniently snatch this access away from citizens with there being little or no accountability. It is time freedom of information is recognised as a basic right in this country in the true sense of the word.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2016.

Criteria behind censorship

Is there any logic or coherence in the way the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has tried to block objectionable online content? The short answer is ‘no’. Last month, the PTA had provided internet service providers with a list of over 400,000 domains that needed to be blocked for pornographic content. According to the PTA, it had been asked by the Supreme Court to “take remedial steps to quantify the nefarious phenomenon of obscenity and pornography that has an imminent role to corrupt and vitiate the youth of Pakistan”. It has now emerged that among the hundreds of thousands of websites on the list provided by the PTA, there are countless websites whose content cannot be considered obscene by any stretch of the imagination. Among these is the microblogging website ‘Tumblr’ as well as websites for photography, ecommerce, blogging and business.

While not all of these websites may have been blocked yet, their mere presence on the list is disturbing, indicating that the PTA has little understanding of the nature of online content. It is completely baffling to comprehend how ‘Tumblr’ could possibly be considered a “nefarious phenomenon of obscenity”. Some time back, even Instagram, the popular photo and video-sharing social-networking service with nearly 400 million users globally, was blocked for some days. Clearly, there is no system or transparency behind these actions. What the PTA has ostensibly ignored is that people who want to access blocked content will be able to do so through the use of proxies and VPNs. The YouTube ban lasted for over three years. And who suffered? Mostly people who were not tech-savvy enough to find ways to access content blocked by the government. YouTube and social networking websites, among other online content, provide an avenue for people to educate themselves, find entertainment, launch businesses and expand their careers. Yet, the authorities conveniently snatch this access away from citizens with there being little or no accountability. It is time freedom of information is recognised as a basic right in this country in the true sense of the word.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 11th, 2016.

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