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Express Tribune Editorials

Express Tribune Editorials – 22 June 2015

Pulling up the PPP

Right now, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) seems to have been flung out at the mainstream of politics and thrown virtually to the ground from where it seems to be attempting to pick itself up, bit by bit. The emotional tirade given by former president and the party’s co-chairperson, Asif Ali Zardari, attacking the establishment has led to almost all other mainstream parties choosing to stay away from the PPP and challenge its place in the mainstream of politics. An iftar dinner hosted on June 19 by Mr Zardari was attended only by former allies of the party when it was in government, including the MQM, the ANP, the JUI-F and the PML-Q. Some of the leaders of these parties even arrived late while other parties, though invited, chose to stay away altogether.

Meanwhile, PPP leaders have been trying to either explain or backtrack from Mr Zardari’s statement, stating that the PPP respected the military and the army chief, and had always backed Operation Zarb-e-Azb. There will be many who will be gloating over what is being interpreted as the downfall of the PPP. These include its political opponents as well as others strongly opposed to the party for other reasons. While Mr Zardari’s speech was a highly ill-advised one and much of the criticism directed at his party in its aftermath is justified, the fact is that Pakistan’s political arena needs the PPP. We need it because it is a party that in the past has shown that it represents all parts of the country and is capable of pulling the federation together, even if because of its own shenanigans it is now only limited to Sindh. We need the PPP because in many matters it offers a different ideological view from that of the current ruling party and also the PTI, which has emerged as the other main player on the political scene. The PPP urgently needs to work towards resurrecting itself. It can do this by first of all examining why its governance in Sindh has been such a mess and attempting to correct this. It must also examine the issue of alleged corruption and criminality within its ranks. It has no other choice but to do this if it wants to be a national force again.

Powerlessness in the Power Sector

The government, desperate in its attempt to collect some of the amount pending vis-a-vis electricity bills, has decided to offer a 30 per cent discount to power defaulters if they clear their dues by July. Additionally, the discount offer will lessen to 25 per cent by August and see a similar slash if dues aren’t cleared by September. If dues still haven’t been cleared by then, the cases of defaulters will be referred to the National Accountability Bureau. This desperate measure is a result of the private sector — mainly huge industrial units — owing Rs342.7 billion in power dues of which, according to a summary sent by the water and power ministry, only Rs181.8 billion are recoverable. The low number that the government thinks it can collect is a shame in itself. It should also be noted that the discount to power defaulters is being offered on the amount that the government thinks is recoverable and not the full amount that is owed to it, showing its levels of desperation.

With a toothless power sector, rife with outages, and transmission and distribution losses, power theft is an added issue. Even if the authorities are able to identify defaulters, they are happy in bending over backwards and offering them a discount in the hope of collecting at least some money. It has also proposed a five per cent reward for officials at power distribution companies who ‘help’ recover dues, giving the impression that this is not the reason why they receive their salaries in the first place. Ostensibly, helping their employer recover money that is legitimately owed to it is an ‘added’ job which must be rewarded. For all law-abiding citizens who clear their power dues in time, this is nothing less than an absurdity. For all the honesty and diligence of citizens, the government, in response, does little to give them any incentive or reward and continues, at times, to overcharge them to compensate for those who don’t pay at all. It is clear that huge industrial units have better bargaining power in this equation while honest citizens continue to face power outages even in this searing heat.

The American Illness

US President Barack Obama has during the course of his presidency stood before a microphone more than 12 times and issued statements of sorrow and condolence at mass shootings in America. Such mass shootings are dangerously close to becoming accepted as a part of the American way of life. President Obama stood before the microphone again in the immediate aftermath of the killings at the church in Charleston, South Carolina, where Dylann Roof, a white male, aged 21, had murdered his way into the history books. Roof killed nine people, all black, six women and three men, mostly senior citizens, and one of them the pastor of the church who was also a state senator. A survivor said that Roof told his victims that “they (blacks) raped our women and children … and had to be killed”. He used the .45 calibre pistol he bought with money given to him by his family to do just that.

This event is emblematic of the two defining American preoccupations of recent years — gun violence and racial hatred, particularly as expressed white-on-black. It is almost as if the struggles of African-Americans for their civil rights had never taken place, and there is a gradual reversion to a darker time. As for gun violence, President Obama has tried and failed to bring sanity to the madness of American gun culture. Powerful lobbies protect and support it, the National Rifle Association is a virtual sect of the Republican Party and millions of Americans say they would rather die than have their guns taken away from them — and quite probably they would, if any American government was unwise enough to try to do that. Already there are apologists for Roof’s actions and there are some who will quietly — for now — hail him as some sort of hero. The murderer was just the average white racist with a Facebook page proclaiming his affiliation to the cause of white supremacy. President Obama can expect to stand before the microphone at least a few more times before his presidency ends, because the American illness runs viscerally deep.

 Express Tribune Editorials – 22 June 2015

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