You are hereWhat On Earth Is 'Relief'? (Free Pakistan Newsletter # 127 & 128)

What On Earth Is 'Relief'? (Free Pakistan Newsletter # 127 & 128)


08 August 2011

CONTENTS: 

   By Farooq Tirmizi
 
 

 FreePakistan Newsletter # 127 & 128
[July & August, 2011]

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PHILOSOPHY OF LIBERTY
 
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By Farooq Tirmizi
 
[The article first appeared in The Express Tribune on June 6, 2011.]
 
For the journalists who cried themselves hoarse that the federal government’s budget for fiscal year 2012 contained no ‘relief’ for the masses, I have a few questions: what on earth is ‘relief’, why should the government provide it, how should they provide it and who should pay for it?
 
I ask these questions because, barring some notable exceptions, their editors certainly seem to have been content not to ask them anything about the nature of their stories.
 
At the risk of being eviscerated by my journalist colleagues, I would like to review how the budget was covered in some of the leading print outlets (which have the luxury of far more time than the electronic media) in Pakistan. The objective of this piece is to show not only that economic journalists frequently do not get answers from policymakers, but that, far too often, they do not even ask the right questions.
 
There were two fundamental problems with the coverage by the print media. The first was the acceptance of what can be described as the ‘narrative of relief’, where a budget is judged by the amount of ‘relief’ it provides to the public. And the second was an inability on the part of most media outlets to understand the numbers and put them in the right context.
 
The narrative of ‘relief’
 
For any student of economics or public policy issues, perhaps the most maddening part about the media’s coverage is the constant demand by journalists – and by extension, the public – for ‘relief’ from the government. Every government is then judged by the ability to provide such ‘relief’, which is the most vague and poorly defined concept in Pakistani public discourse.
 
In the English-language press, the two newspapers most guilty of accepting and propagating the ‘relief’ narrative were The Nation and The Daily Times.
 
The Nation was particularly irresponsible in its coverage by giving “Poor to get poorer” as their banner headline on the day after the budget. Daily Times had a slightly better, but still problematic, “Budget more a burden than relief”.
 
The first thing that I would like to ask these papers is: what on earth is ‘relief’? If by ‘relief’ they mean subsidies and salary increments for government employees, this budget contained both. If it was not enough for their liking, they are free to say so in their editorials that appear on that day. But making their opinion the focal point of their main headlines on one of the few editions where the economy is the lead story was downright irresponsible.
 
And for that matter, I would like to ask them: how much ‘relief’ is enough? Should food and fuel in Pakistan be completely free? If not, then how much is a fair price? How would one even determine what constitutes a fair price without a market mechanism? And why should the government subsidise consumption of any item for any citizen? And if it should, how should it pay for it?
 
These same newspapers cried bloody murder when the government decided to remove tax exemptions (both calling the removal a ‘burden’) from several sectors in an effort to broaden the tax net, something that every media outlet has been calling for.
 
So the government should raise its revenues by taxing more people, but when it actually does so, it is lambasted in the most comically obscene fashion. And the government must reduce its expenses, but when it tries to reduce its second biggest non-discretionary spending item – subsidies – the government is being unfair. So raising revenues is out of the question and cutting expenses is a bad thing but the government is still deemed incompetent for running a fiscal deficit? How does any of this make sense?
 
These two newspapers are not the only ones that bought into that narrative. The News marred its otherwise reasonably well-done coverage by carrying an opinion piece calling for ‘relief’ on their front page. And even The Express Tribune shamelessy called for more subsidies in its editorial on the day after the budget.
 
Getting the numbers wrong
 
More often than not, editors and reporters have a difficult time understanding the government’s numbers and the way it reports them, which are geared more for the civil service’s own purposes rather than how they should be reported to the public.
 
Perhaps the most embarrassing was Dawn’s front page, which had the two most irrelevant pie-charts one could imagine, based on a data table that just happens to be the first one in the handout given to journalists by the finance ministry.
 
Telling the reader that “current expenditure” accounts for the bulk of government spending says nothing: they need to know the breakdown between defence, development, subsidies and debt servicing, which was on subsequent pages of that same document. This was not just a mistake: it reflected incomprehension of the fundamental questions that need to be asked and answered by journalists covering the budget.
[Courtesy The Express Tribune]
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ONE MORE SILENCED
[Mahabat Khan Bangash, Peshawar]
 
Saleem Shahzad's murder is yet another tragedy. The journalist was kidnapped and murdered by "unknown"people in cold blood. The lawlessness we witness today in the country is not different from that which prevailed in East Pakistan during the 1970s, when scholars, journalists, politicians and intellectuals were kidnapped and killed. [The News]
 
DEATH OF AJOURNALIST
[Muhammad Fahim Amjad, Karachi]
 
When will we in Pakistan stop treating the terrorists and religious militants as strategic assets and see them for the monsters that they are, killing thousands of Pakistani civilians and soldiers? Those in the establishment who harbour such views should now realise that people are not foolish and they know what is going on. The media, too, should take its head out of the sand and wake up to this reality and carry out its responsibility of keeping the public informed of the truth. We need to stop living in denial. [The Express Tribune]
 
MURDER OF SALEEM SHAHZAD
[Air Cdre (r) Mohammad Yaqoob Khan, Rawalpindi]
 
The cold-blooded murder of Salim Shahzad is reflective of the anarchic conditions prevalent in the country. What is more alarming is the fact that he was abducted by unknown assailants from a high security zone in Islamabad. He will be counted among those brave journalists who laid down their lives in the line of duty. He had recently filed stories about the activities of some Al-Qaeda members and circumstances pertaining to the Abbottabad and the PNS Mehran episodes. Most probably the forces fearing to be exposed have put an end to his life.
 
Where is the state machinery whose responsibility it is to protect the life, property and honour of the citizens of this country? How long will those telling the truth or searching for the facts keep paying with their lives? [The News]
 
A CALL FOR JUSTICE
[Sohail Ahmed Memon, Sukkur]
 
When citizens are not safe in a country, how can they talk of a free and safe press. Journalism, which is the fourth pillar of the state, is particularly a field of risk and dangerous in a country like Pakistan. It was reported in 2009 that since the year 2000 almost 70 journalists had been killed in the country. Mohammad Ibrahim was shot down in May 2008 in Bajaur Agency and the young talented Wali Khan Babar was slain in Karachi. Saleem Shahzad was recently killed. Umar Cheema, journalist working for a local newspaper, was first kidnapped, tortured and then set free. How long will our journalists face the brunt of it all? Are they not humans? I would like to urge the government to ensure the safety of journalists, who are working tirelessly to seek the truth. [Dawn]
 
SILENCED FOREVER
[Mahabat Khan Bangash, Peshawar]
 
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that orders have been passed to allow journalists to carry small arms for self-protection. What an immature response to the tragic death of Saleem Shahzad!
 
Is it really possible to protect one's self from the "forces" engaged in broad daylight crimes throughout the country? I am sure he knows the answer. [The News]
 
SALEEM SHAHZAD’S MURDER
[Imran Ahsan Mirza, Sydney]
 
The people in Pakistan are being deceived. The sequence of events is that Saleem Shahzad’s mobile calls were tapped for a long time by intelligence agencies. They knew, by listening in on that fateful day, where he was headed. He did not reach his destined TV station for an interview which might have been potentially damaging. Shahzad was tortured in military style and thrown into a river later. The DG, ISI, denied the organisation’s involvement. He should, however, find the rogue agents operating in Islamabad who have been torturing and harassing journalists. [Dawn]
 
MY FRIEND SALEEM
[Carol Grayson, London]
 
This is with reference to your editorial of June 3 titled “The death of truth” on the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad. My dear friend and colleague Saleem had integrity and was meticulous in his research. He did not compromise on the truth, which was risky. He dug deeper than most and some were afraid of his words. He was also a man to make careful preparations for all eventualities. Truth is absolute and cannot be altered. Those who truly cared for Saleem will leave no stone unturned to bring those who brutally murdered him to account. Sometimes a finger points from beyond the grave, we just need to follow its direction. [The Express Tribune]
 
A MURDER THAT MUST NOT GO UNNOTICED
[Professor Kabil Khan, Peshawar]
 
The unfortunate killing of Saleem Shahzad seems to be an episode straight out of a mystery story, murder that must not go unnoticed. The only difference is that normally the sleuths have to find evidence of who the real killers are, whereas here the killers are known- or almost known- to be those who had issued a threat just a few days before the actual crime. This shows how stupid they are in their dealings and manner in which they dispose off their targets. Furthermore, that the accused have provided no denial or an argument to clarify their name must surely mean something, that they are to be completely blamed, a fact that compels us to loath them all the more for their unintelligent and dim-witted tactics that bring the entire nation a bad name. [The Nation]
 
PROTEST BY JOURNALISTS
[Muhammad Mahroof, Rawalpindi]
  
A dahrna in front of the parliament building by journalists to demand a probe into slain journalist Saleem Shahzad's murder was a good show of unity. It resulted in an announcement by the government of formation of a judicial commission to look into the matter. The way journalists are raising their voice against the highhandedness of our agencies and establishment is amazing. These agencies should realise that gone are the days when they could pick and persecute anyone.
 
It offers us great hope that despite threats to their lives and assassination of many journalists so far, this community, rather than withdrawing from its commitment, has shown great determination and resolve to fight for its rights. [Dawn]
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NBP PLAYS PIVOTAL ROLE BY GIVING BACK TO SOCIETY THROUGH ITS CSR INITIATIVES
 
Corporate Social Responsibility, you may call it corporate conscience; corporate citizenship, social performance, or sustainable responsible business is a form of corporate self-regulation integrated into any business module. Any CSR-focused business would proactively promote the public interest by encouraging community growth and development, and voluntarily eliminating practices that harm the public sphere, regardless of legality.
 
CSR is basically the deliberate inclusion of public interest into corporate decision-making. National Bank of Pakistan, a bank serving the nation with international presence as well is not behind on the CSR front. The Bank is running a full fledge CSR Program aimed at discharging its responsibilities towards the society.
 
Being fully aware of its social obligations, it continues to proactively contribute towards social welfare, healthcare, education etc to help improve the quality of life for the underprivileged members of the country. In the last 6 months NBP's social support activities were speeded up, and it also extended support to a number of charitable institutions too.
 
NBP sincerely believes that education is the panacea to most problems prevailing in the country and that is the area where concerted efforts are needed by all segments of the society. Therefore, NBP kept its focus on different activities supporting the cause of education whether it's setting up a library in a down-trodden area like Lyari (Karachi) or the rehabilitation and renovation work of Degree College at Khairpur Nathan Shah, on completion of which about 3000 students will be able to resume their educational activities. Since the very purpose of the education has always been enlightening the minds and creating leadership qualities among the recipients, NBP is seen organising Motivational Volunteer Empowerment (MOVE) training program for IBA Sukkur students with the aim to develop leadership qualities and motivate individuals to effect change in the society.
 
Being the veteran and premier financial organisation in Pakistan, NBP takes its role in the community very seriously and never loses sight of the fact that it constitutes an integral part of the nation's society. That is the reason it gives equal importance to health sector and this is evident from the up gradation of Emergency Ward in Civil Hospital, Mirpurkhas which is the only government hospital in that area that not only caters to the medical needs of the population in city as well as in villages located in 50 kilometers of radius of Mirpurkhas. Besides that NBP organised numerous free Medical and eye camps in various parts of the country and about 4700 patients benefited from those camps and more than 1,150 received medicines, eyeglasses, etc and all those were funded by NBP.
 
Economic independence and self-sufficiency are the two essential needs that uphold the self-respect of a person. The major challenge after the unprecedented flood of 2010 was the economic rehabilitation of the affected families. NBP stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the nation. NBP in association with the Social Welfare Department, Government of Sindh, conducted a one-month vocational training program of stitching & embroidery for the women of affected families. Two hundred women participated in this Program which was organised in Karachi. On the successful completion of the training, NBP distributed sewing machines and Training Kits to the trainees. Similar efforts were also made for the poor women of the Mandian village of Abbottabad where NBP arranged another vocational training program for female inhabitants of the Darul Aman.
 
Women have also proved their prowess in the field of sports by winning many titles and laurels for the country. NBP is always a step ahead in acknowledging their contribution. In appreciation of the same which is evident from the fact that NBP supported Women Hockey Championship in Karachi in January, 2011.
 
To alleviate the sense of deprivation in the Special Children and bringing them in the mainstream of the society, NBP also arranged numerous events for special children to include National Wheel Chair Cricket Tournament in Islamabad. Not only that, NBP has also sponsored the just concluded All Pakistan Wheel Chairs Cricket Tournament in Karachi. The Final was telecast live on nation-wide by PTV.
 
As the NBP always praised the National heroes, in appreciation of the achievements of two-time World Champions Pakistan Blind Cricket Team, the Bank organised an All Pakistan Blind Cricket Tournament at Bahawalpur. Another objective of that tournament was grooming and polishing the young and upcoming talented blind cricketers.
 
NBP has never overlooked the global perspective, As such, to mark solidarity with the Special Children throughout the World, NBP in alliance with Professor Iqbal Memorial Welfare Trust, organised a series of sporting events for Special Children at National Sports & training Centre, Karachi.
 
And to add another feather of achievement, NBP, in collaboration with the Family Education Services foundation, organised Children benefit Concert at PAF Museum Karachi. Prominent artists like Najam Sheraz, Shazia Khushk, and the International fame Heartbeat Band performed for the handicapped and under-privileged children.
 
Culture is another subject of importance for the NBP CSR program in which it has been supporting different organisations. One such organisation is the peoples Culture Wing, the aim of which is to promote culture, artists and heritage. PCW organised the 3rd Annual Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Award of excellence in June, 2010 at PNCA auditorium, Islamabad. In this program, Awards were presented to all those distinguished personalities, artists, athletes and community workers who played a significant role for the promotion of culture, arts, communal services, economics and other fields of life and served the nation.
 
In a nutshell if we look at the history of NBP, it has always been playing vital roles in uplifting the society especially for the people living in remote down-trodden areas and bringing them in parity with other parts of the country. As such, I feel no hesitation in acknowledging that NBP is truly the leader in banking sector both in terms of banking practices as well as performing its social responsibilities. [Courtesy Business Recorder]
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Edited and prepared by
Khalil Ahmad
 
 
[FreePakistan Newsletter, among other things, is a compilation of views and news taken from the national newspapers’ print and online editions. It is not possible to mention the source of every piece of news or view made use of herein; but as a matter of policy, where possible the source is mentioned with due thanks. However, no opinion expressed here should necessarily be taken as reflecting the view of Free Pakistan Newsletter.]
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