DAWN - Editorial; September 12, 2005

September 12, 2005


Need for consensus

REPORTS that the federal government is planning to transfer more subjects to the provinces out of the concurrent list deserve to be welcomed. Such a move was overdue, because restricted autonomy has been cause of much resentment among the provinces. Even though federal in nature, the 1973 Constitution has a strong bias in favour of the centre. According to article 142- (c), a provincial assembly has the power to make laws “with respect to any matter not enumerated in either the federal legislative list or the concurrent list”. Significantly, the fourth schedule has only two lists — federal and concurrent — and does not have a provincial list. The federal list contains 67 subjects (59 in Part I and eight in Part II). The concurrent list consists of 47 subjects, leaving very little for the federating units to legislate on. In other words, the provinces have the right to legislate on very small number of subjects “not enumerated either in the federal legislative list or in the concurrent list”. In matters of tax collection especially, the Basic Law virtually denies the constituent units any worthwhile sources of revenue. As a perusal of taxation powers will show, the federal government has reserved for itself almost all sources of revenue. The federal taxes mentioned in the fourth schedule — points 43 to 54 — include virtually all taxes, except, very significantly, “taxes on income other than agricultural income”.

If Pakistan’s federal structure is to strengthen itself, it must be based on a system where the constituent units feel fully accommodated as an equal part of the state rather than an adjunct of the federal government. That the denial of legitimate provincial rights could prove disastrous is evident from the 1971 tragedy. The Ayubian constitution of 1962 was presidential, with the federation consisting of only two provinces. Yet the way it existed in principle and in operation, created resentment in East Pakistan that generated political tensions and ultimately led to the 1971 trauma. We have similar problems with the 1973 Constitution, because small provinces have grievances which have at times caused serious differences. Balochistan, the country’s largest province territorially, has for decades felt aggrieved on two counts: first, it feels that the quantum of provincial autonomy mentioned in the 1973 Constitution is inadequate; two, even the existing provisions relating to provincial rights are not fully implemented in letter and spirit.

Now that an 18th amendment bill is on the anvil, let there be a national debate on the issues involved. Often, the subject of provincial autonomy falls victim to the politico-emotional rhetoric of politicians. This inhibits a meaningful debate that could settle the question and lead to a national consensus on such a vital question as provincial autonomy. There is also no agreement yet on the national finance award for sharing of resources. This has as much to do with the constitutional provisions as with our failure to work the federal system wisely. One hopes that the government will release the draft of the bill before it is formally tabled in parliament. This will help constitutional experts, parliamentarians and the media discuss the issue threadbare and develop a constitutional scheme that will reconcile the viewpoints of the protagonists of maximum provincial autonomy and those who believe in a strong centre and also ensure that existing provisions such as the Council of Common Interest are strengthened and fully implemented.

Children’s dietary needs

THE report on Friday that 40 per cent of children in the country are malnourished doesn’t come as a surprise. Statistics for children in Pakistan have always made for depressing reading and these recent figures from a seminar in Karachi only confirm the worst fears. In Karachi alone, 70 to 80 per cent of children who sought treatment at a hospital in Lyari were severely malnourished. A senior doctor commented that while this may not count as physical abuse, it is neglect that is damaging children’s health and welfare. It will be difficult to alleviate a child’s woes without reducing the level of poverty. Over 30 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line while 50 per cent of children born in South Asia remain malnourished. The government’s failure to curb the population growth rate — placed at 2.4 per cent per year — despite its much-vaunted but ineffective family planning campaigns, is arguably the leading cause of poverty. How parents are expected to support their families in these trying economic times with high inflation rates and no state support is anyone’s guess. No wonder, faced with no option, parents send their children off to work to earn. One only hopes that the prime minister was serious when he said in June that he would work hard to eliminate the curse of child labour, in which ten million children are trapped. To spread awareness on improving children’s physical well-being, health care practitioners, government representatives and NGO workers would be well advised to disseminate information on proper dietary requirements. More often that not, parents are unaware of healthy food alternatives that can nourish their children. Traditional notions of food and nutrition, which are often unscientific, are still practised by poor families. For example, parents will feed their child a greasy paratha when they could easily give it porridge without any extra cost. Cheap unhealthy junk food will be given precedence over fruit and vegetables. Such useful advice can have far-reaching beneficial effects on a child’s growth and welfare which is why it is important such information is spread around as part of a systematic campaign.

Beachfront development

KARACHI’S trademark Clifton beachfront and its accompanying recreation area is currently being refurbished at a cost of half a billion rupees. According to a report, the Sindh governor who visited the project site on Friday was told by district government officials that a park spread over 80 acres was also being built and that it would have a jogging track and picnic spots. The city has seen hundreds of its parks and plots meant to accommodate parks all eaten up by a thriving land mafia, and keeping that in mind, it is hoped the project will be able to provide a much-needed avenue for recreation and entertainment. Traditionally, Clifton and specifically the site undergoing renovation — which used to house an amusement park and an aquarium lying closed for several years — have comprised a popular rendezvous for people for an evening’s outing.

In the past, many parks developed by the city government have been made the exclusive preserve of the affluent and the privileged, with hefty entrance fees deterring low-income visitors. The new park and recreation area should be priced in a way that they remain affordable for the vast majority of the city’s population. Many of those who frequent such spots do not have transport of their own and have to use buses, trucks and vans to travel miles from their homes. While such development of parks and recreation areas is more than welcome, it needs to be done in a manner that it takes into consideration all the problems that the public may encounter.

End of textile row with China

By Shadaba Islam

THE European Union faces a tough autumn agenda, with preparations underway for the opening of membership talks with Turkey, uncertainty about what to do in the face of Iran’s decision to resume nuclear activity and a change of government expected in Germany, the bloc’s largest nation and strongest economy.

Meanwhile, the sudden illness of French President Jacques Chirac has galvanized the country’s politicians, especially interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, to start gearing up for presidential elections set for 2007.

EU policymakers came back to work after the summer break to find a textile war raging with China and Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson under fire for having bungled implementation of a textile import restriction pact signed with Beijing in June. The embarrassing crisis finally ended this week, with the bloc’s governments giving the green light to the release of millions of Chinese pullovers, trousers and women’s underwear which had been piling up in warehouses across Europe for the last few months.

The end of the fiasco was greeted with sighs of relief from EU retailers who can now finally display and sell their autumn and winter collections to impatient consumers within the next few weeks. But the end of the long-running summer “textile wars” with China has also been met by complaints and recriminations over how Mandelson and his department handled the crisis.

The problem stemmed from the arrival of massive quantities of Chinese garments in EU ports in July and August. European customs authorities seized the goods which they said were in excess of EU-China textile quotas hammered out by Mandelson and his Chinese counterpart Bo Xilai in June.

The messy episode has dealt a bitter blow to the standing of EU trade officials who have long been reputed worldwide for their savvy negotiating skills. The reputation of Mandelson, a close ally of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has also taken a serious beating.

Retailers say the problem could have been avoided if Mandelson and EU trade officials had paid attention to the basics of textile business cycles. For instance, the import quota deal was announced and implemented in the summer while European retailers had already signed delivery and supply contracts with Chinese exporters much earlier in the year. As a result, it was inevitable that quotas were overshot and goods started piling up in EU ports, they say.

One key problem facing Mandelson clearly is that European textile manufacturers wield enormous political muscle in the EU and have traditionally used this clout to ensure that EU policy reflects their protectionist interests. The voice of European consumers and retailers is rarely heard.

Mandelson, who has also been criticized for under-estimating the complexity of world trade and mishandling the affair, was under enormous pressure to slap the quotas not just from the European textile industry but also from France, whose government wanted EU support in the wake of the rejection of the EU treaty by French voters in May.

British newspapers spent most of the summer pillorying Mandelson for being indifferent to the anguish of millions of European consumers who faced massive clothing shortages if the Chinese goods remained in warehouses. The man once known as the “Prince of Darkness” because of his ruthless control of Blair’s New Labour policies, was accused of enjoying himself on Italy’s Amalfi coast while small European businesses faced job losses and bankruptcy. Free-traders said he was giving in to protectionist EU nations while France, Spain and Italy accused him of sinking their domestic textile industries.

The embattled EU trade chief insisted recently that he did not believe in tinkering with free trade. “I am for open trade. I am for liberalization,” Mandelson underlined in a recent speech in Beijing. But a commitment to free trade did sometimes have to accommodate “practical politics,” he cautioned.

“I have to recognize and manage public pressures and to reconcile them when they clash,” Mandelson said, adding: “I had no choice last June but to find some temporary relief for European producers who...were against the wall.”

However, as Graham Watson, leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament, has warned, the Chinese textile crisis illustrates that the EU does not always play fair in world trade. The EU “cannot reasonably argue to our trade partners for greater market access and free trade if we are prepared to close off our own markets at the drop of a hat,” Watson warned.

Interestingly, the textile war with China ended just hours before EU and Chinese leaders in Beijing hailed each other as strategic partners and celebrated thirty years of diplomatic relations.

Having successfully wooed China, EU leaders including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, then proceeded to court India at a joint summit in Delhi with the launch of an “action plan” and a political declaration signalling a joint commitment to “enhanced engagement” in trade, technology and security cooperation. The plan “puts the relation between the European Union and India on a new and higher and more intense level,” underlined Blair.

Despite the spin and hype, however, the EU has a long way to go to catch up with the US, which has been aggressively wooing India commercially, militarily and diplomatically as a counterweight to China.

Blair’s message, however, was partly directed at other EU leaders when he insisted that rather than fearing China, India and other Asian nations as low-wage job thieves, Europe should build closer trading ties with them, look at the region as an opportunity rather than a threat, and modernize its economies to meet the challenge from them.

The British prime minister also faces an uphill struggle in his bid to open EU membership talks with Turkey as planned on October 3. All EU governments agree in principle that negotiations should begin on schedule. But British diplomats are fighting hard to ensure that last-minute haggling over Turkey’s relations with Cyprus do not delay the opening of the talks.

The EU is working on a declaration calling on Turkey to normalize ties with Cyprus. An agreement on a negotiating framework allowing Turkey to open talks with EU is also being hammered out. Diplomats say both documents will be ready by October 3, allowing membership talks to start on time.

But 25 EU states are still searching for a consensus on the Cyprus text, with the British EU presidency holding bilateral talks on the issue with Nicosia and other European capitals. Discussions currently focus on the thorny issue of Turkish recognition of Cyprus and demands that Turkey’s application of its customs union pact with the EU is closely monitored to ensure Ankara does not discriminate against Nicosia.

Diplomats say Cyprus, backed by some other states, was insisting that Turkish recognition must be linked to the EU accession process, not just United Nations efforts to seek a settlement to the division of the Mediterranean island. Cyprus is also demanding tougher wording to ensure full Turkish implementation of the customs union pact, including an end of Ankara’s blockade of Cypriot shipping and flights.

Turkish leaders warned last week that they did not intend to make any more concessions to secure the opening of talks. All legal obligations imposed by the EU — including the introduction of key legal reforms and the signing of a protocol extending the Turkish customs union to new EU member states, including Cyprus — had been met, they said.

EU relations with Iran look set to remain fraught in the coming months, with diplomats in Brussels predicting that members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna later this month will certainly refer Iran’s nuclear plans to the United Nations Security Council.

Iran’s decision to resume uranium conversion in Isfahan and to cut off nuclear talks with Britain, France and Germany meant that efforts at nuclear diplomacy by the so-called EU trio had now come to an end, said a senior EU diplomat recently.

The “logical next step is for Iran to be reported to the UN Security Council,” the diplomat said, adding: “It is reasonable at this stage to put the authority of the Security Council behind the IAEA.” But “this is not the moment to talk of sanctions” against Teheran, he stressed.

Iran has stressed repeatedly that it will not stop the uranium conversion process in Isfahan which it says is part of the country’s civilian nuclear programme.

On the domestic front, the EU focus is on upcoming German elections on September 18 and the rising prospect of a “grand coalition” running the country, under the leadership of Angela Merkel, the opposition conservative party leader who is giving Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder a run for his money.

After taking a battering in polls through the summer, Schroeder’s Social Democrats posted big gains in an opinion poll this week which also for the first time showed challenger Merkel’s conservative bloc without a parliamentary majority. If this is confirmed in elections and neither party secures an overall majority, German politicians from the right and the left will have no choice but to work together in a “grand coalition” which some fear could be a recipe for government paralysis in Europe’s largest nation.

Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac comes back to the Elysee this week from a stay in hospital for a vascular problem in his eye. The French media has criticized the secrecy surrounding his illness while also pointing to the barely concealed struggle to succeed the 72-year-old president which has broken out among politicians in the country.

Newspapers have been reporting on the naked ambitions of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who makes little secret of his determination to take over from Chirac in elections set for 2007. Chirac has always left open the possibility of seeking a third term, a way to gain leverage over rivals, but seems increasingly ready to put his weight behind his long-term protege Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Although they come from very different countries and backgrounds, both Germany’s Merkel and Sarkozy in France have underlined their opposition to Turkish membership of the EU and both oppose the start of entry talks with Ankara on October 3. Analysts say that while they will not be able to disrupt the opening of negotiations next month, Merkel and Sarkozy could use their influence to slow down the talks with Turkey over the coming years.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2005