On a whim

Published May 29, 2024

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s nuclear tests in 1998 — underscores an overlooked national issue: excessive and often late-notified public holidays. Regardless of the significance of the event, the wisdom behind turning such annual observances into public holidays must be reconsidered. Holidays, especially those abruptly announced, disrupt critical services and economic activities. Manufacturing is halted, banking remains shut, trade and retail sectors close their doors, and the entire machinery of daily life grinds to a halt. For a country grappling with economic challenges, each productive day is invaluable. Monday’s announcement caused chaos, particularly in the education sector. Matric exams — already delayed due to the heatwave — and intermediate exams were postponed, causing confusion among students, parents, and educational authorities. Such last-minute decisions create unnecessary stress and disrupt plans. Moreover, the timing of this holiday, just before the extended Eid holidays, exacerbates the issue. With Eid typically resulting in a three to four-day break, adding another public holiday so close to this period strains productivity even further.

The government needs to reassess its approach. While it is important to honour national milestones, this can be done without causing disruptions: special campaigns can commemorate these events without shutting down services and industries. Late-notified holidays also reflect poor planning and communication within government. Employees and employers are left in limbo, unsure whether they need to report to work or not. This uncertainty breeds inefficiency. It is imperative for the government to establish a clear schedule of holidays well in advance, minimising disruption and allowing all sectors to plan accordingly. While the importance of rest cannot be understated — Pakistanis are overworked as it is — the balance between honouring significant occasions and maintaining economic and administrative continuity should be handled with care, not on a whim.

Published in Dawn, May 29th, 2024

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