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Monthly Archive September 2017

Blocked…. then what about my freedom of expression?

Twitter has given many a voice and provided a great way of quick communication. Twitter has given us an amazing opportunity to express our views on “as and when” basis. We are able to express our anger and frustrations on any matter. We can attract the attention of a particular person or institute by tagging her. Where we have so much freedom, there comes its abuse as well. Some of us express our outrage on various matters while others among us protect certain things in the same matter.

I have observed a perception that blocking someone is against the freedom of speech. Some perceive it as a kind of running away from dialogue or argument. I don’t think it’s the real case. It’s more about choosing the company we want to keep. By blocking someone we exercise our right to see the content we want to see. Blocked accounts are still in a position to actively express their views. Their content is still reachable to those who want their content. Those who blocked others, for whatever reason, are just not receiving their content anymore. More than 20 people have blocked me and I am just fine with this. With this blocking they are not abusing any of my right; instead, they are exercising their own right to block any unwanted content. This is the case when a personal account blocks another personal account. If an account representing a state institution or paid from taxpayer money blocks general public, will it be any different?

Blocked by Govt-Funded accounts?

Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has its active (but one-way) presence on Twitter through @reportpemra. This account has blocked me for my tweet “Dear @reportpemra, who the hell r u to RT this tweet? Mind ur business.” The tweet in question was of Khawaja M Asif saying “PTI is finding it difficult to keep its rank & file united. Postponement of intraparty elections is prevention against disintegration…” This incident happened on May 27, 2016.

Another person @RazaAliKhan_ shared that he is blocked by Punjab’s Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (@smucmo) for saying “if a tweet could represent the PMLN mentality, here it is”. Here tweet in Q was a tweet by @smumo comparing two pics, one of dancing girls in a PTI jalsa and the other with girls on motorbikes with a caption “Take your pick: Entertainment or Empowerment”. This tweet of @smumo appears to be deleted.  I am blocked by individuals and now by one state institution. I don’t mind if individuals block anyone for reasons recorded above but we must be concerned when state institutions start blocking its citizen.

Women Empowerment, Twitter block, Punjab, Yasir Cheema

Which right is affected?

Blocking users by state institutions and Govt-funded accounts amount to an abuse of constitutionally protected rights. The affected rights, in my opinion, are access to information under article 19A, Equality before the law under article 25 and Non-discrimination in respect of access to public places under article 26.  With this blocking, PEMRA has placed restrictions on me to access the information as and when shared by this official account.

Blocking users by state institutions and Govt-funded accounts amount to an abuse of constitutionally protected rights. The affected rights are access to information under article 19A, Equality before the law under article 25 and Non-discrimination in respect of access to public places under article 26.  With this blocking, PEMRA has placed restrictions on me to access the information as and when shared by this official account.

Online presence of state institutions is a great thing and most of the time we have only one-way communication. In one way communication state institutions keep us updated on their work areas. PEMRA itself is the one. SBP is another wonderful example. SBP update us on its various reports, Policies and updates. Not to forget another one-way communication account that within limits of 140 characters shakes up the “democracy”. On two ways communication by state intuitions, the best example I can recall is the @HealthKPGovt account where you can ask a question and you will get the reply. Many of the users, including journalists, have asked @HealthKPGovt to clarify its position on a certain matter.  Such two-way communication has brought public much closer tot eh public body.

Institutional Values not Personal.

Media managers behind official accounts of state institutions have to come out of their personal affiliations and beliefs. When you are using an official account, you are there to reflect the position of that office/institution and not personal. You have all rights to express your view from your personal account. When you are entrusted to represent a state institution then you have to do it keeping in mind the rights of citizens protected under the constitution. I urge the media managers handling accounts of state institutions to unblock all the users and not to block any in future. I don’t wish to see such matters land in our already-loaded courts to secure our fundamental rights. A basic sense of democracy and fundamental rights should be enough to prevent all such childish actions.

Mortality rate and Girls’ education

 District Health Information System (DHIS) of KP Govt has released its report of 1st Quarter 2017. As a continuous monitoring system, reports talk about various health dimensions & profiles in each district. Punjab also had a DHIS which probably now is working under some other name. I tried to find some details from Punjab but couldn’t get yet. However, I will update for comparative study purpose once I get hold of those.

There are few numbers in KP’s report that got my attention. Neonatal mortality (death in 1st 28 days) rate recorded in 1st Q of 2017 is 32 deaths per 1000 live births. In Pakistan average rate of this is 46 and the world average rate is 19.2. Likewise, Infant mortality (death before 1st birthday) rate reported in KP is 27 deaths per 1000. Pakistan’s average rate on this is 66 and the world average is 31.7. Another aspect that came out here is about maternal mortality (death of the mother within 42 days of delivery). KP reported 208 deaths per 100,000 live births whereas Pakistan’s average on this is 178 and the world average is 216. Data for Pakistan & the world is for years 2015 &16. This data is taken from the world bank.

One more thing worth taking seriously is the Low birth-weight babies. It is also of concern when there is so much variation among districts. Only in 3 districts percentage of babies born with low weight (less than 2.5kg) is in double digits (Haripur [30%], Buner [27%] & Battagram [15.5%]) while in all other districts of KP it’s in single digit. The above data covers only the cases at Government Health facilities and the cases attended by Lady Health Workers. Report is available here

Paul O’Neil, an American civil servant, Later US Secretary of the treasury in Bush Administration. He was investigating high infant mortality rate in the US. At that time infant mortality rate in the US was even higher than in Europe. His research analyses lead him to the conclusion that infant mortality is mainly due to malnourishment. For the remedy, he proposed that govt should start educating women about nutrition before they become sexually active. The proposal came in with changes to school curriculum and teacher training. With his focus on curriculum and teacher training, together with other interventions, today the US has 68% lower mortality rate than that when Paul left that role.

Where do we stand and how we tackle this matter? We don’t have only this challenge; we have some other health challenges as well. National Survey 2016-17 on Diabetes revealed that 26% of our population is affected by diabetes. Another research study revealed that even bigger population is at arsenic poisoning risk. There is no stand-alone solution to our problems. Whatever approach we take, we sure will have one thing common in all our approaches. That common thing is our household & our eating habits. Our women need to be well aware of nutritious requirements in a household. This will not only help them but other family members as well.

What can we do?

Like Paul’s approach, we need to target our girls in school. We need to educate them in order to protect our future generations at or around delivery times. We need to educate them to protect our current & upcoming generations from the risks of diabetes and obesity. This solution sure is not the lone-fighter but a frontline soldier against our various health risks. How we do this education thing? My approach to the matter will be to start a program on “Nutrition and Public Health” for the students of class 9, 10, 11 & 12 conducted by Health Department of the province. Health Department, for each district, on a need basis, can engage full-time lecturers on the subject.  Then, together with Education Departments plan out to one lecture to each class ones in every 6 months.

Working out on such rotation is not a difficult thing. Punjab Govt’s has already a plan whereby they have one inspector who visits each School once a month so does the KP Govt. Movement/rotation planning is not an issue at all. This Lecture frequency can be twice a 6 month for students of grade 9 & 10 as in our rural areas post-secondary opt-out chances are higher. Health departments can work out with private schools and chalk out plans to educate students enrolled there. Ultimately these students, too, are as much part of the society as those in Govt schools. To include “Nutrition and Public Health” course for assessment, say shifting a few marks share to it from Pakistan & Islamic studies, will be a bad idea?

Such a program will produce results in 4-5 years’ time. This will assist to significantly improve our eating habits, diets and reduces our chances of illness. Well-nourished moms-to-be can give birth to healthy kids and they may survive early departures associated with malnutrition. In return for Govt, it will reduce Govt’s & public’s medical expenditures. It will help for a shift to more healthy foods and living style

 

(Featured image is taken from @PH2dayAffairs Twitter feed.)

 

Electing the Chief Executive

As the season is approaching, conscious’ renewal exercise has started. As it happens before every election, our politicians find betrayal for the greater public good from their existing party and hope their new party will serve the public better. For the leaving party, they are the opportunist and the receiving party presents it as an attraction of her vision and philosophy. Then here we are calling names to all changing parties.  My understanding is that neither the person leaves a party for the reason he describes (largely) nor the party accepts him for his conviction to party policy but both understand it’s in their mutual interest if they can get along together. If the person contests on receiving party’s ticket, he is most likely to win, or at least both calculate that outcome. The question is why all this happen? I find two major faults causing this issue. One is a constitutional scheme to elect the Prime Minister and the other is the election of District & Tehsil Nazims.

Our current constitutional scheme and constituency practice, together, has practically forced every Prime Minister aspirant to rely on those who can win a seat. To be PM he sure needs numbers o he (or the party leader) has to be careful in awarding party tickets. Such an arrangement by-default limits the freedom for party chiefs to bring in new candidates or those without any strong political presence in the constituency. We are still way back where people vote on their conscious. If a PM is directly elected by the public instead of the parliament, he is free from parliamentary pressure groups or producing loyalists in parliament for his own sake. PM should be elected with “absolute majority” even if for this have to go for the 2nd round. Elections of the National assembly shall commence after the election of the PM. Such an arrangement will relatively give more freedom to the PM to introduce new faces in the system. While president office can remain as it is, a constitutional revision about the vote of no confidence against PM may be required.  For the purpose of the vote of no confidence, all provisional assemblies, national assembly and senate may form an electoral college and a two third majority may cause the removal of a PM. Similarly, Chief Minister of the province should also be elected directly.

The second issue lies at the heart of Local Govt system. In LG systems, chief executive of the local govt should also be directly elected. A person directly elected at this stage will produce more leaders available for the provincial and national assemblies. Currently, Tehsil Nazim and District Nazim are indirectly elected leaving them with very limited exposure to public politics and with no much chance for them to play in a bigger constituency. Producing candidates at Tehsil and district levels who are experienced in full constituency elections will give more choice to an elected PM to elevate these people to the national of provincial assemblies thus further reducing his reliance on generation-old politicians.

If we continued with the current system, we will not have enough choice available for the replacements. Directly electing District & Tehsil Nazim will significantly increase our pool of available candidates for national and provincial assemblies in 2 election terms. It is important that we amend our electoral system as such that it creates ways for the new entrants.

 

Liberating Public Service for better quality and service delivery

Quality of public service delivery to a great extent defines the quality of governance. In Pakistan and elsewhere as well, largely many of the public services has rested with the Govt however they have gone through some evolutionary stages to improve the typical government service delivery by including a front desk. In case of Pakistan, there is no such significant progress however in Punjab e-khidmat Centre (physical attendance of the applicant is required) is spreading out in 9 districts in so far. E-khidmat centre offers 17 different public services under one roof. This is one significant evolution in our public service sector we witness today.

I am of the opinion that now we should move to a more liberal form of governance where the public has most choices to take on for reaching the same outcome. Taking an example of a public service from e-khidmat, say a person wants driving license or route permit, now he has two option available with him whereas previously he had only one. He can file an application at e-khidmat Centre or at the concerned Govt department. I suggest increasing the number of options even more. I suggest that, in stages, public services be liberated from govt and left out for the private sector, yet in a regulated manner. The schematic below can give little idea of that.

Yasir Cheema, Public Service, Service Quality, Customer Service

The proposal introduces two new players in service delivery and re-structures the process flow. 1st player is Govt’s Accreditation and Assessment Body (AAB) and the 2nd is privately owned service providers.  The AAB shall be the single regulatory authority over privately owned service providers. AAB’s scope will include setting up the minimum standards of service delivery and data protection obtained by the service providers, registration, certification, measuring the quality level & annual renewal of service providers. AAB may limit the authorization of rendering any number of services from a particular service provider based on its performance.

Once a service provider is registered and licensed to provide services, it will work as Govt’s front desk and for the public one-stop service provider. It will collect, in any manner it deems appropriate, applications from the public for any service, supporting documents as required by concerned govt department, Govt fees streamline and check all the applications as per requirements of the concerned department. The service provider should send a summary to each concerned department on a particular service with its observations, comments & recommendation to facilitate the concerned department in the issuance of particular service as requested by the applicant. The concerned Govt department shall have authority to audit all or any of the application processed by a service provider in order to ensure the service provider is adhering to the procedures set out by the department.

A competitive environment of private owned service providers will strive to improve and innovate the service delivery in order to raise a number of their customers. This will further improve the pace of shift from typical service style to more innovative and digital service solution. Having hundreds of service providers against one (concerned department) will open up new ways on how service providers reach out to their customers. [An awkward encounter of a friend where a Pakistani Consulate asked him to get a counsellor service elsewhere if he can get. No one offer consulate service other than the consulates, so we are left with no choice but dance to the tune of the consulate. That’s a monopoly of being sole service provider]. Being a private entity, the service provider will be in way better position than govt to employ more learned and efficient employees equipped with modern innovations and more likely to impart better training if required so by regulation of AAB. The service providers can be paid out of the Govt fees as inherently govt fees include all the processing service charges which under this proposal is being rendered by the private service provider. Alternatively, Govt can lower down its fees and the private service providers may charge for each type of application independently. Bringing in the private service provider will give people more choices to go for a particular service instead of reaching out to only one govt department. Where it will increase the choice for public, it will also significantly reduce the bribes that public often pays to get their rightful service.

[Pls this is just an initial draft and it may be improved/amended at times. Suggestions are welcomed.]

Blasphemy, Investigation & Adjudication

Often when there is a “mob justice” in matters relating to blasphemy, the whole debate rests on condemning the mob and demanding the justice for the victim of a mob and suggesting to take the legal course in such cases. In cases, where mob either fails or take the legal course, there is a lot to look into.  Following Mashal’s Lynching, 6 cases of blasphemy were registered in KP alone. Either in these cases, mob failed to deliver “justice” or simply followed the legal course. In February 2017 Lahore high court vide 2017 LHC 939 has settled a case by setting asid e a conviction and sentence on blasphemy charges u/s 295-A & 295-C of PPC. This case is interesting in a manner that it gives us an example of our justice system in blasphemy cases. We often blame public for taking law in their hands and very conveniently fail to look into the affairs of protectors of the law.

In July 2009, a case was registered in District Chakwal on blasphemy allegations u/s 295-A & 295-C of PPC. An Additional Sessions Judge in 2012 convicted the accused and sentenced 10 years of imprisonment under 295-A & Death sentence with two Lakh fine under 295-C. The Accused appealed against his conviction and the complainant filed a criminal revision. Considering insufficient punishment awarded, the complainant asked to impose the fine in addition to 10 years imprisonment for an offence under 295-A and also to increase the fine in addition to already awarded death sentence & two lakh fine under 295-C. A sub-inspector mainly conducted this investigation and during trial admitted that u/s 156-A of Cr.P.C is not authorised to investigate any case registered u/s 295-C. He said that SHO – Inspector assigned him this investigation. The concerns Superintendent of Police (SP) partially participated in the investigation and also appeared in the trial. During the trial, SP admitted that any case under 295-C can not be investigated by any officer below the rank of SP. Despite that, not only investigation started but completed under his watch. SP visited the place of incident and yet failed to take primary responsibility for investigation as required by section 156-A of Cr.P.C. Apparently, he willfully let a subordinate and an unauthorised officer to carry out an investigation which is exclusively mandated to him by law. SP didn’t record any statement of witnesses. During trial, SP admitted that if a complaint under 295-A is received than FIR can be registered only after permission from Govt. in the instant case, SHO didn’t even bother to inform his superiors about receiving a complaint so he could seek approval to register FIR and SP moved on the case when the process was in complete violation of the stated law. LHC Judgment noted that “both procedural mandates have been violated” thus “the basic step by means of which investigation agency was put into motion by a private person is violative of the provisions 156-A & 196 of Cr.P.C”.

With Police has completed its investigation in complete violation of the stated law, the case landed in the court of Additional Sessions Judge. Shouldn’t judge have contested the investigation, after all this investigation was to be the base of a capital punishment? Disregarding this complete violation of the stated law, Judge proceeded to convict the accused and then sentenced to death. LHC  a decade ago in 200 P Cr. L J902 has already confirmed that violations of section 196 Cr. P.C is not a curable irregularity and that this section is a mandatory provision. Despite having forcefully stated Law & precedent, learned Additional Sessions Judge went on to award capital punishment. In 2002 LHC in its judgment direct IGP that cases under blasphemy shall be investigated by at least 2 gazetted officer and the court of trial shall be presided over by a judge not less than the rank of District and Sessions Judge. Yet, years after, we fail to institute such express provisions and directions and we are putting people’s lives at risk and killing their fundamental rights. Referring to the directions of LHC in 2002, the bench “noted with great pain that even in the case registered in the year 2009, the investigation agency has not bothered to take any guidance from the principles laid down therein and for that reason, the investigation, in this case, was not conducted in efficient and perfect manner.”

Why should a person give his life for the incompetence of our Investigation & adjudication? Or even suffer a suspension of his fundamental rights? Can this total disregard of stated law and precedent in instant case be due to public pressure, incompetence or simply lack of the knowledge? We can hope that concerned quarters check that currently, all pending cases involving blasphemy charges are in due compliance of law and the directions of LHC so the accused may enjoy a fair and lawful trial.