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Plastic Shopping Bags and Pakistan

Plastic bags, Environment, Yasir CheemaUsed plastic shoppers are notorious for choking sewer, open drainage system, spoiling sanitation and creating an overall unaesthetic view of the environment. The practice of burning them on street sides at dumpsites produces dioxins and furans responsible for producing severe diseases. Plastic bags take much longer to degrade (not biodegrade) than paper bags. Under the best circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. The manufacturers of the plastic bags oppose the ban on plastic bags, arguing that, employment of thousands of persons depends upon such cottage industries, which manufacture polyethylene bags. The ban will render many people jobless.

Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) had conducted a national survey which revealed that 55 billion plastic shopping bags are being used each year in Pakistan. The use of plastic bags is on the rise at the rate of 15% per annum. There are about 8021 production units in the country with an average production capacity of 250-500 kg per day, and a majority of them are the cottage industry. Approximately, 1,60,000 people are directly, and 600,000 people are indirectly dependent on this sector.

Pak-EPA has examined that different countries have addressed the plastic bags issues in the following ways:
i. A complete ban on manufacturing and use of plastic bags.
ii. Increasing price of bags by a levy of additional taxes or cost.
iii. Promoting the use of paper and cotton bags.
iv. Increasing thickness of the bags.
v. Banning, manufacturing of non-degradable plastic bags and introduction of degradable plastic bags

Govt has concluded that banning of plastic bags across the board would not be a viable solution as these bags have become a part of our daily life. It would be difficult to get such an order implemented. We have an example of Balochistan province, where an ordinance to ban all kind of plastic bags was in force but Govt failed to implement it due to non-cooperation of manufacturers and consumers.
The solution to controlling plastic bags issue could be tackled through a combination of the following measures:
i. Banning manufacturing, selling and usage of non-degradable plastic bags in the country.
ii. Increasing thickness of degradable bags to 30 microns.
iii. Promoting the use of cotton bags through an awareness campaign.
iv. Rationalizing the tariff in favour of manufacturing of paper bags and concession on the import of automatic paper bag machinery.

Degradable plastic bags are classified into the following categories:
i. Oxy-degradable
ii. Photo-degradable and
iii. Bio-degradable.

Out of all the above three types, oxy-degradable is the best option as these bags get disintegrated in the presence of oxygen, whether through the atmosphere or from the water. In other words, these bags get destroyed in the presence of air and water.

Actions Taken by PAK-EPA:
For plastic bags Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA), with the approval of the Ministry of Climate Change and after vetting by Ministry of Law and Justice notified S.R.O No 5(KE)/2013 “Prohibition of Non-degradable Plastic Products (manufacture, import, sale and usage) regulation 2013, which prohibits the usage of plastic products in the limit of Islamabad Capital Territory, effective from 1st April 2013 and further amended in September 2015.

Under the above regulations no person shall import, manufacture, stockpile, trade, supply, distribute, sell or use any scheduled plastic product
which is non-degradable. The regulations also provide that no pro-degradant additive shall be sold, distributed or imported by any company or manufacturer of any scheduled plastic product without registration with Pak-EPA. To facilitate implementation of the regulation, four companies have so far been registered with Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA).

Due to this reason many major stores in Islamabad like Utility Stores, Metro cash & carry, Tehzeeb Bakers, Rahat Bakers, Mc Donalds and Shaheen
Chemist etc. are now using environment-friendly plastic shopping bags on the directions of Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency. The other small shopkeepers in ICT have also been contacted by Pak-EPA to use only bio-degradable shopping bags. Furthermore, Pak-EPA is making efforts to implement the Regulations in its true letter and spirit.

Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency had held a meeting on 2nd April 2015 with Pakistan Business Council. Resultantly, Pakistan-EPA has brought some changes/ modifications in the prohibition of said Regulations and excluded following from the schedule of amended S.R.O 96(KE)/2015, dated October 6th, 2015:
1. Bread bags and food packaging, including frozen food packaging.
2. Shrink-wrap, pallet-wrap, bubble-wrap.
3. Woven plastic bags.
4. BOPP, CPP and metalised plastic films.
5. Milk and water packaging.

A meeting was held on 9th January 2017 with traders of big outlets of different markets and Traders Association of Islamabad. Following decisions were taken in the meeting for compliance:

(a) Pak-EPA shall encourage Markazi Anjuman Tajran (MAT) Islamabad to prepare and launch the awareness campaign for the prohibition of Non-biodegradable plastic products in ICT and other steps proposed by them for the said purpose.
(b) Pak-EPA shall conduct surprise visit of markets to check the status of implementation of Regulation titled, “The Prohibition of Non-Biodegradable Plastic Products (Manufacturing, Sale and Usage) Regulation 2013 and its Amendment 2015” shall take liable legal action.
(c) Trader Association of respective markets shall launch the awareness campaign in their areas, and no more use of non­degradable shall be prohibited.
(d) Markazi Anjuman Tajran shall display hoardings for information and awareness regarding the use of Oxo­biodegradable shopping bags.
(e) All markets shall display public notice of Pak-EPA in markets.

[NOTE: This information is extracted from a submission by the concerned Ministry to the Senate/Parliament of Pakistan or the Provincial assembly, as the case may be, and is edited by the author.] S272-20180123

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.


Sharif Governance

“Punjab speed” attributed to Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s style and speed of work in his recent Chinese visit is not something new. We are all aware that he is the person who can fly over from one place to another as soon as a news break and sometimes his “Notice” may issue even faster than his own speed. “Mua-ttal kr do” to everyone is the stone always in his hand to throw at any face he couldn’t find around during his “surprise” visitor the face fail to bring satisfaction to Shahbaz on service delivery. Shahbaz is the legend to take notice for any gang rape, brutal murder, cutting away body parts by powerful, throwing dogs on poor, visiting sasta bazars, reaching out to flood victims, and so on. There is no doubt that his style is appreciated by “victim of the day” on the same day but does it leave any lasting effect? Shall every victim wait for the “Messiah” in the form of Shahbaz sharif or the intuitions and departments under Shahbaz shall exercise their due responsibility? How much Shahbaz has done to bring such institutions and departments to accountability for their negligence again and again?

Just 2 days ago (July/Aug 2016) Mian Shahbaz sharif was very disappointed with the level of facilities in Lahore General Hospital nearly at a 10-minute drive from his house. Can you recall who the Health minister in Punjab is? Since 2008 PMLN is in the Govt. and after 8 years of governance here Mian Shahbaz sharif is still disappointed. Is it 1st time he visited the General Hospital and disappointed? NO –It’s NOT, he has visited a number of times before and did the same trick what he did this time – MUA-TTAL.

Thanks to Bilal Numan (@bilalnuman) on twitter who collected visits of Mian Shahbaz sharif to this facility and put them in order to show how many time Shahbaz sharif has visited this facility. Not a single time he learned a lesson to re-structure his governance of health institutions but always remain limited to a particular health facility and relied on the surprise visit and Notices. Probably he thinks everything is fine in the governance system but the people other than him are just incompetent?

The Nation reported on 31st March 2010 about the surprise visit of Shahbaz sharif (YES – 6 years and 4 months ago) to LGH and suspended Medical Superintend Dr. Iqbal Kazmi and ordered Secretary Health Fawad Hassan Fawad to improve health facility within 24 hours. During the same visit, he also sought a report to establish a new neuro hospital as he realised that a large number of patients need a new facility. I am not sure of that realization was buried with same “Speed” as he realized its need. Another visit of Shahbaz is reported in September 2011 where the MS was lucky enough to be warned only but not suspended. Shahbaz sharif has visited the same facility on a number of occasions and accordingly secretary health has been paying surprise visits to this facility.

In November 2014 Secretary Health suspended MS and other 4 Drs for negligence in their duty. In February 2016, secretary health has also paid a surprise visit to this facility and showed his satisfaction.

Muattali or problems in Administration of hospitals are not limited to Lahore Only. Coming down to Aziz Bhatti Shaeed Hospital, Gujrat you can witness an interesting play of MS-around-chair since 2014. Dr. Tahir Naveed was suspended in July 2014 then in July 2015 another MS Dr. Mian Wajid was suspended. After this suspension Dr. Tahir Abbas was given additional charge of MS and a  new MS Dr Shabbir Hussain was bothered to appoint only for three months and Dr Tahir Abbas again given the additional charge. Then came in Dr Sherl Ali Khan for a period of 8 motnhs and taken over by Dr. Shahid Maroof. Aziz Bhatti Shahee Hospital, Gujrat  had 7 MS during a period of 32 months.  (Updated on 27-3-2017)

Even after all such dramatic entries of surprise visits and suspensions by Chief Minister, Health secretary for over 6 years, if there is no significant improvement in service delivery then its certainly a time where Govt. shall think of something different than just surprise visits. This one hospital which frequently witnessed the surprise visits of the high ups and yet even after 8 years of governance it still disappointed the Chief Minister. Imagine all those health facilities in other districts where they couldn’t get surprise visits, what will be service delivery status there? Shall every facility wait for a surprise visit? Or Govt. shall think some tool other than “SHARIF GOVERNANCE”?

Concerns on KP ‘Ehtesab’

Everything was going well until reports started coming in about the arrest of the father of the KP ruling party’s MPA Gul Sahib Khan in April 2015 in a land-grabbing case, and the subsequent arrests of ex-minister Liaqat Shabab and sitting minister for mines and minerals Ziaullah Afridi.

These arrests sent shockwaves through the political elite giving an idea of the powers resting with the Ehtesab Commission, its DG in particular. In the next couple of months 14 petitions lined up before the division bench of the Peshawar High Court (PHC), challenging various provisions of the EC Act 2014.

A larger bench of the PHC attended all 14 petitions in six sittings to confirm three constitutional concerns about the KP EC Act 2014. The first was whether the KP EC Act 2014 is in conflict with Articles 142 and 143 of the constitution while the NAB ordinance is in force. The second was whether the KP EC Act 2014 is in contravention of fundamental rights as protected in Articles 10A, 12 and 25 of the constitution. And the third was whether the provisions of the KP EC Act 2014 pass the reasonability test. On December 23, 2015, the PHC finally confirmed the above three questions in the negative – thereby protecting the Ehtisab Commission.

The KP Ehtesab Commission has witnessed three amendments to date. The first amendment was passed by the KP assembly reversing the absorption of the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) into the Ehtesab Commission. The second amendment further empowered the commission and made the offenses under the commission non-bailable. The third and the most recent amendment has triggered a debate about the independence and authority of the commission when it comes to its intended function, prevention of corrupt practices and holding all public officers accountable.

The recent amendments seem to have inflicted quite some damage to the perception of the KP government’s intentions about an anti-corruption drive across the province. The resignation of the commission’s DG, after notifying the CM of his reservations on the proposed amendments, further strengthened the perception of mala fide intentions behind these amendments. It is important to see the nature of the amendments when it comes to the structure and functions of the commission. These amendments can broadly be categorized as: 1) redistribution of powers within the commission; 2) taking away powers from the commission, and 3) introducing political and executive influence.

With a few amendments, a directorate general has been created within the commission. The directorate will be headed by the DG. A further role of the commission and the directorate has also been defined with more clarity. Filing a reference and arresting an accused are two key stages for investigation. The respect and professionalism of an accused public office-holder are at the stake, and this process deserves a detailed assessment before making any decision.

Prior to the amendments, the DG of the commission was the sole authority that decided about filing a reference before the court and arresting an accused. However, the amendment in Section 37 recommended a time-bound decision on filing a reference by the majority of votes amongst the chief ehtesab commissioner, two commissioners, the DG and the prosecutor general. With regard to the arrests of the accused, now clause (ab) has been added under section 9 to empower the commission for granting approval of the DG for the arrest of any accused. Approval of the commission for the issuance of an arrest warrant has also been inserted in 36(5).

There are certain amendments that take away the few powers the commission has. The most important of these is the power Suo moto action against any corrupt practice. It also takes away the powers of the commission to set the salary, allowances and terms and conditions of its employees – including the DG and directors of all six wings of the directorate. After the amendment, all these powers now stand with the government, which can challenge the commission in recruiting a competent team to adequately meet its core business.

On the other hand, a legislative committee comprising five members each from the treasury and opposition benches has been given the authority to inquire into any allegation of abuse of authority or misconduct by the commissioners. However, the committee has to recommend a divisional bench of the PHC to remove the commissioner from office if found guilty.

Through some other amendments, the time limit for inquiry and investigation has been increased from the existing total 90 days to 120 days – where 90 days are for inquiry and 30 days for investigation. The conversion of an inquiry into the investigation is subject to the approval of the commission. Police powers are restricted to 30 days of investigation of the case. The custody of an accused has been reduced from 45 to 15 days. The chief secretary and speaker are required to be informed when a civil servant or MP are being arrested.

The first director general of the commission has resigned, citing four reasons for leaving. One of his concerns was about the interpretation of the act with regard to the role of the DG and commissioners. This concern has been adequately addressed and clarified through recent amendments. However, the former DG does not seem comfortable and convinced of the position of the DG after these amendments. Commissioners have also written to the governor in this regard.

The former DG’s other concerns include reversal on the absorption of the ACE and overlapping jurisdiction with NAB. A detailed mechanism is provided in the EC Act to settle the matter with federal agencies but this may not be very productive and effective. The DG’s dissatisfaction with the amendments is more descriptive than specifics.

Before the amendment is introduced in the provincial assembly, the KP government should deliberate further on this in the public domain and seek expert views on any provision that may adversely affect the government’s anti-corruption efforts.
The resignation of the director general has already caused a dent, and other directors may follow the suit if the new terms and conditions for their employment differ largely from what they were engaged in originally.

This was originally published in The News on Feb 14, 2016, http://www.thenews.com.pk/print/98169-Concerns-on-KP-ehtesab

Secret No More

With the enactment of Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013, all the provinces have put in legislative mechanisms whereby citizens can have access to information held by public bodies. While Sindh Freedom of Information Act 2006 and Balochistan Freedom of Information Act 2005 did not generate any debate in the media as these were exact replicas of largely redundant and ineffective Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab right to information laws have given rise to healthy debate in print and social media as to which of the two is better law.Read More