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Selected news/columns/editorials: 12.01.2018
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.


THE Supreme Court chief justice, newspapers have reported, has observed that 30 million (the actual numbers might be slightly less) children between the ages of five and 16 years are out of school although Article 25-A in the basic rights section of the Constitution bestows the right to education on all children in this age group. He asked, rhetorically one presumes, if the state was actually fulfilling its duty towards children.

Article 25-A was inserted in the Constitution as part of the 18th Amendment. This amendment went into force in April 2010. The chief justice made his observation in January 2018. Was the honourable court not aware of the situation for the last eight years? Has this actually come as a surprise? Was the chief justice really ignorant of the situation? Ignorance cannot be an excuse. Not for those who hold positions of power and influence.

Have federal and provincial governments not been aware of the situation? Clearly not. They know the situation very well. Most provincial governments have been ‘celebrating’ their achievements in education and the pace at which ‘reforms’ have been carried out in their respective jurisdictions.

But the fact remains that millions are out of schools. There has been some progress in getting younger children of primary level into schools. But the dropout rates have remained high so that middle school and high school enrolment numbers remain depressingly low. But this is by design. Look at the school pyramids that most provinces have: Punjab has some 37,000 primary schools, 10,000-odd middle schools and only 6,000-odd high schools. The same structure prevails in other provinces. And gender-wise distribution is even more skewed against girls. Even allowing for high schools to be larger, will all children enrolling in primary school be able to reach the matriculation level as Article 25-A promises? And can it be that the bureaucracy, politicians and the judiciary do not know this?

Why is there no effective movement for reform?

All political parties, even in their 2013 election manifestoes, promised to raise funding for education to about four percent of GDP. We are still spending only 2.4pc-odd on education and it is almost time for the next election.

We have not even touched the issue of quality of education. For the overwhelming majority of children in schools, whether they are in government schools or low-fee private schools, the education being imparted is, generally speaking, of very poor quality. The results of all examinations, whether conducted by the private or public sector and across the country and across all levels of education, show the poor quality of learning that our students are being subjected too. Children in the fifth grade can, on average, only do third grade-level work. Students, even those studying in university, cannot engage with what they read in a critical manner. Rote learning is the norm. Even the results of the CSS examinations show how poorly prepared our Masters-level students are.

I have been teaching at university level for the last 20 years. And though I have lectured and taught at some of the best universities in the country I can say confidently that the preparation of the average student, even at the very best institutions, is quite mediocre. Even the majority of those who come from elite schools and have appeared for their ‘A’-Level exams or equivalent international certifications are not very well prepared. They might have the grades as we have successfully cracked the examination system and know how to prepare students for specific exams, their general preparedness for developing critical abilities, for having the ability to learn and grow, ability for self-reflection and the ability and passion to commit to any field of inquiry are extremely limited. 

The real issue is not ignorance, feigned or otherwise. The real issue is what is being done in the field of education and even more importantly, why are we in such a poor place in the field of education? How have we allowed ourselves to end up here and why is there no effective movement for reform that should be charting our way out of this poor state of affairs?

Shahzad has four children. He is working extremely hard to get them a decent education. He is, though it is expensive and very difficult for him to manage, sending all his children to low-fee private schools in Lahore. He believes he received a poor education from the public school he attended and had to withdraw from schooling too early. 

He wants all his children to be graduates or to attend professional colleges. My very strong suspicion is that he is setting himself and his children up for disappointment. Keeping four children in private schools, as they move from primary to middle and then to high school is going to cost a lot. Shahzad is making just a little above the minimum wage. Even more disheartening is the fact that his children, with all these sacrifices, are getting an education that is of quite poor quality. It is very difficult to see them competing against children from elite schools and making it to good-quality professional colleges and universities.

All this is known. The real question is where will the impetus for change come from? It does not seem that it will come from the political parties, the bureaucracy or the government. It does not seem that the courts will be able to drive the change. The socioeconomic setup of the country will have to alter radically to address the challenges of equity, equality and quality in education. There does not seem to be any hope for such radical change at the moment.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics at Lums, Lahore.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018


A woman rides past the People’s Bank of China headquarters in Beijing. The Chinese are urging Pakistan to expand the role of the yuan in the economy from trade and investment payments to reserve currency, and even asking for it to be made a legal tender in Gwadar, a demand that has not yet been accepted.—Reuters
A woman rides past the People’s Bank of China headquarters in Beijing. The Chinese are urging Pakistan to expand the role of the yuan in the economy from trade and investment payments to reserve currency, and even asking for it to be made a legal tender in Gwadar, a demand that has not yet been accepted.—Reuters


KARACHI: The People’s Bank of China (PBC) has announced a raft of new measures to push a greater cross-border role for the yuan that aim to “contribute to opening up on all fronts”. 

The measures go far beyond yuan settlement of cross-border trade. In a notice posted on its website, the PBC lists five seperate measures to be pursued. The list is reproduced below.

First, all cross-border business allowed by the law to be settled with foreign exchange can also be settled with RMB by enterprises. Following the principle of serving the real economy and facilitating trade and investment, banks are encouraged to develop new financial products based on current cross-border RMB business policies, in order to improve their capacity in providing financial services and meet market players’ real and legitimate demands for cross-border RMB business.

Employee compensation, remittance of profits, dividends and ‘other returns’ to investment can be in yuan for BRI investments

Second, to serve the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and meet the demands for cross-border RMB settlement in employee compensation, social welfare, and allowance for family remittance in individual accounts, banks can provide individuals with cross-border payment services under other current account items. This will make it easier for domestic individuals to remit their legitimate income from overseas, and vice versa. 

Third, to promote green development, the Notice proposes specific rules for cross-border RMB settlement on carbon emission trading by overseas investors. 

Fourth, direct RMB investments by overseas investors are made much easier. The Notice further optimises relevant procedures, eliminates limitations on relevant account opening and payments, and clearly permits banks to provide relevant services to meet enterprises’ actual demands following the three basic principles of doing business. The Notice requires banks to ensure the free remittance of RMB profits, dividends, and other investment returns of overseas investors. 

Fifth, the RMB funds raised by domestic enterprises through issuing bonds or shares overseas can be transferred back to China whenever necessary, thus simplifying the relevant procedures and daily operations of the enterprises. 

Since the pilot programmes for RMB settlements in cross-border trade were launched in 2009, based on market-oriented principles, the PBC has been constantly pursuing policies on cross-border RMB business to meet market players’ needs, facilitate their cross-border trade and investment so as to avoid foreign exchange risks and reduce financial costs. 

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018


BEIJING: China’s plan for a modern Silk Road of railways, ports and other facilities linking Asia with Europe hit a $14 billion pothole in Pakistan.

Islamabad’s relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their “Iron Brother”. 

Despite that plans for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were thrown into turmoil in November when the chairman of Wapda said Beijing wanted an ownership stake in the hydropower project. He rejected that as against Pakistan’s interests. 

China issued a denial but the official withdrew the dam from among dozens of projects being jointly developed by the two countries. 


From Pakistan to Tanzania to Hungary, projects under President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative are being cancelled, renegotiated or delayed due to disputes about costs or complaints host countries get too little out of projects built by Chinese companies and financed by loans from Beijing that must be repaid. 

In some areas, Beijing is suffering a political backlash due to fears of domination by Asia’s biggest economy. 

“Pakistan is one of the countries that is in China’s hip pocket, and for Pakistan to stand up and say, `I’m not going to do this with you,’ shows it’s not as`win-win’ as China says it is,” said Robert Koepp, an analyst in Hong Kong for the Economist Corporate Network, a research firm. Belt and Road, announced by Mr Xi in 2013, is a loosely defined umbrella for Chinese-built or -financed projects across 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe. 

Other governments welcomed the initiative in a region the Asian Development Bank says needs more than $26 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2030 to keep economies growing. 

Nations including Japan have given or lent billions of dollars for development, but China’s venture is bigger and the only source of money for many projects. 

Governments from Washington to Moscow to New Delhi are uneasy Beijing is trying to use its Belt and Road initiative to develop a China-centered political structure that will erode their influence. 

One of the projects that have been derailed or disrupted is located in Nepal where authorities cancelled plans in November for Chinese companies to build a $2.5bn dam after they concluded contracts for the Budhi Gandaki Hydro Electric Project violated rules requiring multiple bidders. 

Consulting firm BMI Research has compiled a database of $1.8tr of infrastructure investments across Asia, Africa and the Middle East that include Chinese money or other involvement. 

“It’s probably too early to say at this point how much of the overall initiative will actually be implemented,” said Christian Zhang, a BMI analyst. 

The US and Japanese governments express interest in building contracts or other potential opportunities. But they also are trying to develop alternative initiatives. 

The stumbles for one of the world’s most ambitious infrastructure ventures could help temper concerns Beijing will increase its strategic influence. 

Even Pakistan, one of China’s friendliest neighbours, has failed to agree on key projects. 

The two governments are developing facilities with a total cost of $60bn including power plants and railways to link China’s far west with the Chinese-built port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean. A visit by a Chinese assistant foreign minister in November produced no agreement on railway projects in Karachi valued at $10bn and a $260 million airport for Gwadar. 

The same month, the chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority announced the Diamer-Bhasha Dam would be withdrawn from joint development. 

“Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests,” Wapda chairman Muzammil Hussain reportedly told legislators. 

The Chinese cabinet agency overseeing Belt and Road, the National Development and Reform Commission, denied in a written statement that it asked for an ownership stake.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2018

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