Published Date: Dec 16, 2020
President address 23rd SDC Day3
COVID-19 has opened up new vistas of development: President Alvi
Future of Pakistan lies on economic diplomacy, outreach to world: Moeed Yousaf
Experts seek 2nd Declaration on WTO TRIPs agreement and Public Health
‘Govt promote tobacco prevention but Tobacco Board charges Rs3/kg on tobacco’
ISLAMABAD (December 16, 2020): President Dr Arif Alvi has said that COVID-19 pandemic is an enormous challenge that also opened up new vistas of opportunities before the world to tackle the issues of sustainable development.
He was addressing the 23rd Sustainable Development Conference titled: Sustainable Development in the Times of COVID-19, organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Wednesday.
The President said that the pandemic has affected the societies, particularly the poor, across the world, which hindered the progress of nations. He urged the world to uplift the poor by providing them with better healthcare, quality education and all the necessities of life.
Highlighting the government’s efforts to fight the pandemic, President Alvi said that Pakistan has done tremendous work in tackling the disease by providing help to almost half of the population through Ehsaas programme. The Ehsaas cash transfer program has worked wonders to protect the poor, and also was acknowledged by every government in the world.
“As far as health efforts are concerned, prevention is the key to safety for countries like Pakistan, which cannot afford the curative approach. I believe that we have established structures of communication by which we can reach out to the people at the grassroots level through different modes,” Dr Alvi said.
Of economic management amidst COVID-19, President Alvi said Pakistan has managed its economy at the macroeconomic front, where the balance of payment got better, imports got reduced and exports went up. At the same time, the prime minister has announced the construction package, which will help enhance employment opportunities, he added.
The COVID-19 has also triggered the digital transformation in a year, which may have taken a decade, he said, adding that societies which make progress in the world are those which are inclusive and ensure that education and health care facilities are accessible to the entire population. “We need to ensure that development and progress are sustainable ecologically and environmentally.”
In his welcome note, SDPI Executive Director Abid Qaiyum Suleri thanked the President for patronizing the thinking community in general, and SDPI’s annual conference in particular. “We have the profound memories of holding the inaugural session of our 22nd annual conference at the Presidency under your worthy guidance. This year too, your esteemed office had very kindly accepted our request to hold the inaugural session of the conference in the Presidency, but due to increase in COVID-19 cases, we had to opt for a virtual mode.
Discussing sustainable development in the times of COVID-19 this year, Dr Suleri said, we are mindful of the fact how this pandemic has disturbed global agenda of achieving SDGs by 2030. He said the pandemic has incurred loss of precious lives and livelihoods across the world, forcing millions of students to stay away from their classrooms, and depriving non-COVID patients from health care.
“I can recall from your inaugural address last year, where you had advised to get prepared for fourth industrial revolution. Thanks to your guidance, today Pakistan is more prepared to respond to COVID19 than many of our peers. To curb food hoarding and to facilitate food security related decisions, SDPI, with the support of IDRC Canada, and FCDO UK, has developed a food security dashboard, which would be inaugurated by the worthy Prime Minister by the end of this month.” This is our humble contribution to be part of the solution during these testing times, he concluded.
Speaking at a plenary titled: Economic Outreach Initiatives and Non-Traditional Security Threats Facing Pakistan, Dr Moeed Yusuf, National Security Advisor to Prime Minister, said Prime Minister Imran Khan sees economic security, connectivity, regional peace and developmental partnerships a strong base for our economy. That’s why, we want peace in Afghanistan to have connectivity with Central Asia and beyond. We are also open to east and west but unfortunately our eastern neighbour undermines Pakistan and continue to oppress the people of occupied Kashmir.
One of our weakness as a country is to project the country’s image through a narrative. There are hundreds of things going right, but the international perception about Pakistan is negative because the state has tried to project a self-approach rather than utilizing intellectual spaces like think tanks and academia.
“Today the government is not taking developmental assistance, but we are talking about developmental partnership as part of our goal. Our dream for Pakistan is to become the melting pot for global economic interests. We are not in favour of providing military bases anymore, but ready to provide economic bases to the world to use Pakistan as a hub of interdependences.”
Dr Moeed said the future of Pakistan lies on economic diplomacy and outreach to the world. Economic stability cannot come at the cost of military security and human security. The challenge is too big to overcome and needs a broader national response.
There are five practical approaches for economic outreach, i.e. map your potentials around the world, identify the obstacles in achieving the targets, coordinate with different ministries to discuss the issues, and identify solutions and priorities for the implementation of plans.
About Pak-US relations, he said that we need to change the mode of conversation with the US. Mostly we focus on Afghanistan and aid when in conversation with the US, whereas we need to discuss development partnerships and economic stability.
He further said it is not possible for countries to have traditional static relationship with any country. “We have seen many Arab countries which have recognized Israel,” he said, adding that Pakistan needs to be pro-active to defend its interests. Pakistan has signed a lot of MoUs with different countries and now it’s time to move ahead.
Speaking at a session in the morning on Access to Healthcare and Competition, Dr Joseph Wilson, the former chairman of Competition Commission of Pakistan, discussed about the Constitution of Pakistan which ensures healthcare facilities as well as compulsory licensing. However, dominance in the market distorts competition and affects healthcare provision to the public, he added.
Pradeep S Mehta from CUTS International India said that economic disaster is the major disaster of the world, which is also affecting the healthcare sector, especially of developing countries. He called upon the global civil society to take lead in pressing for a second version of the Doha Declaration on TRIPs and Public Health in order to deal with the emergency after the rejection of a proposal on waiver of IPRs on COVID-19 vaccine in the recent WTO TRIPs council meeting.
Teresa Moreira from UNCTAD debated the competition and consumer policies for the efficient working of health care markets the worldwide. This will provide affordable healthcare by restoring competition.
Allan Asher of FEMAG, Australia pointed out that incorporating ‘TRIPs Flexibilities’ may not be effective in the present-day world with plethora of ‘TRIPs-Plus’ bilateral trade agreements, which can hinder access to the relevant know-how at affordable costs. Analyzing the pros and cons of public to private sector shift in health care, he said this shift has lowered the competition, which resulted in high pricing. He suggested to modify some aspects of the competition policy to ensure controlled and affordable pricing.
Hardin Ratshisusu of South African Competition Commission shared the case study of South Africa countries and their Intellectual Property Policy (2018) to protect public health. He said effective laws are necessary to cope with excessive pricing, pay-for-delay and trade issues. He pointed out that good healthcare is a part of Goal-3 of the SDGs agreed to by the international community, therefore, all stakeholders must converge on achieving the same with the least hurdles and lowest cost.
Speaking at session on Tobacco Greenwashing: Misinformation / Disinformation in the Times of COVID-19, Dr Nausheen Hamid, Parliamentary Secretary Health, said saving life in this pandemic is not only doctor’s job, but it is the duty of every citizen.
Khurram Hashmi, CTC, Pakistan said provision of health care is a challenge for Pakistan, as vaccines are being introduced but there is no clear picture of the situation. Various studies have depicted the relation between COVID and smoking as it affects lungs directly, but governments have no control over tobacco industry, which influence policy regulators by funding environmental projects.
Waseem Iftikhar Janjua from SDPI said tobacco is a product that kills 2 of 3 of its users, so there is no such thing as reduced risk in tobacco usage; risk is of death or cancer. He said that 32.4 MT of tobacco crop produces 6.48 MT dry tobacco which causes huge depletion of water and fossil fuel. He demanded a comprehensive tobacco control policy that should be devised without tobacco industry interference.
Nadeem Iqbal, CEO, NCRP, Pakistan said our laws only address tobacco-based nicotine and not the other nicotine-based products. Our dilemma is that the government is promoting prevention from tobacco and tobacco-based products and Pakistan Tobacco Board charges Rs3/kg on tobacco. He demanded pro-people policies to stop tobacco usage along with provision of incentives to farmers for replacing tobacco crops with food crops He said 12% of population is cigarette user but we are least bothered about their health and the diseases they may be caught up with consequently.
Speaking at a session on ‘Climate induced migrations in times of COIVD-19: A case of south Asian countries’, experts stressed the need to start regional trade to make economic interest bigger than the political interests. Emphasizing the importance of dialogue, they said the poor are the most vulnerable to migration which makes them suffer from health, and work related issues.
Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul said that both climate-induced migrants and refugees are living in Pakistan. She said sudden and gradual migration is a rising issue at urban level, but instead of holding discussions there is a need to take practical steps to address the issue. As per her own experience, she elaborated, women, children, young girls and disabled women are more vulnerable and sensitive towards these migrations due to their responsibilities and needs. The Minister suggested that SAARC should add the issue of climate induced migration in their agenda. She said formation of new cities is under consideration by the Prime Minister.
Harjeet Singh, Global Climate Lead, said that 25 million displacements were recorded in 2019 and the number is increasing. He warned that out of all these displacements, one third falls only in South Asia. However, good news is that the UN has recognized the term displacement and migration. Sanjay Vashist, Director CANSA, India said the random migration won’t help in increasing human resilience. Raana Rahim, ICMPD, Pakistan said that the topic of climate-induced migration has become important for research, as researchers argue that these displacements are temporary.
Speaking at a session on the Role of Regional Cooperation for Asia-Pacific’s Energy Transition in the COVID-19 Era, Milou Beerepoot (Regional Energy & CCM Specialist, UNDP, Regional Office, Bangkok, Thailand) said that sustainable development is not possible without sustainable energy and without regional collaboration through technological interventions. She said the concept of shifting great economy to green economy will ultimately help in job creation specifically in the times of pandemic.
Michael Williamson, Section Chief, Energy Division, UNESCAP, Bangkok pointed out that emissions have reduced due to COVID-19 because of less economic interventions and now there is a need to improve the decoupling phenomena for decarbonization and promotion of better environment.
Zheng Baihua, Director-General, Development Bureau, GEIDCO, China suggested the enhancement of synergies in development and plans for the renewable energies which will ultimately promote the implementation of key projects in this regard.
Dr Michael Jakob, Senior Researcher, Mercator Research Institute, Berlin, Germany and Dr Hina Aslam from SDPI discussed the economic perspective in COVID time and highlighted that carbon pricing can increase the tax base and ultimately impact on the low- and medium-income countries.
Ahsan Javed, Research Fellow, Renewable Energy, SAARC Energy Center, Islamabad emphasized on exchange of knowledge, enforcement of rules and regulations and capacity building of states as key aspects for the regional cooperation.
Speaking at a concurrent session titled: Finding the Way Forward in Post-COVID-19 Pakistan with the Doing Good Index, Dr Waqar Masood Khan, Special Assistant to the Prime minister on Revenue, said that this is not the first time that country is hit by the crises; the government is happy to see the assistance provided by philanthropy organizations during the pandemic. With the help of private charity, the government could reach out 14 million households and provided cash support to the people under its Ehsaass program, he said, adding that the government is ready to address the certification issue of private sector entities.
Mehvesh Mumtaz, Director Research, Centre for Asian Philanthropy and Society, Hong Kong said that the world is suffering , but the good news of vaccine is still a far cry. Social sector is at the fourth position in terms of resource creation like masks and grants to share the burden of the pandemic, she said, adding that the Pakistan government feels that there is no check on social sector and it needs to be improved.
Ahmed Chinoy, ex-chairman of Cloth Merchant Association, Karachi said that 60% white collar and middle-class people who were in dire need to help during pandemic were provided no relief even in the form subsidy in bills and medicines. Even medical helplines were extended by the private hospitals.
Muazzam Arsian Bhatti, Alfzoe Technologies, Islamabad suggested that corporate sector should be linked and engaged in corporate social responsibility.
Speaking at session titled: Cultural and Knowledge Partnerships through Museums, Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis, and Chairman of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on Cultural and Knowledge through Museum. He said that synopses on where from it started and headed is due to amendment, which the sector has neglected over past years. PTDC operating gust houses and marking, branding and making the business. We are under process by commercializing old properties to private sector which will operator by planes of each property under the system.
We are planning the branding of Lahore and Taxila museums, he said, adding that we have moved a summary to make this sector more archaeological, less bureaucratic, and more cultural. He further said that impact of pandemic on museums is less in our country. We have opened a special window for hospitality and reduced the interest rate by 10-15%. We are focusing on winter tourism. In Chitral, we are building a great hotel. Some roads construction plans are under way to make Pakistan as natural hub for tourism.
Qasim Jafri, Goethe Institute Lahore, said we have a domestic tourism to start with. “We have a great potential and a long list of countries like Japan, Korea, Bhutan are willing to invest and discover our region. We are sitting on a treasure of civilization on which we need to work upon. We need not to destroy our natural environment in case of future development.”
Dr Karen Exell, UCL, Qatar talking about the regional development of Pakistani museum as a change maker said that both Lahore and Taxila museums have a great potential but there is a lack of professionalism in the administration of Pakistani museums. We need more training sessions and art exhibitions through which we can open our cultural doors to the world. Knowledge-based economy with a long and rich history will give a voice of Pakistan to the world.
Dr Nadhra Shahbaz Naeem Khan from LUMS, Lahore said that we are not making these museums into cultural hubs but just stores. Museums offer informal education to people of all ages, collaboration, communication, awareness about environmental issues and focus all subjects of the society, she concluded.
A day earlier, speaking at a plenary titled: COVID-19 Challenges for SDGs and Human Development, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Advisor to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, said climate change, digital divide, multi-dimensional inequality and disruption of the integrated supply chain systems are the biggest threats in the way of SDGs. SDGs canot be achieved unless a more inclusive international involvement, not only from the governments but also from the private sector and civil society organizations is sought.
At the regional level, Dr Ishrat said, cooperation with regard to efficient use of depleting water resources is the need of hour. “This will mitigate the risk of food, water and energy in the region on the one hand and help create livelihood opportunities on the other.”
On the national level, he said, the government is taking the institutional reforms agenda very seriously with focus on structural issues, including trade imbalance, revenue mobilization, skills and technology development, agriculture efficiency and public sector reforms.
Dr Ishrat said he understands that reform measures require a vision and patience and if this vision continues, he is optimistic that Pakistan will resolve these issues.
He said it is COVID that has made us realize that we can excel in the field of digital education, online health system, e-commerce and e-banking. COVID has made the role of countries important by demanding a more responsible action from them.