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2020: Year of Prosperity—debate & discourse

State, elitism & poverty alleviation

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

“The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability to each according to his work”—Article 3, 1973 Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains“—Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his book, The Social Contract 

Dr. Ishrat Husain, presently Advisor to Prime Minister for Institutional Reforms & Austerity in his book published in 1999, titled, Pakistan: Economy of an Elitist State[1], observed and concluded that in sharp contrast to the East Asian model of ‘shared growth’[2], based on rapid economic development coupled with a rapid reduction in poverty and more equitable distribution of “the benefits of development in Pakistan, the elitist model confers political and economic powers to a small coterie of elite (parasites)”.

This situation Dr. Ishrat Husain narrated in 1999 still prevails in Pakistan in 2020, even after two decades, and now the author is part of team of Prime Minister, Imran Khan, who has recently at more than one occasions claimed that since economic stability is achieved, we will make 2020 a year of prosperity. He promises to bring prosperity for the country as a whole and relief for the poor, less-privileged and the downtrodden through comprehensive poverty alleviation programme, named in Urdu as Ehsaas [like his party’s name in English translated as ‘Movement for Justice, this initiative it can be called ‘Compassion’ to covey the feelings for the have-notes to ensure their well-being and social mobility]. The Ehsaas is ostensibly for economically weaker sections of society, these largely include those living below the poverty line, but also include the destitute, unemployed, shelterless, widows, disables, orphans and the downtrodden who are unable to earn or their means of earrings are too meagre to live a decent life .  

The Prime Minister desirous of prosperity and poverty alleviation proudly presents Ehsaas, that was launched on March 27, 2019 claiming that “it is something never done before in Pakistan”. The website of Ehsaas says that its objective is “to reduce inequality, invest in people, and lift lagging districts. Ehsaas is about the creation of a ‘welfare state’ by countering elite capture and leveraging 21st century tools—such as using data and technology to create precision safety nets; promoting financial inclusion and access to digital services; supporting the economic empowerment of women”. All these are noble and adorable causes and no one can deny their desirability and need.

The issue of transparency and malpractices that usually creep into such programmes in Pakistan in the past due to political clout/expediencies or bureaucratic greed and capture are also well taken care of this time as per claim of Dr. Sania Nishtar, who is Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection. She is also the Chairperson of the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) and the Poverty Alleviation Coordination Council. Dr. Sania is responsible for administering Ehsaas, the prime umbrella initiative for welfare schemes—a dream of Premier Imran Khan. She has experience of working in the government shortly—served as Federal Minister in the 2013 under caretaker government with responsibilities for ‘Health, Science and Technology, Information Technology, and Higher Education’ ministries.

Recently at the website of Ehsaas this message is posted:

BISP has taken action against 2,543 government officers/their spouses of grade-17 and above who had got themselves registered among the beneficiaries from the social safety net and recei­ved the assistance meant for the poorest of the poor. They have been excluded from the programme. The BISP has also written to the provincial chief secretaries and federal ministries whose officers had illegally enrolled themselves as BISP beneficiaries. To avoid such irregularities in future, appropriate measures had been taken under the government’s Ehsaas programmer reforms, Dr. Sania Nishtar, SAPM on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation and BISP Chairperson said. According to official data, the highest number of government officials receiving the BISP assistance was from Sindh. As many as 1,122 officers of Grade-17 and above from the province had been BISP beneficiaries. The second highest number came from Balochistan where 741 government officials were signed up for the poverty alleviation scheme. From Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 403 government officials availed the BISP funds, while 137 did so from Punjab. From the federal government, 62 officers received the programme funds. Additionally, one officer of the Pakistan Railways, 22 of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and 49 of Gilgit-Baltistan were also marked as undeserving recipients of the BISP.

The bifurcation of grade-wise abusers of members of civil service is mentioned in the above “Press release” posted at the website. However, the nation is still waiting for their names which is their fundamental right under Article 19A of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan [“the Constitution] in addition to strict action against them after providing them right of fair trial as guaranteed under Article 10A of the Constitution, which according to the latest news has started. This should be a test case assuring the masses that in Ehsaas and other alike initiatives nobody will even think of such frauds and irregularities—a day light robbery of money meant for the needy.

Those who were heading BISP should also be taken to task that they were if not culpable in this fraud and forgery acted incompetently/inefficiently to let it happen. This is our main dilemma—even the honest and competent heads of departments cannot stop or minimize irregularities and frauds in their institutions let alone identifying and punishing the black sheep. They shift blame on subordinates but as heads they should be held equally responsible for anything unlawful happening under their control and command. It shows that our institutions lack proper implementation of internal systems of check and balance. They let the corruption happens and then come the most incompetent and loathsome authority, the so-called watchdog against corruption—National Accountability Bureau (NAB)—having the proven record of poor and flawed investigation and its ability to prosecution is even more pathetic! The law that it administers, The National Accountability Ordinance of 1999, made effective from January 1, 1985 by military dictator, Pervez Musharraf, is faulty, draconian and against the many provision of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan [“the Constitution”]. The elected Parliaments after the exit of Musharraf did not bother to undo it and come up with a new law. Now, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has given three months’ time to the Parliament to come up with remedial law or face the consequences.  

What is Ehsaas all about? So far negativity and criticism in media comprises routine clichés that it is yet another charity-oriented façade that is not going to empower the downtrodden. On the other hand, a detailed introduction of Ehsaas,available on its website paints a different picture (reproduced verbatim as print/electronic media has neither time, nor desire to project it):

  • “Ehsaas is the biggest and boldest program ever launched in Pakistan to uplift marginalized people. Ehsaas is unique because of its:
  • Scale: It is currently an umbrella initiative of 134 policies and programs, and the list is growing 
  • Multisectoral character: 34 agencies of the federal government and all federating units are tasked to implement Ehsaas
  • Breadth and depth: Ehsaas addresses state capture, social protection, livelihoods and human capital development
  • Process of formulation: 23 consultations were held over a 45-day planning period; 359 experts were formally consulted
  • Governance and integrity Policy: The process of implementing Ehsaas began with the Governance and Integrity Policy
  • Institutional arrangements: A new division has been created to implement Ehsaas and there will be a formal mechanism of engagement with the private sector  
  • Funding: for social protection has been doubled despite financial constraints 
  • The Policy statement relating to Ehsaas can be accessed here”.

The status of key Ehsaas initiatives are as under:

  • “The process of developing the National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER) 2020 has been 20% completed. New data about people’s socio-economic conditions will be the basis of all benefits from 2020, onwards. 
  • One-window Ehsaas for social protection and livelihoods will assist beneficiaries and reduce duplication and abuse (software is being developed, deployment: November 2019)
  • Kifalat reforms will enable financial and digital inclusion of around 6 million women through the “One Woman One Account” initiative (procurement process ends October 15th, deployment thereafter).
  • To support households during the economic transition, Food Rations initiative will support food consumption of 1 million vulnerable households (will commence deployment by September 30).
  • Pakistan’s first shock-oriented precision safety net Tahafuz[3] will assist those that have suffered a catastrophic event (project set up, procurements in the pipeline, commencement phase 1 end of October 2019). Tahafuz will also reform the individual financial assistance system of Pakistan Bait ul Mal.
  • 20,000 merit & needs-based undergraduate Ehsaas scholarships will commence for students from low-income families and lagging districts in September 2019.
  • To address stunting in children, specialized nutrition food initiative for mothers and children up to 2 years is in the final stage of planning (pilot commences in November 2019).
  • Education conditional cash transfer programme is being introduced in lagging districts of Pakistan encouraging out-of-school children to acquire education. A total of 2.5 million children, half of which would be girls will benefit from this over the next 3 years.
  • 500 digital hubs will be established at the Tehsil level for poor families with limited opportunities. Relevant public resources and information will be made accessible to create opportunities for poor families to graduate out of poverty.
  • A new policy for the differently-abled has been announced in July 2019. This will impact 2.5% of the country’s population. The NADRA-certified differently-abled will get Insaf Insurance cards and will have universal access to assistive devices. The 1% quota for disabled government employees in government accommodation, 2% quota for the disabled in Naya Pakistan housing scheme, and 2% quota in employment will be strictly implemented.
  • For protection of orphan children in Pakistan, for the first time, work on the new policy for orphanages, has begun to stipulate standards for these facilities and to improve quality. Four new orphanages—Dar-ul-Ehsaas[4]—have been established in the last 1 year.
  • The Poverty Alleviation Coordination Council’s platform is being utilized to develop partnerships with the private sector, and soon a social partnerships platform will be announced. 
  • Trust for Voluntary Organizations (TVO) has been totally non-functional for the last 5 years; 57 employees have not had any role for the last 5 years. TVO has been given a new mandate and through an open advertisement process it’s board is being reconstituted.
  • The Ehsaas Labour Expert Group has met nine times in the last three months and has issued its preliminary report. One of its recommendations, which involves incrementally bringing the informal workers into the social security net has been approved by the Cabinet for implementation. The policy entails mandatory bank accounts as the initial step to formalization and to enforce minimum wage.
  • The National Poverty Graduation Initiative (NPGI) was launched on July 5, 2019. This Rs. 42.65 billion NPGI is being rolled out in over 100 lagging districts across the country and will impact 16.28 million people with 50% beneficiaries being women. Loans will also be given eligible youth, differently-abled people, transgender, minorities and marginalized communities in lagging districts. As part of this, 80,000 interest free loans will be given out every month for the next 4 years and more than 220,000 asset transfers will be made.
  • To develop solutions for poverty at scale, the Cabinet has approved the Solutions Innovation Policy. Through a competitive process, private sector partners will be identified to provide solutions at scale. The first round of nine solution challenges will be launched by end of August, 2019.
  • Ehsaas TV Program and a corresponding online portal consolidating free government resources will go live by December, 2019.
  • Free accessibility of data will be ensured through the District Development Portal in which poverty and other socio-economic indicators across Pakistan’s districts will be available to policy makers and the public (portal developed, and last round of data is being entered, deployment October 2019).
  • Pakistan Bait ul Mal (PBM) is leveraging philanthropic contributions. Through this approach a Thalassemia Centre has been established, Ramzan food package has been distributed to 18,400 families, 18,000 educational kits have been provided to students, Iftari was arranged for 50,000 people for 25 days in 2019.
  • PBM is piloting new initiatives. One Great Home for old citizens has been established in Karachi. Street children have been enrolled in its Schools for Rehabilitation of Child Labour. PBM has started registrations for assistance towards Cochlear Implants. In its Women Empowerment Centers, PBM has established Management Committees to improve service delivery. 
  • To institutionalize integrity and good governance in safety net institutions, PASSD has issued the Ehsaas governance and integrity policy which has 27 elements. This is binding on all Ehsaas implementing agencies; read more about its status of implementation.”

Dr. Sania must post on website, what was the implementation status of the above initiative/programmes/steps? How many deadlines were met and missed.

The goals of Ehsaas as per website are also very impressive (a set of seven time-bound goals and targets have been stipulated that will be revised based on availability of new funding and partnerships):

•    Safety net for at least 10 million families 

•    Livelihood opportunities for 3.8 million individuals 

•    Financial access to healthcare for 10 million families 

•    Scholarships and education incentives for 5 million students (50% girls) 

•    Financial and digital inclusion for 7 million individuals (90% women)  

•    Enabling environment for poverty reduction 

•    Equality promoting multi-sectoral partnerships and innovations

It is proudly mentioned at the website that “at the first meeting of the Ehsaas Steering Committee chaired by the Prime Minister on July 8th 2019, it was decided that it is important to engage with a broad range of stakeholders to finalize the strategy of the Ehsaas Program” [using American spelling not everywhere but particularly here! It is a comment in a light vein as it makes hardly any difference].

As per website of Ehsaas, from September 17, 2019 to October 17, 2019, a public online consultation was held on the “Draft Ehsaas Strategy” and public at large was asked to give their feedback at feedback@pass.gov.pk. However, there is nothing available on website what the response was—it would have been desirable, even necessary, to post some informative/useful suggestions/recommendation received as feedback.  

The website of Ehsaas does promise that after the deadline (at the culmination of the online consultation), a face to face national consultation “will be held with a broad range of stakeholders”. One hopes, soon the outcome of “national consultation” with minutes will be posted on the website. It is also promised that at the finalization of the Strategy, the “ [Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division] PASSD Ehsaas Monitoring and Evaluation Group” will commence its work. The “PASSD Ehsaas Implementation Group” is currently working in tandem to plan and roll out initiatives as planned.

The impressive programmes and initiatives Ehsaas narrated above at the website will certainly be further highlighted vis-à-vis their implementation and results in the coming days by Dr. Sania Nishtar as she already explained many areas and challenges as well as plans and strategies in an interview, which is worth reading.

She brilliantly elucidated in the interview: “Execution of the programme at this scale requires setting up appropriate institutional arrangements and this has gone side by side with programmatic planning. I would refer to seven things in terms of foundation-building. Setting up of the ministry was the first thing to bring all the fragmented social protection initiatives under one umbrella and this was done immediately after the launch of the Ehsaas programme”.

One hopes that Dr. Ishrat Husain, assigned the task of restructuring of institutions, in his speech   tomorrow (January 16, 2020) at a seminar at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) on “State of Institutional Reform” (with subtitle: ‘Has research informed institutional reform and policymaking? Should it? has it?) is going to enlighten all of us whether any significant progress/success is so far achieved or not for much-needed and long-delayed reforms that the Government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) promised before coming to the power.

The success of any programme or initiative aimed depends on the delivery and not mere cliché and promises. We have failed to deliver so far because our institutions are outdated, inefficient, and incompetent as well as suffering from sleaze. They need fundamental, structural reforms to deliver and serve the people for which they are funded from taxpayers’ money [in our case also from loans, grants and aids].

The success of PTI’s initiative for making Ehsaas a success and turn Pakistan into a welfare state depends a lot on what Dr. Ishrat Husain achieves as task assigned to him is at the core of everything: even a good plan and programme cannot succeed unless you have efficient and competent administrative structure to deliver it. The case in point is Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) that after seven-year-long [2004-2011] World Bank funded Tax Administration Reforms Programme (TARP) is more dysfunctional as it was before the start of TARP (many call it ‘TRAP’). Now a new programme of reforms of FBR, Pakistan Raises Revenue (PRR), with US$ 400 million from World Bank’s loan is launched without any research and pragmatic study—thus valid subtitle was selected for seminar by new Vice-Chancellor of PIDE: ‘Has research informed institutional reform and policymaking? Should it? has it?    

In his recent article [The way forward, Business Recorder, January 2, 2020], Dr. Ishrat Husain has observed:

Once macro-economic Stability is achieved and maintained the next step is to resume the path for socially inclusive economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction. This would require some deep-rooted structural reforms whose benefits would become apparent after some time but whose foundations have to be laid now. The pre-requisite for sustained growth is that we as households, government and corporate Sector increase our domestic savings ratio. Unless that happens our investment ratios would remain inadequate to generate the desired growth rates of 6 to 7 percent to absorb the youth entering the labour force. If we want these higher growth rates but do not mobilize domestic savings and non debt creating external flows such as exports, remittances and foreign direct investment, we would have no option but to keep relying on large external borrowing. The effect of that strategy has been observed by all of us in the last thirty years. To achieve a sustainable and socially inclusive but fast growing economy we have to adopt a new model of democratic governance in which the state, markets, civil society and communities play a synergetic and mutually linked roles.

The conclusion at the end is quite optimistic:

To conclude, the current economic situation is improving as macroeconomic stability is achieved but the benefits to the common citizens would be gradually discernable with resumption of socially inclusive economic growth and job creation. For that to happen, the State, markets and civil society have to work together in harmony and unison showing perseverance and tolerating tough structural reforms. We have to move up the development trajectories that open up opportunities and build up capabilities for the majority of the population – away from the present trajectory that benefits a minority i.e., the elites of this society.

It is the time to remind the worthy Prime Minister, Dr. Ishrat Husain, Dr. Sania Nishtar, Dr. Nadeem Ul Haque—in fact all the ministers of the PTI Government, media and civil society—that since 1973, the State of Pakistan (no matter who was ruling) has failed to fulfill a promise guaranteed in the supreme law of the land—the Constitution.

Tragically, all the economic policies, adopted by the military and civilian rules, since then have been diametrically opposite, aimed at promoting, protecting and cementing interests of the State Oligarchy—militro-judicial-civil complex, absentee landowners, industrialists and public office holders. This Land of the Pure has, undoubtedly, nurtured an extremely exploitative socio-economic system, which has gained strength over the passage of time—just have a look at the life of luxury these elites enjoy at the expense of taxpayers’ money. Adding insult to injury, the apex court in 1990 held that land reforms were “un-Islamic.”.

Will Ehsaas help landless tillers to get lands to be empowered in real sense of the word? Will youth getting loans get knowledge how to run a business or profession with poor quality of education and no vocational training?  While we appreciate initiatives like Ehsaas, our main question is where is any action, even contemplated in any paper or policy, to end various kinds of repressions, coupled with cruelest means of economic exploitation by the ruling elites, presently in vogue in Pakistan, denying citizens their right to a decent life explained in great detail by the Supreme Court in the case of Ms. Shehla Zia v. WAPDA [PLD 1994 SC 693]. We never heard of even mentioning of this case by any minister or state functionary in any discourse what to speak of implementing it! The present scale of minimum wage of Rs. 17,500 is a shameful act in the face of Article 3 of the Constitution which says: “The State shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfilment of the fundamental principle, from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.

[underlined by us for emphasis]

We pray for the success of Ehsaas but the real issue is there any will to dismantle elitist structure of economy that is the main impediment for what is promised in Article 3 of the Constitution—a path to prosperity and equality for all citizens as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.

Let us remember that the motto ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ although has its roots in the New Testament [4:32-35: The Believers Share Their Possessions], was popularised by Karl Marx in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Programme. The phrase enunciates the principles that, under an ideal system, every person should contribute to the society to the best of his or her ability and consume from society in proportion to his or her needs. Fusing this Marxist ideology into ‘Islamic Socialism,’ Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the early part of his politics—later he became an instrument in the hands of elites as is now the PTI—promised in the Constitution, “from each according to his ability to each according to his work.” In fact, he followed the erstwhile USSR where the ruling communist party claimed that at a lower stage of Communism (socialism) in line with Marx’s arguments, it should be “From each according to his ability, to each according to his work (labour/investment).”

Obviously, Karl Marx had specific conditions in mind for such a creed to work—a society where technology and social organisation has substantially eliminated the need for physical labour in the production of things, where “labour has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want”. Marx explained his belief that, in such a society, each person would be motivated to work for the good of society despite the absence of a social mechanism compelling them to work, because work would have become a pleasurable and creative activity. Marx intended the initial part of his slogan, “from each according to his ability” to suggest not merely that each person should work as hard as they can, but that each person should best develop his particular talents.

Many of our students ask, will Ehsaas fulfill the Constitutional command of gradual elimination of all forms of exploitation? Many believe that a petition should be filed in Supreme Court for the implementation of Article 3 of the Constitution. Those who are realists amongst them mention that the apex Court has even failed to get its decisions on Article 25A implemented, rather started fixing the “reasonable” (sic) fees by private schools. May admit candidly that the independence of judiciary is just a myth as even the Supreme Court has failed to get implemented the fundamental rights guaranteed in Constitution. They highlight very rightly that Pakistan is ruled by a trio—militro-judicial-civil complex, businessmen-turned-politicians and landed aristocracy. Without ending their unholy alliance against the masses, they argue, no programme even as sincere and comprehensive as Ehsaas can succeed!   

The privileged classes protect and perpetuate exploitation of the poor with impunity in this Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the consensus they reached after a lengthy debate. One cited the example of Qazalbash Waqf v. Chief Land Commissioner, Punjab and others (PLD 1990 SC 99), where the judiciary protected the interests of mighty absentee landowners. The decision of the Shariat Appellate Bench of Supreme Court confirmed the decision of Shariat Court, established by Ziaul Haq, quashing the progressive land reforms law as repugnant to the Quran and Sunnah.  A nine-member bench of the apex court later heard a review petition, filed by Workers’ Party, National Party, Kissan Committee and others, against the said decision, but till today nothing has happened—not even the PTI and other parties ever thought of having fresh legislation to undo the judgement. It is a matter of record that the then party in rule Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) through Advocate General of Punjab opposed the review petition. On behalf of landowners, head of their organization, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, now foreign minister and important leader of PTI (established to fight for justice), hired an expensive lawyer, who claimed to be amongst the framers of 1973 Constitution to oppose the review! This is the reality of a country where in the past and now presently claims were/are made for establishing a welfare state ensuring social mobility of the downtrodden as promised in Article 3 and providing them decent right of life [Article 9] and free and compulsory education [Article 25A].

Is any political party in Pakistan inclined to change the present highly unjust and oppressive economic system? All those were in power or now the PTI had been protecting and still protecting the exploitative classes having monopoly over resources. These parties are not even sincere with Constitution—having no will to collect taxes from the rich, rather give them unprecedented amnesties and immunities to whiten their untaxed or even ill-gotten wealth. The poor are paying exorbitant indirect taxes even on essential commodities of everyday use, but the mighty sections of society—big absentee landowners, industrialists, generals and bureaucrats—are enjoying life without paying no or meagre taxes on their colossal assets/incomes. The state functionaries, politicians in power and judges receive tax-free allowances, privileges, perks, club and golf facilities—all funded by taxes extorted from the common citizens who in return even do not get what is guaranteed in the Constitution.

The gigantic and useless government apparatus—doing nothing for public welfare—is looting the wealth of the nation and wasting billions collected from the people. The army of ministers, state ministers, advisers, consultants, high-ranking government servants is not willing to give up unprecedented perquisites and privileges. They are not ready to live like common men by surrendering the luxury they are enjoying at the cost of taxpayers’ money.  The mighty sections of society defy Article 3 of the Constitution with impunity. An unholy anti-people alliance of the trio of indomitable civil-military bureaucrats, corrupt and inefficient politicians and greedy businessmen, controlling and enjoying 90% of resources is contributing less than 1% towards the national revenue collection. It will, thus, be living in Fool’s Paradise to expect them to implement Article 3 of Constitution via programmes like Ehsaas. They will keep the poor always dependent on alms and never to make them capable of economically independent—they are vote bank, poor subjects of privileged classes and nothing else!


The writers, lawyers and partners in law firm, HUZAIMA, IKRAM & IJAZ, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

[1] A case-study of Pakistan’s economic development during the past fifty years, which demonstrates that the benefit of this development has predominantly affected a small class of the elite, while the majority of the population remains illiterate, poor, and backward.

PDF version is available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Pakistan%3A-The-Economy-of-an-Elitist-State-Husain/88ad805354f2345ef9e712ab7e39c888ad136e78

[2] Read details about this model in ‘The Key to the Asian Miracle: Making Shared Growth Credible’ by  Jose Edgardo Campos and Hilton L. Root, June 7, 2001. The interesting article on the issue is: Does China follow “the East Asian development model of shared growth”? The Chinese way of development shares many characteristics with the East Asian developmental state model. Key elements of this shared development model include state control over finance, direct support for state owned enterprises by the government, import substitution industrialisation in heavy industry, a high dependence on export markets and a high rate of domestic savings. Even the reform of corporate governance is not likely to change the basic features of the East Asian model in China. Among East Asian countries, China shares more similar characteristics with Taiwan rather than with Japan or Korea since China, like Taiwan, also has an economy of dual structure that divides the public and non-public sectors.

[3] Mean “protection”

[4] Houses of Compassion

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