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Agenda for survival

Dr. Ikramul Haq

The main cause of our pathetic socio-political and economic situation is existence of inefficient, corrupt, repressive and criminal institutions, which do not give a damn for the welfare of the common people. The successive governments’ policies of self-aggrandizement have reduced Pakistan to a State-in-perpetual conflict. We need to move quickly and decisively to reverse this trend by restoring Pakistan’s undeniable geo-strategic and business competitive position in the region. There is an urgent need to take necessary and tough decisions to make Pakistan a respectable place to work, live and invest.

The military-controlled government of Mr. Shaukat Aziz instead of seeking “help and guidance” of World Bank, whose President has just concluded his three days visit, must concentrate on reducing heavy reliance on internal and external loans and reducing poverty.

The following steps are inevitable if we want to make Pakistan a competitive place in today’s world:

  1. Establishment and continuance of democratic institutions both in form and substance coupled with a truly independent justice system.
  2. Dispensation of justice without delay should be the top most priority of the State.
  3. Revamping of entire education system and ensuring revolutionary measure to take society out of jahalat [ignorance]. Our problem is not only illiteracy but also ignorance. Even the so-called literates are jahil of worst order, as they do not demonstrate by their actions any norms of a civilized society. The foremost stress should be on Iqra [knowledge] and technological advances.
  4. Elimination of bigotry, religious intolerance and violence by taking concrete measures to ensure social development of society based on higher values of life and humanity.
  5. Devising long-term and short-term strategies to break the shackles of debt-trap.
  6. Determination and political will to control wasteful, non-developmental and defence expenditure.
  7. Strict laws and their effective implementation to curb money laundering, plundering of national wealth, political write off of bank loans and leakages in revenue collections.
  8. Reform of technical, institutional and organizational dimensions of public finance.
  9. Improvement in public sector effectiveness.
  10. Reform and strengthening of management of public finances.
  11. Transparent public sector spending.
  12. Efficient public sector performance.
  13. Revitalization of tax machinery.
  14. Simplification of tax laws and procedures.
  15. Good governance and corrupt free government structures.
  16. Reduction in excessive marginal tax rates making them compatible with other tax jurisdictions of the world, especially in Asia.
  17. Substantial reduction in corporate rate of tax.
  18. Elimination of onerous tax and other regulations for corporate sector that are the main stumbling block for new direct foreign investments.
  19.  Sufficient openness and accountability in the government to enable citizens to understand and participate fully in the process of national integration. This includes live telecast of the assembly proceedings.
  20. Complete transparency in government and private financial transactions.

The juxtaposition of economic policymaking and political reform [democratization] of society is necessary. The agenda for reform and survival should entail a comprehensive, well-integrated and unified plan that alone can assure its success. The reform in one sector ignoring the ills in the other, resorting to improving something at the cost of leaving aside the one interlinked, will not yield desired results. The case of tax reform divorced to elimination of black economy is the point in focus. The main cause of fiscal deficit is existence of an unprecedented size of underground economy and the share of incompetence and inefficient tax machinery is significant, but reform in tax administration alone without routing the causes of parallel economy is not going to improve GDP-tax ratio [which is below 10%].

In the same manner mere constitutional changes giving more powers to a self-appointed President have failed to improve the political culture. We cannot achieve the cherished goal of democratization of society unless in respect for rule of law and democratic behaviour in practice is clearly demonstrated. The general elections alone are not an instrument to ensure democratization of society. These are a means to achieve the goal of true representation of the people in governance.

The understanding of the concept of peoples’ rule of the present regime is not different from that of the late Gen. Ziaul Haq, who destroyed all public institutions during his 11-year dictatorial rule in the name of his version of democracy and Islam. Every dictator desires to perpetuate his unlawful rule advocating that he is the saviour of the nation, and ultimately destroys the national cohesion itself. It is unfortunate that our highest court since the inception of the country lent legitimacy to the unconstitutional rule that came into existence by flagrant violation of the Constitution itself.  A new dangerous trend has now emerged where the approver of the military coup has been asked to supervise the electoral process as well. It is sheer mockery of the rule of law, respect of which is at the core of a democratically successful society.

As we are doing everything contrary to democracy in the name of political reforms, in the same manner we are resorting to anti-people policies in the area of economic policymaking at the dictates of foreign donors making Pakistan heavily dependent on external loans instead of moving towards self-reliance. The rising tide of poverty is the direct result of these policies. The regime of General Musharraf, free from the compulsions of political governments, was expected to be more realistic in tackling economic problems. However, the Federal Budgets announced since October 1999 were cast in the traditional mould with the striking difference that it had counted the chickens not before they were hatched but long before even the eggs had been laid. Where are we heading? Where is the much harped about rational policy and agenda of reforms announced on 12th October 1999?

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