Dr. Ikramul Haq
2023 is election year in Pakistan, a time for all political parties to start preparing/finalising/unveiling their manifestos. For true democratic dispensation, which alone ensures mass participation in politics, it is imperative to debate out-and-out reforms in all areas of governance aimed at moving towards the cherished goal of self-reliance. It is not possible to make Pakistan a truly democratic and economically viable state unless we undertake long-delayed and much-needed structural reforms in the prevailing politico-economic system that favours elites at the expense of the less-privileged segments of society.
Under the title ‘Public Manifesto’ (to be published in parts) an effort is made to suggest some concrete/viable solutions to cure the well-known maladies faced by Pakistan that need to be fixed through holistic reforms. In part I, an overview of fundamental reforms is given.
In the coming weeks, a detailed roadmap of comprehensive reforms containing concrete suggestions will be presented for public debate and consideration of all political parties to reach a consensus for making Pakistan a place worth living in the next five years following the ideals of our founding fathers and framers of the supreme law of land—Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 [“the Constitution”].
The prevalent outmoded administrative and judicial systems need major changes to ensure fulfillment of rights of citizens and discharge of obligations by all within the four corners of law and principles laid down in the Constitution. The main cause of our prevalent pathetic socio-politico-economic conditions is perpetual, unchallenged, un-resisted existence of inefficient and corrupt institutions that are adding to the miseries of masses. Created and paid for the welfare of people, these are working for self-aggrandisement.
The juxtaposition of economic policymaking and political reforms is necessary. The agenda for reform and survival should entail a comprehensive, well-integrated and unified plan that alone can assure its success. Reform in one sector ignoring 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 reforms divorced from elimination of black economy is the point in focus. The main causes of burgeoning fiscal deficit are allowing an unprecedented size of underground economy to flourish, existence of incompetent and inefficient tax machinery, reckless borrowing and ruthless spending. Therefore, reforms in tax administration without routing the causes of parallel economy and plugging wasteful expenses are not going to improve management of public finance—notwithstanding the oft-repeated rhetoric of ‘Charter of Economy’.
The failure of democracy in Pakistan, among many other factors, is attributable to lack of democratic values within political parties—they are dominated by individuals who openly defy laws and avoid transparency in their affairs. It is sad to note that political parties, despite criticism from all corners, are not ready to introduce democracy within their ranks. Unless these parties reform themselves by introducing fundamental changes in their working, there is dim hope for meaningful (sustainable) democracy in Pakistan.
In all established democracies, political parties regularly hold elections, present their audited accounts to public, file tax returns, disclose details of expenses and names of donors—elements that are conspicuous by their absence in our political culture. Political parties in Pakistan are also required to meet these standards under various laws but the regulators, Election Commission of Pakistan, Securities & Exchange Commission of Pakistan and Federal Board of Revenue have miserably failed to enforce the laws and regulations.
The following points may be considered by all political parties to make them part of their respective election manifestos with the commitment to masses that no matter which party wins, these would be implemented:
- The first and foremost priority should be reforms in the justice system along with changes in administrative/governance apparatuses to eliminate the causes of litigation. No society can achieve progress unless it ensures dispensation of justice to all, irrespective of position in society.
- Second most vital area of attention should be revamping of education system with the aim to end ignorance. Our problem is not only illiteracy but also ignorance. Even the so-called literates demonstrate lack of civic sense. Focal point of education should be creating a society that is tolerant, disciplined, courteous and knowledgeable—capable of making innovations and technological advances.
- Ensuring efficacy and accountability of all institutions.
- Direct elections of Senate and giving it powers to vote on Money Bill.
- Devolution of political, administrative and financial powers to local governments.
- Education, health, housing, local policing, and all civic amenities should be provided through elected representatives of the local governments that should have powers to raise taxes for these purposes.
- Digitization, transparency and accountability in the governments at all levels to enable citizens to understand and participate fully in the process of national integration.
- Reforms in civil services, fair deal for employees with effective accountability.
- Elimination of terrorism, sectarianism, bigotry, intolerance and violence through enforcement of law and by taking concrete measures to ensure social development of society based on higher values of life and humanity.
- Strict laws and their effective implementation to curb terrorist financing, money laundering, plundering of national wealth, political write off of loans and leakages in revenue collections.
- Devising long-term and short-term strategies to break the shackles of debt-trap, making Pakistan a self-reliant economy and ensuring social security and economic justice for all citizens.
- Reforming and strengthening public finance management. Transparent public sector spending coupled with efficient performance.
- Demonstration of political will to control wasteful, non-developmental and non-combatant expenditure.
- Reform of technical, institutional and organizational dimensions of public finance.
- Good governance and corruption free government structures.
- Federal government should collect income tax on all kinds of incomes. Harmonised sales tax on goods and services should be in the provincial domain. All federal, provincial and local taxes should be collected through one agency (National Tax Authority) which should also disburse pensions and other social security payments to citizens.
- Reduction in excessive marginal tax rates making them compatible with other tax jurisdictions of the world, especially in Asia.
- Substantial reduction in corporate rate of tax.
- Elimination of onerous tax and other regulations for corporate sector that are the main stumbling blocks for domestic and foreign investments.
- Simplification of tax laws and procedures.
Democratisation of society requires respect for rule of law by the elected representatives. They flout it to promote cronyism that is anti-thesis of democracy. Elections alone cannot ensure democratization of society. These are a means to achieve representation of the masses, which is totally ignored by men in power. Our rulers—civil and military alike—have been doing everything contrary to democracy. They resorted to anti-people economic policies making Pakistan heavily indebted instead of striving for self-reliance. The present state of affairs is the direct result of these policies. In the second part, a blueprint will be presented on how to reverse these policies for stability, growth and prosperity for all.
The writer, Advocate Supreme Court, is Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)