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analysis
No respite in sight
The country's economic performance in the first quarter of the current fiscal year bodes bad news for the days to come
By Mustafa Nazir Ahmad
The summary of consolidated federal and provincial budgetary operations for the first quarter (July to September 2007) of the current fiscal year, posted on the website of the Ministry of Finance last week, makes an interesting reading on many counts. Not only does it tell us that the government has failed to achieve its revenue targets, but also that the current expenditure has exceeded beyond expectations. More importantly, according to the government's own figures, the money earmarked for development expenditure on federal projects has not been fully utilised.

Newswatch
Bush family's awkward little secret - Part II
By Kaleem Omar
One of US President George W Bush's earliest financial backers was James Bath, a Houston aircraft broker. Bath served with Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. "Bath has a mysterious connection with the CIA," said a report published in American Freedom News (AFN). Bush's father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush, was director of the CIA in the mid-1970s.


firstperson
Audio energy for democracy
You cannot trust Washington. The US is not going to promote the interests of the people of Pakistan, who are seen as a commodity -- just like any other commodity.
By Gibran Peshimam
David Barsamian is the founder and director of the progressive, independent radio programme, Alternative Radio, which has been dubbed as the 'audio energy for democracy'. Based in Boulder, Colorado, the United States, where David Barsamian resides, Alternative Radio is a weekly one-hour critical broadcast on international public affairs. It is offered free of cost to more than 125 radio stations, reaching millions of listeners.


Time to make the right choice
Musharraf and his aides and abettors seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
As expected, the ruling regime is attempting to create the illusion that the country is heading towards normalcy in the lead-up to January 8, when yet another incredibly compromised 'elections' are set to take place. Even before Musharraf's announcement that the emergency would be lifted on December 16, the government had released a large number of political prisoners and markedly cut back on the use of force to suppress dissent.

climate
Looming crisis
For the first time in Pakistan's history, environment has been included as a priority area in the election manifesto of a major political party
By Shafqat Munir
The Pakistan People's Party's (PPP's) election manifesto -- with 'Environment', 'Energy', 'Equality', 'Education' and 'Employment' as the five top priority areas -- was announced a few days ahead of the 12-day United Nations Climate Change Conference, which started in the Indonesian resort of Bali on December 3. The PPP, a likely winner of the forthcoming general elections to be held on January 8, 2008, decided to include environment in its election manifesto at a time when climate change is badly impacting the ecological balance in the country.


Back on the track
Life is returning to normal in the NWFP after the dissolution of the MMA-dominated provincial assembly
By Asad Jan
If you had a chance of visiting Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), during the rule of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) from 2003-2007, you will definitely recall the smashed or blackened billboards and hoardings bearing images of women models. If you think that the same situation still prevails, you are completely mistaken -- the Peshawarites are fast reverting to their true colours and the city's transition has started in the post-MMA period -- quite similar to the neighbouring Afghans, who abruptly abandoned what they had been forced to adopt by the Taliban

Housing deficit
There will be more and more people without houses of their own if extraordinary measures are not adopted
By Alauddin Masood
Pakistan's housing deficit, currently 6.19 million, is increasing annually by 270,000 housing units, according to official sources, while private developers maintain that the country's housing deficit is seven million units and it is increasing by 350,000 housing units per year.

corruption
Mother of all evils
Pakistan continues to be one of the most corrupt nations in the world despite the fact that several steps have been taken to counter this menace
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Every year, the International Anti-Corruption Day is observed on December 9 all over the World. It signifies the day when the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was first opened for signing at Merida, Mexico, in 2003. By that time, Pakistan had already formulated a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS). The country ratified UNCAC in August 2007 and came out with an Anti-Money Laundering Law in September 2007 to honour commitments it had made with the international community to combat corruption.

"Our powers are extremely limited"
Interview with Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment Director General Brig (r) Muhammad Aslam Ghuman
By Aoun Sahi
The News on Sunday: The Anti Corruption Establishment (ACE) was set up to eradicate corruption in government departments. Why has it failed to achieve this objective?


A burgeoning phenomenon
More and more businessmen are contesting elections rather than financing them, as they used to do in the past
By Hamid Waleed
The involvement of multinational companies in day-to-day global political affairs is becoming evident with each passing day. Right from Washington to Kabul, every important political decision is influenced by some business interest. As if this is not enough, businessmen are not only turning into successful politicians in major industrial countries but are also being elected as prime ministers and presidents.


analysis

No respite in sight

The country's economic performance in the first quarter of the current fiscal year bodes bad news for the days to come

 

By Mustafa Nazir Ahmad

The summary of consolidated federal and provincial budgetary operations for the first quarter (July to September 2007) of the current fiscal year, posted on the website of the Ministry of Finance last week, makes an interesting reading on many counts. Not only does it tell us that the government has failed to achieve its revenue targets, but also that the current expenditure has exceeded beyond expectations. More importantly, according to the government's own figures, the money earmarked for development expenditure on federal projects has not been fully utilised.

Before coming to the specifics, let us briefly discuss the budget document and its importance. The budget has serious repercussions for all the citizens of a country, irrespective of their economic or social status. However, there is a common misperception among people that the budget is an extremely technical document, difficult to understand without expertise in finance. The truth is on the contrary: the budget is a political document that involves choices and trade-offs among various policy options.

In fact, budgeting is a part of everyday life. On an almost daily basis, we make choices and trade off alternative ways in which we can spend a limited amount of money. Whether we are buying food for the family or purchasing a motorbike, we plan how much we are able to spend against how much income we expect to earn over a certain period of time.

Similarly, the annual national budget is a government plan of how to balance expected income against expected expenditure over the coming fiscal year. It reflects the country's socio-economic priorities by translating policies and political commitments into taxation and expenditure. In this way, it emphasises constraints and trade-offs in policy choices. How funds are raised by the government and how they are spent is a vital concern of the people. The level of concern varies from country to country, depending on the political rights enjoyed by the people and range of freedoms available to them.

The annual national budget, in a narrow sense, provides forecasts of a country's revenue and expenditure in a given fiscal year. But, at the same time, it reflects various dimensions of national economic and non-economic policies, as well as serves as an instrument of economic restructuring, growth and stabilisation in the long-term perspective. It spells out the significant elements of fiscal and monetary policies to achieve the national economic growth and income redistribution objectives.

 

Revenue collection

The total revenue collection in the first three months of 2007-08 stood at Rs 312.613 billion. Of this, Rs 215.578 were collected under the head of 'tax revenue', while the remaining Rs 97.035 billion under 'non-tax revenue'. The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has set the revenue target of Rs 1,368.1 billion for the whole year, which implies that Rs 342.025 billion should have been collected in the first quarter -- in other words, the FBR has missed its target by almost Rs 30 billion. The revenue collection, however, has significantly improved in comparison with the last fiscal year, when only Rs 255.672 could be collected in the corresponding period.

Coming to the tax revenue, its target for the whole year has been set ambitiously at Rs 1,030.5 billion. This implies that Rs 257.625 should have been collected in the first quarter and the FBR has missed its target by more than Rs 42 billion. However, the collection of taxes traditionally picks up in the last quarter of the fiscal year, when tax officials gear up their efforts to meet the set targets. In the last fiscal year, Rs 191.62 billion were collected under the head of 'tax revenue' in the corresponding period.

Interestingly, the collection of non-tax revenue has increased beyond the expectation. Against the annual target of Rs 337.6 billion, an amount of Rs 97.035 was collected only in the first quarter. In the last fiscal year, only Rs 64.052 billion were collected under this head in the corresponding period. The monumental increase has largely been due to the profit -- Rs 47.3 billion -- earned by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP). It appears that the non-tax revenue will fetch the government at least Rs 50 billion more than it had expected by the end of 2007-8.

The revenue target can still be met if the concerned officials remain focussed on the job at hand and more people are brought into the tax net. However, it is pertinent to mention here that the collection of direct taxes (in particular, income tax) needs to be improved more than that of indirect taxes (in particular, sales tax), as the latter put an additional burden on the poor while the former affect the rich only.

 

Current expenditure

This has been the most troublesome area of the budget for the past many years, as successive governments have failed to curtail their expenditure, especially under the head of 'servicing of domestic debt'. It is right time to do away with another misconception that Pakistan spends a lot on the servicing of foreign debt. It should be clear to all and sundry that our government, whenever in need of money, prefers to borrow from its own people rather than other countries or international financial institutions, owing to the strict conditions imposed by them. Figures speak for themselves -- in the first quarter of 2007-08, Rs 98.541 billion were paid under the head of 'servicing of domestic debt' and only Rs 12.585 billion under 'servicing of foreign debt'.

Overall, the current expenditure in the first quarter of the current fiscal year swelled to Rs 339.989 billion, against the annual target of Rs 1056.35 billion. This implies that the government has spent almost Rs 96 billion more than its target in only the first three months of this fiscal year. This does not augur well for the economy, though its roots could be traced in the past. By the end of a fiscal year on June 30, the government normally realises that the difference between its expected revenue and expenditure (budget deficit) has reached enormous proportions, and is left with no choice but to borrow from individuals (through the sale of prize bonds or floating of new bonds) and banks.

The only positive aspect as far as the current expenditure in the first quarter of this fiscal year is concerned is that the defence expenditure has remained within its target. Of the Rs 275 billion allocated to it, only Rs 57.546 could be spent. Hopefully, the government would not resort to lame excuses -- as it had been doing in the past -- to increase the expenditure under this head in the remaining part of the fiscal year.

Playing the role of devil's advocate, however, one also suspects that the actual defence expenditure is much higher and the government is hiding it by showing some of the related expenditures under other heads of the budget. Going by the available information, it is no more a secret that retired personnel of the armed forces are being paid their superannuation allowance and pensions from the civilian budget. This alone accounted for Rs 10.502 billion in the first quarter of the current fiscal year. Going by some other unconfirmed reports, the substantial increase in education and health budgets in the past few years has been due to the fact that expenditure incurred on cadet colleges and military hospitals has been charged to these heads instead of the defence budget.

Coming to the current budget spent under the heads of 'health' and 'education affairs and services', the performance has been below par. For example, of the Rs 5.24 billion earmarked for the former, only Rs 1.121 billion (or 21 per cent) could be spent in the first quarter. Similarly, of the Rs 24.147 billion earmarked for education affairs and services, only Rs 4.967 billion (or 20 per cent) could be spent in the first quarter.

 

Development expenditure

As always, the development expenditure has been the worst causality. Under the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), initiated by the World Bank and subsequently endorsed by other financial institutions and donor agencies, Pakistan is under tremendous pressure to increase its development budget -- the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP). This is highly improbable due to the lack of adequate infrastructure, especially in the areas of education and health. Therefore, we see full-page promotional advertisements in newspapers about some of the projects -- the Punjab Education Sector Reform Programme (PESRP) to name just one -- initiated with the additional money available. However, how much money is actually spent on the desired purposes remains a mystery.

Of the Rs 520 billion earmarked for the PSDP, the federal and provincial governments have been able to spend almost 25 per cent (Rs 127.87 billion) in the first quarter of 2007-08. One can tell from experience that this is too good to be true and a break-up of the money spent under the head of development budget testifies to this. Of the Rs 520 billion earmarked for the PSDP, the federal share was Rs 370 billion and the provincial share was Rs 150 billion. However, in the first quarter of the current fiscal year, only Rs 67.184 billion (or 18 per cent) were spent by the federal government, while the provincial governments spent as much as Rs 60.686 billion (or 40 per cent) of the earmarked amount.

What is most surprising is that Punjab alone spent Rs 44.951 billion (or about 75 per cent) of this amount. If this is not pre-poll rigging, what else is! In all probability, these funds -- meant for overcoming income inequality and improving the condition of the downtrodden of the society -- were spent on self-promotion by the outgoing chief minister of Punjab, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. It also points to the growing feeling of resentment in the smaller provinces, which have no access to advance funds under the PSDP.

 

Federal divisible pool

This is another area in which the government has failed miserably to fulfill its commitments. Of the Rs 465 billion reserved for provinces in 2007-8, only Rs 91 billion (less than 20 per cent) have actually been transferred to them by the Centre. It comes as an even bigger surprise, given the government's commitment to increase the share of provinces periodically every year. Of the Rs 465 billion earmarked for this purpose, Punjab's projected share was Rs 236 billion and it received only Rs 44.5 billion (or 19 per cent) in the first quarter; Sindh's projected share was Rs 144 billion and it received only Rs 28 billion (or 19.4 per cent); the NWFP's projected share was Rs 55.9 billion and it received only Rs 10.8 billion (or 19.3 per cent); and Balochistan's projected share was Rs 29.6 billion and it received Rs 7.7 billion (26 per cent). It is nice to know that Balochistan, the most deprived province of the country, has fared better than others at least in one area.

 

Budget deficit

As a result of less-than-expected revenue collection and more-than-expected expenditure in the first quarter of the current financial year, the budget deficit has swelled to Rs 158.066 billion. This deficit was financed through borrowing of Rs 121.268 billion from domestic sources and Rs 36.798 from external sources. It is pertinent to mention that the government has already exceeded, in only the first quarter, the budget deficit target (Rs 130.9 billion) set for the whole fiscal year. This does not bode well for the future, as more taxes will have to be imposed to repay the money borrowed from both domestic and external sources to finance the budget deficit.

This also gives a clear indication that by the fiscal year's end, the overall budget deficit would be to the tune of Rs 600 billion. It is the people of Pakistan who will have to bear the burden and pay back this amount in the form on new taxes and duties. It not only reflects on the gaps in the planning done by the Ministry of Finance with regard to the budget formulation, but also exposes the hollowness of good governance mantra chanted by the outgoing regime!

 

Newswatch

Bush family's awkward little secret - Part II

 

By Kaleem Omar

One of US President George W Bush's earliest financial backers was James Bath, a Houston aircraft broker. Bath served with Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. "Bath has a mysterious connection with the CIA," said a report published in American Freedom News (AFN). Bush's father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush, was director of the CIA in the mid-1970s.

Bath's relationship with the bin Laden financial empire and the CIA was made public in 1992 by Bill White, a former real estate business partner with Bath. White informed US federal investigators in 1992 that Bath had told him that he had assisted the CIA in a liaison role since 1976, when Bush Senior was director of the CIA.

White told a Texas court in 1992 that Bath and the US Justice Department had "blackballed" him professionally and financially, because he refused to keep quiet about his knowledge of a "conspiracy" to launder Middle Eastern money into the bank accounts of American businesses and politicians.

In sworn depositions, Bath admitted he represented four wealthy Saudi businessmen as a trustee. According to the AFN report, he also admitted he used his name on their investments and received, in return, a five per cent stake in their business deals. Texas tax documents revealed that Bath owned five per cent of Arbusto '79 Ltd (Arbusto means 'Bush' in Spanish) and Arbusto '80 Ltd, the general partnership firm owned by George W Bush.

Although Bush's Texas oil ventures were financial failures, his financial backers -- including Osama bin Laden's late older brother, Salem bin Laden, who was an investor in Arbusto Energy, and who died in an aeroplane crash in Texas in 1998 -- recovered their investments through a series of mergers and stock swaps. Bush changed Arbusto's name to Bush Exploration and then merged the new firm into Spectrum 7 Energy Corporation in 1984.

Spectrum 7 eventually ended up being folded into Harken Energy Corp, a Dallas-based corporation. Bush joined Harken as a director in 1986 and was given 212,000 shares of Harken stock. At that time, Bush's father was vice-president of the United States in the Reagan administration.

Bush Junior used his White House connections to land a lucrative contract for the obscure Harken Energy Corp with the government of Bahrain. On June 20, 1990, Bush sold his Harken stock for $ 848,000 and paid off a bank loan he had taken out earlier to buy a small share in the Texas Rangers baseball club. Shortly after Bush sold his stock, Harken's fortunes nose-dived when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Some critics claim that President Bush Senior tipped off Bush Junior in advance about the coming Gulf War.

George W Bush, however, worked wonders for Harken Energy Corp before the stock collapsed. Using the Bush family name, he managed to bring much-needed capital investment to the struggling firm. According to the AFN report, Bush travelled to Little Rock, Arkansas, to attend a meeting with Jackson Stephens -- a powerful Arkansas tycoon who helped bankroll the state campaign for Bill Clinton.

Stephens first gained political prominence as a fund-raiser for President Jimmy Carter. He was also deeply involved in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) scandal by helping the bank take control of First American Bank in Washington.

Mary Anne, Stephens' wife, managed Vice-President George Bush Senior's 1988 presidential campaign in Arkansas. Stephens, Inc, the brokerage firm owned by Jackson Stephens, donated $ 100,000 to a Bush Senior campaign fundraising dinner in 1991. After George W Bush won the controversial vote count in Florida in the 2000 presidential election (a win that gave him the presidency by the narrowest margin in history), Jackson Stephens made a substantial financial contribution to the Bush inauguration celebrations.

According to the AFN report, Stephens arranged for a $ 25 million investment from the Union des Banques Suisse in the 1980s. The Swiss bank held the minority interest in the Banque de Commerce et de Placements, a Geneva-based subsidiary of the now defunct BCCI, which was shut down by international regulators in July 1991.

Both Stephens and Abdullah Taha Bakhsh, a wealthy and well-connected Saudi real estate investor, signed the financial transaction. According to the AFN report, the Geneva transaction was paid through a joint venture between the Union Bank of Switzerland and the Geneva branch of BCCI.

The BCCI connection, therefore, linked George W Bush with Saudi banker Khalid bin Mahfouz, who held a 20 per cent stake in the BCCI between 1986 and 1990. According to the AFN report, "Mahfouz is no stranger to the Bush family. He was a big investor in the Carlyle Group, a defence-industry investment group with deep connections to the Republican party establishment." Former President Bush Senior is a former member of Carlyle's board of directors. George W Bush also held shares in Caterair, a Carlyle subsidiary.

According to the AFN report, five top Saudi businessmen ordered the Mahfouz-controlled National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia to transfer personal funds and $ 3 million from a Saudi pension fund to the Capitol Trust Bank in New York City. According to the AFN report, the money was deposited in charities "operating in the US and Great Britain as fronts for Osama bin Laden."

According to the AFN report, Abdullah Taha Bakhsh, the Saudi businessman who co-signed the $ 25 million cash infusion into George W Bush's Harken Energy Corp, appointed Talat Othman to manage his 17.6 per cent share in Harken Energy. Othman, a native Palestinian, was president and chief executive officer of Dearborn Financial, Inc -- an investment firm in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

According to the AFN report, American investigative journalist David Twersky reported in the early 1990s that Othman had a seat on Harken Energy's board of directors and met three times in the White House with President Bush Senior. Organised by White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, Othman's first meeting with President Bush Senior was in August 1990, just days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

Following the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, the US government moved quickly to freeze bank accounts allegedly connected with Osama bin Laden, Khalid bin Mahfouz and a host of charities. Perhaps US federal agents should have also frozen the financial assets of the Bush family.

(The first part of this article was published on Sunday, December 2. This is the concluding part.)

firstperson

Audio energy for democracy

You cannot trust Washington. The US is not going to promote the interests of the people of Pakistan, who are seen as a commodity -- just like any other commodity.

 

By Gibran Peshimam

David Barsamian is the founder and director of the progressive, independent radio programme, Alternative Radio, which has been dubbed as the 'audio energy for democracy'. Based in Boulder, Colorado, the United States, where David Barsamian resides, Alternative Radio is a weekly one-hour critical broadcast on international public affairs. It is offered free of cost to more than 125 radio stations, reaching millions of listeners.

David Barsamian is also known for his famed interviews with prominent social activists and commentators, including Noam Chomsky, the late Eqbal Ahmad, the late Edward Said, Howard Zinn, Arundhati Roy, Vandana Shiva and Tariq Ali. His latest published work -- a collection of conversations with Noam Chomsky -- is entitled What We Say Goes: Conversations on US Power in a Changing World, which is also the title of the lecture series that he is currently delivering in Pakistan.

David Barsamian delivered the first lecture of the series in Karachi on December 4 and the second in Islamabad on December 6. He is due to deliver the third and final lecture of the series in Lahore on December 10, before going to New Delhi and Srinagar. Having lived for about three years in New Delhi, where he learned to play sitar as a 19 year-old from Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan and Ustad Asad Ali Khan, David Barsamian speaks fluent Urdu. He is also proficient in many other languages and has travelled extensively throughout the world. The News on Sunday caught up with him in Karachi for a highly enjoyable and engaging chat. Excerpts follow:

The News on Sunday: First of all, it is fascinating and, I must admit, surprising to know that you can speak Urdu so well. I have heard that you are a big fan of Mirza Ghalib too. Is this true?

David Barsamian: Oh yes, I am a big fan of Mirza Ghalib. I lived in Old Delhi, right near Jamia Masjid and Lal Qila, when I was learning to play sitar. The culture at that time was highly sophisticated and almost all the musicians only spoke Urdu, so I had to learn the language too. In fact, I am a great fan of all the classics -- Ghalib, Iqbal, Faiz, etc. However, now I can sense that the great surge in Urdu poetry is somehow ebbing -- there aren't many good poets or perhaps I do not know about them. Main to ghair aadmi hoon, aap yahan rehtay hain.

TNS: You learned to play sitar in Delhi, then returned to the US as a young man. How did you end up getting into radio?

DB: I did some sitar concerts in New York after I returned to the US, but it was a very frustrating experience -- no one seemed interested in listening to sitar, which was really demoralising for me. Then I got a job at the World Trade Centre to teach English. I worked there for about four years. Next, I happened to visit Colorado where my sister was living in Boulder. I found the place very attractive and beautiful, so I decided to move there. By chance, a community radio station opened in the area. I applied as I had no job and got a programme, Ganges to the Nile. It was a show about music and poetry from all over the world. That's how my career began in 1978, almost 30 years ago.

TNS: What is Alternative Radio about?

DB: It is a weekly one-hour programme broadcast all over the world. It is radical, as it attempts to be a voice for the voiceless. The programme is trying to provide a forum where the voices of the voiceless can be heard in a respectful and dignified way, unlike a lot of other talk shows in the US.

TNS: Is there some South Asian connection to the show?

DB: I did a lot of work with the late Eqbal Ahmed and now I am doing a number of programmes with Tariq Ali. I also co-authored a book with Tariq Ali last year, entitled Speaking of Empire. Moreover, I have featured on the show many people from South Asia -- Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Ahmed Rashid, Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva to name a few.

TNS: You have interviewed many prominent personalities in your career, including the late Eqbal Ahmad and Noam Chomsky, both of whom are towering figures in the field of contemporary political and social discourse. What was your experience of interviewing them and how did you contact them initially?

DB: I feel that one of my roles is to be an electronic umbilical chord for towering figures like the late Eqbal Ahmad and Noam Chomsky, so that they can share what they have to say with larger audiences. The interviews with them were basically radio broadcasts, which were later turned into published books.

I always knew about Eqbal Ahmad. I had first heard of him when I was living in India. I thought to myself: there is this radical Pakistani in the US; that is so unusual! But I did not get a chance to meet with him until 1983 in New York. I told that story in the Confronting Empire interview with him. I thought I had done such a great interview, but had forgotten to press the record button on my device. I was so embarrassed. I called him up and told him about it. His response was: "Koi baat nahin. Kal aa jana."

As regards Noam Chomsky, I had already done a couple of programmes with him. It all started when I wrote a cold letter to him and did not expect a response, but he replied back right away. So we started a correspondence and then I suggested an interview. The most remarkable thing about Noam Chomsky is that he is so unpretentious. He practices an egalitarian ethos. It is not a theoretic thing with him. I have seen him with high school students, giving them all his attention for an interview that is going to appear in a small newspaper that only eight people are going to read. And outside there is a Nobel Laureate waiting for him.

There are no power plays; he will treat everyone as an equal. Besides being unpretentious, Noam Chomsky is also funny and sarcastic. I love him very much. He is very accessible. We have a brand new book out entitled What We Say Goes: Conversations on US Power in a Changing World, which is also the title of the lecture series that I am currently delivering in Pakistan.

TNS: How do you view the US policy towards Pakistan?

DB: You cannot trust Washington. The US is not going to promote the interests of the people of Pakistan, who are seen as a commodity -- just like any other commodity. All the debate in the US media revolves around have we got our money's worth in Pakistan? Has it been a bad investment? Is Pervez Musharraf going to help us find Osama bin Laden? There seems to be no regard for the 165 million people living in the country.

TNS: Do you mean to say that the US policy towards Pakistan -- far from the positive spins it is given by successive administrations, in particular the present one -- has actually been negative? If yes, why is it so because Pakistan has always been an ally of the US? Also, why is the US not interested in a genuine democracy in Pakistan?

DB: I believe that the US has played a very detrimental role in Pakistan's development. The reason I say this is that the US was very uncomfortable with India and the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) during the Cold War days. The whole affair was making the US very, very uncomfortable, as it wanted things in black and white -- you are either with us or with the Soviets. So the idea of NAM or a 'third way' -- as advocated by the likes of Sukarno, Nasser, Tito and Nehru -- was a big threat to America.

So what does the US do? It immediately militarises Pakistan. It puts the country in the Baghdad Pact, even though it is miles away from Iraq. One should not forget that there have always been military alliances between Pakistan and the US. This militaristic relationship has had very bad consequences for the development of democracy and civil society in Pakistan, because it favours the development of the military. The US has never been interested in a genuine democracy in Pakistan. It only wants to use the country as a military ally, as a tool to threaten India.

What the Americans are saying today about democracy in Pakistan is just propaganda. In fact, what they need is a stable Pakistan for their own vested interests. They want to send an email and get a quick response, as if a master calls the slave. Of the $ 10 billion dollars given to Pakistan since 9/11, only a few million have gone towards any kind of development projects and the rest have been squandered.

TNS: Is the threat that Pakistan and the US-led coalition are fighting in the tribal areas and Afghanistan not real?

DB: The US is the most violent country in the world today. We hear all these negative things about warlords in the tribal areas and Afghanistan, but they are small time operators. It is true that they are not nice guys and they do terrible things, but their ability to be not nice is limited to their areas. In short, they have limited ability to inflict damage. They are terrible, they are patriarchs, they are misogynists, but they cannot inflict damage beyond their areas. The US, on the other hand, straddles the globe. It has bases all over the world, from where it can inflict tremendous damage on its opponents. The scale does not compare.

 

Time to make the right choice

Musharraf and his aides and abettors seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place

 

By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

As expected, the ruling regime is attempting to create the illusion that the country is heading towards normalcy in the lead-up to January 8, when yet another incredibly compromised 'elections' are set to take place. Even before Musharraf's announcement that the emergency would be lifted on December 16, the government had released a large number of political prisoners and markedly cut back on the use of force to suppress dissent.

Whatever the thinking of the regime, demonstrations of students, journalists and lawyers continue in major urban centres, and particularly in Islamabad / Rawalpindi and Lahore. Indeed Musharraf and his aides and abettors seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is impossible to continue engaging in unbridled state repression at a time when the primary focus seems to be creating the pretence that 'free and fair' elections can take place. However, the demands for the restoration of the pre-November 3 judiciary, lifting of all media curbs, and the departure of Musharraf and his coterie of supporters just do not seem to be going away.

Undoubtedly the mainstream opposition parties' positions have had, and will continue to have, a great bearing on how an already complex situation will evolve. If they do decide to participate in the so-called elections, it can be expected that the principled demands of lawyers, students and journalists will slowly but surely fade into the background as the hustle and bustle of election campaigning -- however muted it may be -- takes over our lives. On the other hand, if they agree to boycott, the movement will surely intensify.

Aitzaz Ahsan's recently published open letter recognised the very real possibility that the parties will take part in the elections and -- in such an event -- outlined a course of action for the legal fraternity that would, as such, keep the issue of the judiciary's restoration alive. Regardless of whether or not lawyers pay heed to Aitzaz's suggestion, political parties have a lot to think about as they make a final decision about participation in the 'elections' (some would say they decided a long time ago).

It would appear that the most compelling reason for participation is the fact that the majority of Pakistanis, and more specifically the rural population, has been largely unmoved by the political unrest in urban centres and that this 'silent majority' will take part in the election process as it always has done. It is noteworthy that the PPP repeatedly invokes the example of the 1985 non-party elections, which it boycotted only to discover that ordinary Pakistan's ended up voting pro-government candidates into power.

Presumably the leadership of the mainstream opposition is also convinced that the worst form of democracy trumps unrepresentative rule of any kind and accordingly is willing to take part in flawed elections in the hope that the end result will move Pakistan a little bit further along towards democracy. Underlying this way of looking at things is an acceptance that the military is and will remain a permanent player in Pakistan's politics and that it is at least premature and at most unrealistic to push for an end to the military's political role.

In this whole calculus, one should always be clear about the role of the United States. As has been mentioned on more than one occasion over the past few months, the sudden reprieve given to Benazir Bhutto and her PPP by the Musharraf regime has had much to do with the White House's conviction that a civilian face is required to push on with the 'war on terror' effort in Pakistan (of course it is important not to lose sight of the fact that this realisation dawned upon the Americans only after the Musharraf junta was tottering in the face of the lawyer-led movement for the CJ's restoration). A recognition of the American role is important because there can be no question that Washington remains a firm supporter of the Pakistani military, which means that any American-sponsored 'democracy promotion' exercise in Pakistan necessarily reinforces the military's position.

However political parties also have to take into account the demands of the students, lawyers and journalists who refuse to go away well over a month after the imposition of martial law. The principled position goes something like this: time and again mainstream parties have acquiesced to participation in an 'electoral process' which has been manipulated to no end to ensure that a weak coalition government is formed in which the military's role of arbiter remains intact (preferably from behind the scenes). Voters make their choice on the basis of who offers them greater access to the state rather than who offers a vision of change for the better. Thus not only is the political system gripped by inertia, it is also characterised by enormous cynicism.

It is this inertia and cynicism alongside the manipulations of the military behind the scenes that inevitably leads to a crisis of legitimacy for the 'elected government', the end result of which is yet another flawed 'election' or worse yet, the military stepping in to 'save Pakistan', yet again. Throughout this repetitive charade, the Americans make a mockery of the notion that Pakistan is a sovereign state and the alienation of ordinary people from their state deepens as the latter essentially operates as a satellite of imperialism.

It is true that all of the efforts of the past nine months have not given rise to a countervailing power to the military establishment that can force a reconfiguration in the state. This is why we are facing the prospect of mainstream parties participating in the elections and thereby allowing the military-dominated political system to survive into the immediate future. But mainstream parties are surely also aware that there is now almost zero tolerance for the military's political role and those who support it amongst a growing section of the population. In more ways than one, if they do not support this growing movement for change now, they are potentially shooting themselves in the foot in times to come.

Political parties have been manipulated and fractured to the point where they no longer enjoy an organic link with the people of Pakistan, or at the very least the relationship is characterised by cynicism. They can either settle for mediocrity and accept American-sponsored 'change' or they can take a risk, trust the forces of genuine change and rescue themselves from possible extinction. If ever there was a time to make the right choice, this is it.

 

 

 

climate

Looming crisis

For the first time in Pakistan's history, environment has been included as a priority area in the election manifesto of a major political party

 

By Shafqat Munir

The Pakistan People's Party's (PPP's) election manifesto -- with 'Environment', 'Energy', 'Equality', 'Education' and 'Employment' as the five top priority areas -- was announced a few days ahead of the 12-day United Nations Climate Change Conference, which started in the Indonesian resort of Bali on December 3. The PPP, a likely winner of the forthcoming general elections to be held on January 8, 2008, decided to include environment in its election manifesto at a time when climate change is badly impacting the ecological balance in the country.

According to the 2005 data Pakistan has the lowest forest cover (2.5 per cent) in South Asia, while Sri Lanka has the highest forest cover in the region with 29.6 per cent, followed by Nepal with 25.4 per cent, India 22.8 per cent and Bangladesh 6.6 per cent. As regards carbon dioxide emissions, India leads the region with 1.2 metric tonnes per capita, while Pakistan is second with 0.8 metric tonnes per capita. India also tops the region in emissions of ozone-depleting gases (1,958 metric tonnes), while Pakistan once again is second (453 metric tonnes). Other countries in the region lag far behind in these two areas and are considered to be much more environment-friendly.

Due to serious climate changes on account of the above-mentioned, South Asia is facing floods, cyclones, droughts, and melting of glaciers resulting in rising temperatures. The UN Climate Change Conference could be an opportunity for the region's countries to negotiate with the world's biggest polluters and carbon dioxide emitters to pay for their adaptation to the emerging climate needs. Interestingly, Pakistan is leading the influential G-77 in these negotiations.

The UN conference, which currently is in the middle of deliberations at various levels, is undergoing negotiations and discussions on a post-2012 international agreement on preventing dangerous climate changes and adapting to the climate change that is already taking place or will take place in the near future. Such an agreement will need to encompass three major issues of mitigation (cutting carbon dioxide emissions, first in developed countries but later also in major developing countries), adaptation (channelling new resources to least developed countries, so that they can adapt to a changed climate) and technology transfer (so that all countries can develop in a 'low-carbon' way).

Though no final agreement is likely to be signed in Bali, delegates from the 192 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 176 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol are giving it a serious thought that negotiations should converge at least at a certain level that may lead to a final agreement by 2009 at the latest, so that there is no gap between the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 and the beginning of a new agreement.

Indonesia's Environment Minister and President of the UN conference, Rachmat Witoelar, said in his opening speech: "Countries now have to agree on the agenda for the negotiations. This will cover the key areas for the new climate change deal, and what the organisational and procedural arrangements are to get to this result." UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said: "It is essential that vulnerable developing countries are in a position to draw up plans to prepare for climate change impacts. It is also essential that an agreement is reached on how the Kyoto Protocol's Adaptation Fund is managed, so that the Fund can begin financing real adaptation projects."

The UNFCCC executive secretary further said: "Action in the North is needed to fuel clean growth in the South. Whilst it is clear that we will need to continue using fossil fuels for some time to come, we cannot afford conventional technologies to continue to keep a grip on the world." He called for speedily concluding the items relating to the ongoing work under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol in Bali to free up the negotiation capacity needed for the post-2012 process. "Parties need to create the tool box that can reduce emissions cost-effectively and enable economic growth. The final step of the two-year negotiating process will be to define targets and the type of legal instrument that is needed to make the new international deal work," he added.

If analysed, the current and projected changes in the earth's climate, caused in large part by human activity, are hitting the world's poorest people first and worst. Climate change threatens to unravel the development gains of the past 40 years against poverty, hunger and disease, and will make future gains more difficult. Climate change reflects and reinforces inequalities -- the poorest countries have done the least to contribute to the problem and have the fewest means to respond, yet will also be the most affected. As is expressed in the concept of 'ecological debt', rich countries are the major current and historical polluters and, therefore, have an urgent obligation to cut their own emissions and provide compensatory funding for the adaptation needs of the developing world, as part of a comprehensive multilateral response to a collective problem.

"The climate change is now one of the greatest obstacles to ending poverty and realising rights. It urgently requires international action to mitigate its causes and to enable the poorest countries to adapt to its effects," said international anti-poverty agency ActionAid in its policy statement. Several research studies and reports, including the recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), show falling crop yields, water scarcity, the deterioration or collapse of many ecosystems on which poor people depend for their livelihoods, and the growing incidence of vector-borne disease.

The numbers of people vulnerable to poverty as a result of climate change are likely to increase. Many households will be forced to migrate in search of new homes and livelihoods, while the incidence of climate-related disasters is likely to increase. A growing number of people will be vulnerable to flooding and inundation, drought and disease. Climate change is forcing the world to acknowledge that there are ecological limits to economic growth, production and consumption. Current and historical production and consumption patterns are unsustainable. Developed and developing countries need to chart new 'low-carbon' paths to development that protect inter-generational as well as intra-generational equity. Rich countries, and elites in poorer countries, need to substantially reduce their consumption so that poor people can increase their share of the worldís assets and resources, including ecological resources.

With this debate, one concludes that due to current emissions and consumptions patterns, rich countries must pay while the poor people must have a say. There is a dire need to include the poor in decision-making on adaptation funding. They should be taken on board as to how adaptation funds are allocated, used, and monitored and evaluated. The climate change will hinder the possibility of poor women realising their rights with respect to food, water, livelihoods and shelter. States have duties to respect, protect and fulfil these rights, and must urgently and significantly increase adaptation funding. States must ensure that decision-making on adaptation funding includes the most vulnerable, particularly poor women, and that their needs are addressed in a sustained way.

"There is a need to improve the adaptation architecture and resource flow, so as to be of real benefit to poor women in the poor countries who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change," said Farah Kabir, an Actionaid spokesperson at the Bali conference. She also called for a comprehensive, multilateral response to climate change.

As regards mitigation, one feels that the international community should agree on an equitable, binding and quota-based post-2012 framework to stabilise temperature increases at no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If the underlying causes of man-made or anthropogenic climate change are to be addressed, negotiations must focus on a comprehensive agreement to supersede the Kyoto framework. Mitigation must be based on a legally-binding and enforceable cap on emissions, allocation of emission quotas for each country based upon the principles of equity and justice, and an international governance framework that allows developing countries access to both finances and technology, so that they can decouple their economic growth from rising carbon dioxide emissions.

On adaptation, the rich countries should provide the funding and technology needed to enable the poorest countries to adapt to the effects of climate change. Some changes to the global climate are now inevitable as a result of past human activity. Individuals, communities and countries will, therefore, need to adapt to these unavoidable impacts. The world's richest countries have an obligation to contribute substantially to meeting these costs; the World Bank estimates that the annual cost to developing countries of adaptation is $ 41 billion. The issue of who would manage the Adaptation Fund set up under the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 is at the top of the Bali conference's agenda and strong lobbies support the idea of putting it under GEF, the only agency that has made a re-submission to manage the Adaptation Funding following the Nairobi decision.

On access to energy, the rich countries must support developing countries' efforts to provide sufficient and efficient energy to everyone. The most important element in efforts to de-couple growth and development from rising carbon dioxide emissions is the technologies used for meeting the world's energy requirements. Governments need to invest in clean and sustainable energy sources, and donors must pull out of supporting fossil fuel extraction and energy generation. The richest countries have a particular responsibility to help develop and transfer alternative technologies to enable poorer countries to pursue 'low-carbon' development strategies. The poor peopleís right to sufficient energy must not be denied on account of emission control or reduction.

(The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist currently in Bali to cover the UN Climate Change Conference.

Email: [email protected])




Back on the track

Life is returning to normal in the NWFP after the dissolution of the MMA-dominated provincial assembly

 

By Asad Jan

If you had a chance of visiting Peshawar, the capital of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), during the rule of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) from 2003-2007, you will definitely recall the smashed or blackened billboards and hoardings bearing images of women models. If you think that the same situation still prevails, you are completely mistaken -- the Peshawarites are fast reverting to their true colours and the city's transition has started in the post-MMA period -- quite similar to the neighbouring Afghans, who abruptly abandoned what they had been forced to adopt by the Taliban

The MMA, an alliance of six religious political parties, swept the 2002 elections and formed government in the NWFP. The party was also able to form a coalition government in Balochistan. However, the party's assent to power was greeted only with criticism, both at national and international levels, because of its own brand of Islam.

The MMA emerged victorious in the last general elections, invariably due to its support for the Taliban. Following in the terrorist group's footsteps, it stopped the City's boutiques from showcasing mannequins. Also at the receiving end was the already dwindling film industry. Cinema houses faced several restrictions, such as the one refraining them from displaying promotional film banners and posters. To please their bosses, the official concerned swung into action against what they termed 'pornographic' billboards.

The ban inflicted huge financial losses on the local cinema industry, as the cinema-goers stopped visiting them due to the lack of advertisements. This prompted film directors to demand lifting of ban on displaying of billboards.

"Five years ago, when the MMA-led government smashed billboards, removed advertising banners and muffled musicians' voices, we lost about Rs 20 million in revenue per day," says Sharafat Ali Mubarak, former vice-president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industries (SCCI).

According to him, people have the right to express themselves freely and make decisions that suits their business interests. "If we want to compete with other countries, we should adopt the modern marketing techniques and provide opportunities to our musicians as they represent our culture," he stresses.

In its attempt to enforce Shariah in the NWFP, the MMA also won some support because people thought it was on the right track to purge the province of vulgarity and safeguard the future generations from its ill-affects. However, they criticised the way MMA leaders, aided by charged workers, smashed costly advertisement posts.

Drawing inspiration from the Taliban, the MMA government apparently made bolstering efforts to enforce Islam in every sphere of public life. Some of the party's ministers and leaders called for stern action according to the law against those responsible for smashing or blackening billboards, but simultaneously argued: "Though it was illegal, the act has won public's appreciation. Such billboards should not have been displayed in the first place, because advertising through women is unacceptable."

Events unfolding under the MMA government in the NWFP also provided a food for thought to the media. In particular, the western media took great interest and started comparing the MMA to the Taliban.

The MMA government also placed a ban on music and theatre performances in Nishtar Hall, which is Peshawar's only government-owned arts facility. It was declared as a no-go area and the 600-seat hall closed its doors to singers, dancers and musicians. Not only this, holding public concerts also became a sin in that era. This sparked off violent protests by the local folk singers, and television, film and stage artistes. The Peshawarites, who traditionally take a fancy to music, were in a lurch. The affected people, on their part, dubbed this as 'the Pakistani edition of Talibanisation'.

A Pushto singer narrated to The News on Sunday on condition of anonymity how he was beaten black and blue before being thrown behind the bars for singing in public. "I cannot hold concerts. Music and poetry are a part of our culture, but the MMA government was too narrow-minded to appreciate this fact," he says. The ban on musical and cultural activities in the province paved the way for CDs and DVDs. "No one can stop the cultural growth of a society. If someone tries to stop it, it find another way of expression," prominent Pushto writer and poet Rokhan Yousafzai told TNS.

Now that the days of the MMA government are over, businessmen have resorted to their normal routines -- one can see a marked difference, as eye-catching images of women can be seen on roadside billboards and hoardings. At the same time, showbiz activities have also gained steam in Nishtarabad's CD market. Of late, the ongoing violence in the province has caused a stir among those selling CDs. However, officially they are free to exhibit posters and banners aimed at attracting the intending buyers.

The Artistes Welfare Association Zoom (AWAZ), an organisation of local film and television actors, was at the forefront in holding protests against the ban by the MMA government. "Many of our artistes lost their jobs and migrated either to Lahore or Karachi in a bid to earn their livelihoods," says AWAZ President Tariq Jamal. On a positive note, he informs that now the culture department has sent a summary to the caretaker provincial government for reopening Nishtar Hall. Forests face the threat of climate change the most.

 

Housing deficit

There will be more and more people without houses of their own if extraordinary measures are not adopted

 

By Alauddin Masood

Pakistan's housing deficit, currently 6.19 million, is increasing annually by 270,000 housing units, according to official sources, while private developers maintain that the country's housing deficit is seven million units and it is increasing by 350,000 housing units per year.

Pakistan requires about 0.5 million new houses every year to cater to the needs of its citizens, but only 150,000 houses are constructed in the country during a year's time, with the exception of last year when 350,000 housing units were established with an investment of Rs 150 billion plus the cost of land for their construction. If the pace of galloping deficit is not contained, knowledgeable circles maintain, then the shortage will rise to a million houses in the not too distant future, badly affecting the life of the common citizens, both socially and economically.

In 1998, the officials state, the housing backlog stood at 4.30 million units. Since then, it has increased to 6.19 million. Factors like high population growth rate, inadequate attention towards construction of new houses, migration from rural to urban areas and break up of the traditional joint family system have largely contributed to the acute shortage of houses in the country.

The ever-widening housing deficit has resulted in mushroom growth of squatter colonies and slum localities, particularly in main urban centres and metropolitan towns where many families are constrained to live in one-room shanty lodges. Generally, slum-dwellers face many obstacles, which deny them a permanent and decent shelter with a minimum of basic amenities -- water, sanitation, electricity, gas, drainage, and, above all, decent health care and educational facilities. As such, the slum-dwellers are forced to live in sub-human conditions in overcrowded localities. According to a conservative estimate, more than 20 per cent of Pakistan's urban population lives in slum areas that are devoid of basic civic amenities.

Some past governments tried to bridge the widening gap between the demand and supply of houses in the country. For instance, in 1985, the Junejo government announced a policy aimed at catering to the housing needs of the citizens, particularly the middle- and lower-income groups. Salient features of Junejo's four-year plan included: 1) free distribution of 2.2 million seven marla plots among the homeless in rural areas; 2) free distribution of three marla plots among the homeless in urban areas; 3) allotment of three marla plots to the homeless in urban areas at nominal rates; 4) construction of one million houses for the homeless people in the country, including at least 20,000 rural and 15,000 urban houses in each province; 5) development of townships at all district headquarters; 6) allotment of 10,000 small plots, ranging from 90 square yards to 140 square yards, to the low-paid government employees in Islamabad; and 7) development and regularisation of pre-March 23, 1985, katchi abadis and handing over proprietary rights to their legitimate owners.

After the dismissal of the Junejo government, the establishment and the bureaucracy circumvented the housing policy, so as to accommodate the elite at the cost of middle and lower-middle classes of the society. As a result, the housing problem has continued to grow, both in size and dimension, over the years. Also, against a shortfall of 2.8 million houses in the mid-1980s, the country now faces a deficit of more than 6.19 million housing units.

Globally, the construction and housing industry accounts for 10-12 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and seven per cent of employment. Recognising the gravity of housing situation, and the potential of housing and construction industry as productive sectors of economy, the outgoing government accorded priority to this sector -- albeit for a short period. Indeed, the housing industry has a great potential as one of the main drivers of economic growth. It can generate employment opportunities as well as engage at least 36 other supporting industries, thus creating demand for growth of economy on the one hand and alleviating poverty on the other hand.

The outgoing government also formulated a national policy for accelerating housing activity, aimed at both employment generation and economic development. The policy was designed to facilitate provision of housing inputs like land, finance and building materials. On June 8, 2005, the concerned authorities informed the National Security Council that the housing sector envisages construction of over three million low-cost houses to partially meet the shortfall at an estimated investment of Rs 900 billion over the next five years. To give a boost to the housing sector, the government enhanced the house financing by banks to 10 per cent from the previous five per cent of net advances, while maximum loan limit was also increased to Rs 10 million from the previous Rs 5 million, debt-equity ratio from 70:30 to 80:20, and loan tenure from 15 years to 20 years.

Taking cognizance of the galloping housing deficit, the outgoing government constituted an Advisory Board on Housing and Infrastructure. Chairing the board's meeting in Islamabad on November 23, 2007, which was attended by high officials and private construction companies, Board of Investment Secretary Mushtaq Malik said the aim was to address the issues faced by the private sector and forward recommendations to the concerned authorities.

The outgoing government was contemplating to introduce a new enactment with a view to making the housing sector more vibrant, minimising shortfall of housing units, eliminating land mafia and streamlining the business of private housing societies. The move aimed at checking the manipulations of the land mafia and the unscrupulous elements amongst the property dealers by requiring the plot owners to build houses within the stipulated period. In case of failure, their plots could be cancelled or heavy fines could be imposed on them.

The proposed enactment also contemplated to make attorney letters, which owners of non-transferable plots issue to the buyers, unacceptable to the authorities, so as to discourage the plots business and bound the allottees to build houses. The proposed law also aimed at protecting the people from cheating by the land mafia by binding the housing societies, while publicising their projects, to declare the land they own, along with lay out plan of their housing schemes, and also surrender plots to the concerned development agencies for building roads, mosques, playgrounds, community centres, etc.

Though the fate of that law is not yet known, however, its provisions pertaining to binding the housing societies to declare the land that they own, along with the lay out plan of their housing schemes and surrendering of plots to the development agencies for utilities, is now being implemented. But some unregistered developers still continue to cheat simple folks, who fail to observe legal requirements while booking properties. In view of the magnitude of the housing problem, it was encouraging that the government was seized with the problem and appears to be tackling it. However, the housing deficit is mammoth and it continues to swell. Therefore, it needs to be tackled assigning it the priority that it deserves with a view to meeting the housing needs of the citizens, in particular the vulnerable sections of the society.

 

(The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist.

E-mail: [email protected])

 

corruption

Mother of all evils

Pakistan continues to be one of the most corrupt nations in the world despite the fact that several steps have been taken to counter this menace

 

By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed

Every year, the International Anti-Corruption Day is observed on December 9 all over the World. It signifies the day when the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was first opened for signing at Merida, Mexico, in 2003. By that time, Pakistan had already formulated a National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS). The country ratified UNCAC in August 2007 and came out with an Anti-Money Laundering Law in September 2007 to honour commitments it had made with the international community to combat corruption.

Though a lot has been said and certain administrative steps taken in this regard, hardly any improvement has been seen in Pakistan's rating among the most corruption-ridden countries in the world. According to a survey carried out by Transparency International, corruption has increased by an astounding 100 per cent in Pakistan, with 30 per cent of the people paying bribes for obtaining services against 15 per cent in 2006.

According to a report entitled Global Corruption Barometer 2007, issued last week, in Pakistan police (at 4.3 on a scale of 5) was the most corrupt of the 14 sectors surveyed. The taxation sector was at 4.1; utilities, political parties, and registry and permit services at 3.9; the military at 3.2; education at 3; and religious groups at 2.7. The report also places Pakistan among the top 10 countries that are the most affected by bribery. The other countries include Albania, Cambodia, Cameroon, Macedonia, Kosovo, Nigeria, The Philippines, Romania and Senegal.

The situation is not much different from what it was at the time of Pakistan's inception. A look at the annals of history shows that corruption and bribery topped the hit-list of the founder of the country, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In his address to the Constituent Assembly, he had termed corruption one of the biggest curses from which India was suffering.

The NACS concept paper, released in 2002, enumerates different reasons behind the unhampered spread of corruption and failure of the state machinery to check this trend. Unlike other reports issued by government ministries, departments and agencies, the findings of the NACS paper appear close to reality, barring the ones pertaining to the role of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The paper draws inferences from a survey conducted between November 2001 and February 2002, as part of a South Asia-wide initiative of Transparency International. In all, 3,000 middle class respondents were contacted but only 1,724 responded to queries related to incidence of corruption in Pakistan. Interestingly, the consensus among the respondents was that there is hardly an arm of government that does not suffer acutely from corruption, with the exception of the Motorway Police.

The respondents ranked the following institutions in order of experience / perception of corruption, starting with the institutions most at risk from corruption: police, power (WAPDA and the KESC), taxation, judiciary, customs, health, land, education, telephone, railway, NGOs, post office and banks.

"In terms of grand or mega corruption, stakeholders perceived the scale of corruption to be the highest in politics, development projects, procurement (including defence and public sector corporations) and bank loans. Rural lower-income groups have additional concerns about corruption in water, land revenue, irrigation, forestry, Zakat and sources of credit."

The foremost reason cited for the failure of all anti-corruption initiatives has been the misuse of authority to victimise opponents and let go aides, even if they are culprits. That is precisely why the provincial Anti-Corruption Establishments (ACEs) have proved totally ineffective. "In fact they are themselves infested with corruption and lack capacity for the task assigned to them" are the exact words used in the NACS concept paper.

The situation on the ground is that there are two anti-corruption agencies at the federal level (the Federal Investigation Agency and the National Accountability Bureau or NAB) and four at the provincial level (the Anti-Corruption Establishments). Of late, many powers of the FIA have been handed over to NAB. Similarly, there are currently three laws pertaining to corruption. They include the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), 1860 (Sections 160-165); the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), 1947; and the NAB Ordinance, 1999. Also, there are three different sets of courts to hear corruption cases. These include the Accountability Courts set up under the NAB Ordinance, and the Central and Provincial Special Courts established under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1958. In addition to these, there are public accountability bodies like the Auditor General's (AG's) Department, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Ombudsman Office.

It is a pity that despite such an extensive apparatus, the menace of corruption is becoming fiercer day by day. Critics believe that the secret to success in this respect lies in an independent judiciary and media, and markedly increased public access to official records. Unfortunately, the situation in Pakistan is one of the worst on all these counts.

The recent treatment of superior judiciary at the hands of the executive shows how independent judges are in our country. Here a reference to the latest global report on corruption issued by Transparency International seems highly pertinent. An article in the report reads: "(The Pakistani) government exerts tight control over judicial appointments, transfers and dismissals, particularly at the level of the superior judiciary. The fact that judges lack security of tenure can make them particularly susceptible to political influence." It adds: "The Chief Justice recommends prospective judges to the Ministry of Justice, parliament and ultimately the president. Their names are also screened by the influential Inter-Services Intelligence agency."

The NAB Ordinance, which the government claims is a landmark piece of legislation, has been widely criticised for omitting serving armed forces personnel from its purview. It is also blamed for carrying out selective accountability and targeting selected politicians, with a view to win over their loyalties for the ruling setup. In the presence of these ills, there is little hope that things will improve in Pakistan. According to Transparency International Pakistan Executive Director Saad Rashid, this rating of countries is not an exercise in isolation. "In fact, it has a lot of impact as many business concerns consider these rating s /indices before making any venture in a country," he informs.

 

 

"Our powers are extremely limited"

Interview with Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment Director General Brig (r) Muhammad Aslam Ghuman

 

By Aoun Sahi

The News on Sunday: The Anti Corruption Establishment (ACE) was set up to eradicate corruption in government departments. Why has it failed to achieve this objective?

Muhammad Aslam Ghuman: I admit that the ACE has achieved little in the past, but this was due to various reasons. For example, the ACE was misused by successive governments to target their political opponents. Besides, the department lacked professional expertise required to conduct quality investigations. The matters were made even worse by the endless bureaucratic and legal hurdles. In addition, the ACE's inspectors did not have the powers to initiate inquiry against a public servant of BPS-16 or above. Moreover, all officials in the ACE were on deputation -- they used to submit incomplete challans of their cases to the courts and never followed them once their deputation period was over.

TNS: Has the situation improved or these problems still persist?

MAG: The situation has improved and things are far better today. Now at the district level, posts of a deputy director (BPS-18) and two assistant directors (BPS-17) have been created. No inquiry can be initiated without their permission at the district level and no arrest can be made without prior permission of the region's incharge. Now the strength of ACE staff at district level is 14 instead of the earlier four. The salaries of ACE officials have been increased by 100 per cent. No official having bad reputation or without intelligence clearance is being deputed in the ACE. We have also devised our own check-and-balance system to track internal and external corruption and malpractices. Till 2003, there were about 500 absconders of the ACE in the public sector and most of them were on their jobs. Now more than 90 per cent of them have been arrested and put behind the bars. For the first time, the ACE has also arrested its own officials (five inspectors, two assistant directors and one deputy director) on corruption charges. During the first nine months of 2007, the ACE has recovered more than three billion rupees, while before 2003 the maximum recovery in a year was Rs 70 million.

TNS: What do you think are the main reasons behind the widespread prevalence of corruption in our society?

MAG: Over a period of time, corruption has being accepted as a part of culture in Pakistan. It is mainly because of this reason that no government in Pakistan has tackled corruption as a serious issue. The corruption of political leaders is acceptable in Pakistan, as many of them have got written off their loans worth billion of rupees. Besides, there is no fear of law or system of accountability in Pakistan. Analytically speaking, corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was established with good intentions, but it has also become ineffective due to political compromises.

TNS: What are the factors that limit the ACE's role in rooting out corruption from the society?

MAG: Contrary to general perception, our powers are extremely limited. The existing laws are creating a lot of problems for us. For example, the ACE cannot register a case against a public servant of the level of commissioner, secretary to provincial government or the head of any attached department. To do so, it needs to seek permission from the provincial chief secretary. I think the ACE cannot eradicate corruption in the real sense of the word unless it is given complete autonomy. The National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) 2002, which has been approved by the federal cabinet, also proposes autonomy for the ACEs. We also lack a forensic lab and have requested for setting up of a modern one in Punjab. Hopefully, it will be established soon.

TNS: How does the ACE work in the presence of NAB?

MAG: NAB has no effect on the performance of the ACE, as the former is a federal agency and the latter is a provincial agency. We are strengthening each other as well as the process of accountability. But one thing is very important: we should strengthen existing institutions instead of creating new ones. Only a single department should be assigned one task. I think at the federal level there should be NAB, while in provinces the ACEs should be given full authority to fight the menace of corruption.

TNS: Which department heads the list of most corrupt ones, according to the number of complaints filed with the ACE?

MAG: We are receiving around 18,000 complaints annually. Land and revenue and police are the two departments about which people make maximum complaints. Every year, more than 50 per cent complaints are about these two departments. Last year, the ACE received 35 per cent of total complaints against the police, while 26 per cent were against revenue department officials. The recently established local government system was third in this regard.


 

A burgeoning phenomenon

More and more businessmen are contesting elections rather than financing them, as they used to do in the past

 

By Hamid Waleed

The involvement of multinational companies in day-to-day global political affairs is becoming evident with each passing day. Right from Washington to Kabul, every important political decision is influenced by some business interest. As if this is not enough, businessmen are not only turning into successful politicians in major industrial countries but are also being elected as prime ministers and presidents.

The non-party basis elections of 1985, during the regime of Ziaul Haq, opened the door for business community to enter into the field of politics. Interestingly, no one noticed the change initially, but the subsequent elections of 1988, 1990, 1993, 1997 and 2002 proved beyond doubt that the businessmen-turned-politicians have become an integral part of politics in Pakistan.

Why have business tycoons started entering into politics in Pakistan and is this an acceptable phenomenon? There may be different reasons for this. Some of them may want to serve the nation, others may want to be in government and still others may want to secure their business interests. Since this question requires a detailed analysis, no specific reason can be given for this phenomenon.

In Pakistan, businessmen traditionally used to finance political parties, particularly the ruling ones. This support was restricted to urban areas, as big landlords largely control rural politics. The late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) mainly represented these big landlords. However, the political needs of the late Ziaul Haq gave birth back in 1985 to a new class of politicians hailing from the business community. The business community has otherwise also been very supportive to military dictators throughout the history of the country. It flourished during the era of Ayub Khan and, after receiving a setback in Bhutto's era, immediately sided with Zia after he seized power in a coup d'etat in 1977. Since then, the large business houses are part of the establishment and they are considered as strong constituencies of military rulers.

Throughout the decade of the 1990s, the business community, with the establishment's support, proved time and again that it could not only finance elections of politicians but could also participate in them. There is, however, a serious debate over whether the presence of businessmen in parliament benefits the economic development of the country or not? Registration with a political party is very easy and inexpensive in Pakistan, and anyone can easily enter into the field of politics. Since it is difficult to know the profession of most politicians in Pakistan, the influence of businessmen -- who, in most cases, have demonstrated their capabilities by giving good results -- in politics is increasing with each passing day.

The right of anyone to enter into the field of politics is non-debatable. A few circles, however, strongly believe that when businessmen are elected as parliamentarians, they use this opportunity to achieve their personal goals. They contend that if politicians can pursue their personal interests after coming to power, how can businessmen -- who have much more to lose -- avoid doing so. Based on this logic, these circles stress that preference should be given to genuine politicians in elections.

This approach carries weight if one considers the role played by cement and sugar cartels, importers and retailers, and real estate and stock market mafias -- in connivance with the elected representatives -- in the outgoing parliament. Even closeness of businessmen with elected representatives sometimes costs heavily to the nation, as happened in the case of withdrawal of excise duty on cement that was misused by cement manufacturers to the extent that the government abandoned the idea of reducing it to zero per cent.

It is also true that businessmen can protect their rights without even being elected as parliamentarians. Ironically, businessmen elected to parliament care the least for the legal bar on their participation in business activities after being elected, as they consider business to be their main field of activity. In a way, the entry of businessmen into politics is like seeking a political umbrella for the protection of their business interests. It is a fact, especially proved in the recent past, that if politicians are not involved in business activities, they have nothing to lose and it is almost impossible to coerce them. On the other hand, if politicians have business interests at stake, they can be easily co-opted through various measures.

One can enter into the field of politics on account of either his financial or political strength. In the former case, money naturally comes first, followed by human resources and leadership qualities. In the latter case, it is more important to know what to do, and find ways how to do it and with whose help. The first situation demands more money, but is also very effective -- every problem can be solved with money in Pakistan.

There is an agreement among analysts that, despite the fact that involvement of businessmen in politics is not a very positive thing, one should acknowledge that they had money before they were entrusted with the responsibility of governing the country, while there are others who made money only after being entrusted with the responsibility of governing the country. According to these analysts, non-professional politicians do as much damage to the country as do non-professional businessmen. However, the mistakes of businessmen are local and the society at large does not suffer as a result of them, but the mistakes of politicians are not local and the society may suffer a lot because of them.

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