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Twenty rupees is a precious amount for hundreds of unregistered workers of the Punjab’s Salt Range mines and quarries.
Without civil service reform, devolution of policy setting will be unachievable and the current reform may just not achieve its intended purposes
By Raza Rumi
On July 1, 2011, the third phase of redistribution of federal powers and functions was completed whereby 7 federal ministries now stand devolved. These include Ministries of Health, Food and Agriculture, Labour and Manpower, Environment, Women Development, Sports and Minorities affairs. Earlier, ten ministries were devolved to the provinces with the abolition of concurrent list under the 18th Amendment.
Implementing the 18th Amendment: The process has been fraught with political bickering between the Centre and the Provinces and resistance by powerful groups, which are beneficiaries of a centralised Pakistan. However, these political and administrative contests have not undermined the process of devolution. A major factor in negotiating this transition has been the role of Mian Raza Rabbani who heads the Implementation Commission for the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
Most significantly, the political parties have shown
their willingness to work together in achieving the intended results of
provincial autonomy related clauses. Having said that, the real test of
the elected civilian governments has just begun. Large scale restructuring
of the federal government and transfer of new functions to the provinces
implies that there is much more needed than executive notifications and
Beyond executive notifications: Four challenges are of
urgent importance. First, to ensure that devolution process is completed
and not truncated or manipulated to suit the ends of the political
parties. At the same time the regulatory capacity of the state, already
weakened over decades, must not be diluted during the transition.
Secondly, the corresponding institutional capacities are also devolved to
the provinces and where missing, the Centre should advise and facilitate
institutional strengthening. Thirdly, a civil service reform is required
to achieve the responsive and citizen-oriented governance — the larger
goal of the 18th Amendment. Finally, decentralisation of provincial powers
is also needed and the local government system should be reintroduced.
Unpacking and addressing these four imperatives is now an urgent
responsibility, which the federal and provincial governments cannot
absolve themselves of.
Is devolution complete? Within hours of the issuance of the June 30 notification by the federal government, the largest constituent unit of the federation, the Punjab province, sent a long letter of protest highlighting how several functions of the ‘devolved’ ministries were still retained by the Centre. Examples of the ‘partial devolution’ complained by the Punjab province are instructive. For instance, while the ministry of Labour and Manpower has been devolved, the attached Workers Welfare Fund and the Employees Old Age Benefits Institution have not been decentralised. Similarly, while devolving Health Ministry the Drug Regulatory Authority is still a central subject. Another body of dubious performance, the Pakistan Agricultural Storage & Services Corporation remains intact despite the 18th Amendment.
While Punjab may be protesting too much in view of the
recent escalation of Centre-Punjab conflict, there is a need to view
devolution not as a formalistic transfer of the ministerial apparatus but
of decision-making powers and the ability to negotiate and transact public
Partial reform syndrome: Development theorists have
highlighted the pitfalls of the “partial reform syndrome” in many
contexts. Institutional and political factors are vital in shaping
incentives for policy makers to implement reforms. Gaps between stated and
actual commitments to reform most of the times differ, and the case of
devolution under the 18th Amendment is no different. A centralised culture
of exercising power will not go away in months or years. It would require
decades and negotiations via “triangles of accommodation” among
bureaucrats, politicians and strongmen. In Pakistan’s case,
multinational corporations, business lobbies and other non-state actors
(such as the contractors, middlemen etc) also set the policy course. The
greatest challenge to devolution, therefore, is overcoming the partial
reform syndrome and Punjab has made a good start by highlighting it and
calling for mediation at the level of Council of Common Interests.
Regulatory capacities: Important ministries such as
health, agriculture, women’s development and environment have been
undertaking regulatory functions. The Drugs’ authority is still at the
centre but there needs to be a debate where it belongs. Being overly
centralised and a preserve of a few bureaucrats, regulation of drugs has
been a joke where powerful multinational pharmaceutical companies have
prevailed over a weak and vulnerable group of mandarins. Environment is
another area where weakened regulation will enhance the risks to the
economy and society. Climate change agenda requires strong regulation at
all levels. These capacities must not be lost or undermined during the
current transition and, therefore, should remain a focus of policy debate
and political negotiations. And, let’s not forget how important are
labour standards and addressing various policy issues. Devolving labour
ministry must not result in weakening of enforcement of state’s
obligations to the working class.
Inadequate federal arrangements: The post-18th
Amendment changes appear to be hurried and devoid of imagination. Instead
of thinking out of the box, the Cabinet, Inter-provincial coordination and
Planning and Development Divisions have been dumped with additional
responsibilities. The under-performance and weak capacities of these
institutions was already a matter of concern for the last few decades. For
instance, the Economic Affairs Division gets donor support for even the
basic innovations. It will be extremely difficult for these inefficient
bureaucratic layers to handle new vital responsibilities without technical
staff, budgets and swift decision-making powers. This is why regulatory
issues relating to education, health and other sectors require more
innovative and independent arrangements. Perhaps the next phase of the
ongoing process should devote exclusive attention to this.
Provincial institutions and capacities: At this stage it is also unclear how much of devolution has taken place in terms of staff. Media reports suggested that provinces were not keen to take all the federal employees on board due to financial constraints. But the general administrative staff is available everywhere, it is the technical staff that matters. Environmental experts, engineers, archaeologists and finance specialists are needed with the new powers at the provincial levels (especially in the smaller provinces). This is why it may be important to discuss staffing and capacity plans at the provincial levels and also the changes in legislation and rules of business. Scores of laws and rules assign responsibilities to central authorities and, therefore, the provinces will now need to get down to serious business of framing new laws and ensuring that they are no replicas of archaic colonial legal frameworks.
Specifically, the labour, women’s development and
environment departments are the most sidelined and under-funded provincial
departments. They will be undertaking a host of functions and projects,
which require suitable staff and resources. In view of the climate change
phenomena, the provincial environment departments need a fresh role and
reorganisation that can only be approved if the Chief Ministers and their
cabinets are on board. Donor coordination requirements will also increase
at the province level; and this requires new business model within the
province, which is less archaic and inefficient than the present
What happened to civil service reform: It has been reported that yet another civil service reform commission is on the cards. Dozens of such committees and commissions have made recommendations perhaps not so much at the provincial level. As I have argued before, the Ishrat Hussain commission has proposed a useful reform agenda that needs to be taken forward. The proposal of easier entry and exit into the public service and the creation of a national executive service are ideas that must not be trashed just because status quo-ists in the bureaucracy find them unappealing.
Provinces are now going to handle the business of 17
federal ministries; and most importantly exclusively in charge of
policy-making in crucial areas such as health, education, gender,
agriculture and environment to name a few. Reliance of donor-funded
consultants cannot be the norm. Instead, core staff in the departments
must be hired, trained or re-designated to fulfill the requirements of
effective policy process. Three competencies — financial and budgetary
expertise; sector specialism and gender-sensitive policy skills — are
needed in most departments. Without civil service reform, devolution of
policy setting will be unachievable and the current reform may just not
achieve its intended purposes.
Devolving powers to the local level: Provinces such as the Punjab and Balochsitan are way too populous or huge to ensure effective policy implementation and service delivery without further devolution. The state is bound by the clauses of the Constitution to set up a local government system. Yet, the rollback of Musharraf’s devolution has not been followed by a credible alternative. Admittedly, these are not easy times for the federal and the provincial governments, but they have to focus on local governance and install strong accountability mechanisms. Electoral accountability is globally known to be the best way of giving people a voice and making the leaders and service providers at the grassroots level work as responsive state functionaries.
Sadly, the provincial governments are not keen and the ruling coalition is also wary of sharing powers with local representatives. This attitude and power-culture defeats the intent of 18th Amendment and the current devolution. There are multiple possibilities to be explored without resorting to 1979 or 2001 models of devolution. However, the federal government must lead this process and facilitate inter-provincial dialogue. Parliamentarians need to think beyond their short-term and ineffective patronage systems to set up local government systems. In fact, this may be the right time to think of province-specific arrangements that cater to the unique needs of each province. Civil society and media need to build pressure on this front. Thus far the policy discourse is populist, foreign-policy-obsessed and too removed from people’s everyday concerns of reliable and timely services, security and a responsible state.
Despite the public cynicism and ‘anti-democracy’
discourse in the media, the Parliament has led a vital reform with
far-reaching effects. After a century and a half, the arbitrary colonial
state is being decentralised addressing the historical struggles for
provincial autonomy in contemporary history of Pakistan. But the
challenges are manifold and quite formidable in nature. The provinces will
have to steer the process of consolidating the constitutional gains
through effective institutional restructuring to ensure that the
implementation of 18th Amendment does not turn into an intra-bureaucracy
power shift. This is the time for sub-national social movements, media and
academia to articulate a reform agenda and pressurise the provincial
elites to undertake reforms essential to bridge the gap between state and
The writer is a
policy adviser and writer based in Lahore. His writings are archived at
www.razarumi.com. Follow him on Twitter @razarumi
Hell on earth
Unlike the Baloch, the people of Parachinar have yet to be branded traitor or agents of foreign conspirators. But the state is testing their patience
For almost two months now dozens of young men hailing from the Parachinar region have been sitting outside the National Press Club in the federal capital. Their objective is simple — to draw the world’s (or at least the Pakistani media’s) attention to the fact that their home is subject to a criminal siege which has now gone on for four years without interruption. They have held rallies, press conferences and hunger strikes. On the day that the federal budget was presented in parliament, they barricaded that national assembly building to give our esteemed elected representatives a taste of what the people of Parachinar have been experiencing for years.
Yet nothing seems to give. For a while the print media covered their activities, but the novelty factor soon wore off. In some respect the young men have no option but to maintain their vigil because they cannot return home until the road that leads to Parachinar is reopened (unless they want to resort to using the alternative route which means going to Kabul first). Besides, if they give up now, what is already an obscure issue in the eyes of those who make public opinion will forever be confined to oblivion.
The story of Parachinar (which is part of the Kurram Agency) is a long and tortured one. It is the western-most of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies and borders the very strategic Afghan province of Nangarhar. The now infamous Tora Bora mountain range runs through Nangarhar and large parts of Parachinar. Parachinar proper is also within 100kms of the Afghan capital.
The Kurram agency and Parachinar in particular was one of the major staging grounds of the ‘original’ jihad against the Soviet Union. Large numbers of CIA and ISI sponsored jihadis were settled in the region, thereby setting in motion a series of events culminating in a social conflict which has become increasingly gory over time.
All of FATA has, of course, been subject to upheaval since the late 1970s. But the situation in Parachinar is qualitatively different. Kurram and the adjoining Orakzai agencies are predominantly Shi’a. The influx of Wahabi ideologues and militants in the 70s and 80s precipitated an upsurge of sectarian conflict for which there was no precedent in the area. Residents of the region remain adamant that what appears to be an intractable Shi’a-Sunni problem is actually ordered chaos perpetrated by powerful interests. One could feasibly argue that sectarian conflict in Pakistan was very rare in the period before the Zia dictatorship and that the situation in Parachinar is, therefore, similar to that elsewhere. But there is credence to the argument that the intensity of social conflict is just that much greater in Parachinar.
The majority tribes in Parachinar are the Toori and Bangash. Thousands of ordinary people hailing from these tribes have been forced to flee their homes over the past two-three decades. The situation reached crisis proportions in 2007 when the main Thall-Parachinar Road was shut down. There is no other way for ordinary people (without access to helicopters, that is) to reach mainland Pakistan but for this road. It has now become completely inaccessible: the people of Parachinar allege that the road has been handed over to ‘good jihadis’ at the behest of Pakistan’s security establishment as part of the latter’s larger strategy in the unfolding Great Game.
Having said this, Parachinar’s youth are just as wary of the Americans as anyone else in the cynical game being played out in the region. Unlike so many others who have taken sides in the so-called ‘war on terror’, these youth are very clear about the fact that the self-proclaimed defenders of freedom and democracy share the blame for the situation that has unfolded in Afghanistan and Pakistan both. And they do not simply reserve their criticism of the Americans for historical misdeeds — they are clear that, even today, the Americans’ engagement in ‘Afpak’ is motivated not by concern for the welfare of ordinary people but by narrow strategic interests. At the very least, even in their most desperate hour, Parachinar’s youth prove that it is possible to take a principled stand on the issues of imperialist war, the Pakistani state’s obsolete policies and religious militancy.
Their relative maturity can be put down to the fact that they have seen and experienced it all, and recognise that none of the major protagonists in the present conflict represent the genuine aspirations of ordinary people. Yet the clarity of their analysis does not make things easier in the here and now. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the situation is the fact that political forces have been so reticent to take up what is at heart not a complicated matter. There has been virtually no response on the part of the elected government, which is clearly concerned with not treading on the toes of an already embarrassed and touchy military and an increasingly aggressive imperial patron. And, of course, the matter is not as simple as opening up a road — much more is at stake.
But for the people of Parachinar, there can be no excuses for the state failing them in this way. The list of regions and people who feel alienated from the state is growing rapidly, and there seems to be neither the coherence nor will necessary within the corridors of power to reverse the prevailing trend. At a recent launch of the report of a fact-finding mission to Balochistan, renowned writer and activist I. A. Rehman noted in response to a question about the patriotism of the Baloch people that the latter remain incredibly patient despite decades of neglect and abuse on the part of the state. Unlike the Baloch, the people of Parachinar have yet to be branded traitor or agents of foreign conspirators. But the state is testing their patience all the same. If and when the situation spirals further, will those who sit in dark, steamy rooms scheming to conquer their own people come up with yet another grand plan to make Pakistan more secure?
The recently held meetings between Pakistani and Indian foreign secretaries seem to be a little but important step ahead
Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri
Last week’s foreign secretary level dialogue between India and Pakistan was a disappointment for those who were in search of a quick breakthrough on chronic issues between the nuke-neighbouring states. Another section found these talks too mundane an exercise to notice. However, to me, the mere fact that talks got resumed was a step in the right direction.
Secretary Rao’s statement that, “the ideology of military conflict should have no place in the paradigm of our relationship of the 21st Century” and should be replaced with a “vocabulary of peace” cannot be termed as merely a courteous gesture. Likewise, Pakistan’s official line on these dialogues that it was desirous of a purposeful and result-oriented dialogue process with India for sustainable peace and development in South Asia was quite significant.
In diplomatic world, diplomats (especially Indian and Pakistani diplomats on Indo-Pak issues), have to think really hard before uttering even a single word. It is good to note that both sides, at least in their statements, have started acknowledging the importance of peace in South Asia. The secretaries not only agreed to keep the dialogue on but also announced that foreign ministers of both the countries would take stock of the progress made, if any, in Delhi next month.
Pakistan was interested in Kashmir, Peace and Security (including confidence-building measures), nuclear CBMs, and friendly exchange. India’s emphasis was on counter terrorism. Moreover, there were quite a few other issues, including trade and commerce, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, Siachen glacier, and CBM across the Line of Control (LOC). India’s alleged involvement in Balochistan and India’s most wanted Dawood Ibrahim’s presence in Karachi, Samjhota Express blast, Mumbai attack, and trail of Ajmal Kasab were also discussed in sideline meetings during these two days dialogue.
It was good to note that, finally, Kashmir issue was discussed from a humanistic angle rather than pure geo-political angle. India agreed to offer six-month visit visas to citizens of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. India also offered opening up of five entry and exit points and promotion of local trade across the LoC. Both sides agreed that the working group will meet in July to streamline modalities for more trading days, additional routes, reducing red tape, and specifying the 21 items of trade to ensure that only goods made in Jammu and Kashmir are traded.
On peace and security, both the countries discussed certain CBMs. They agreed that working group on nuclear CBM would discuss modalities of mutual learning and sharing of experiences in civil nuclear energy, particularly in the light of the leakage caused in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan after the devastating earthquake earlier this year.
Although no immediate decision is expected but recognising the importance of people-to-people contact, ease in visa process for intellectuals, journalists, civil society representatives, exchange of cultural troops; exchange of media delegations and other measures were also discussed. In the absence of any discussion on the opening-up of consulates in Mumbai and Karachi, one may assume that both sides are more interested in VIP-to-VIP contacts rather than people-to-people contacts.
Since the inception of WTO in 1995, one kept on arguing that granting of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India should not be linked with Kashmir issue and, finally, there are reports that Pakistan is willing to shift to negative list of tradable items from positive list approach and gradually may grant it MFN status. This would be an extremely positive step for promoting regional trade, implementing South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), and strengthening SAARC. Both the countries also decided to open up a new “trade gate” on Wahga border. The new gate is expected to be operational by the end of this year and would be helpful in promoting bilateral trade.
While progress was noted on issues of Wullar Barrage and Tulbul Navigation project during these dialogues, there was a deadlock on Siachen and Sir Creek. I agree that there is no “substantial” breakthrough and bilateral issues, yet inching towards peace and attempting to mend the 60 years of trust deficit is not an easy task. It would require lot of patience and consistency on both sides.
Now is the most appropriate time to begin finding solutions to our bilateral issues outside the shadow of guns. India has joined the league of emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, and China. It is eyeing a permanent seat in UN Security Council. Access to Central Asian Republics (CARs), and to Afghanistan through Pakistan would not only ensure access to energy but to new markets for India too. Many describe India as a giant elephant whose one leg is chained with a tiny cat called Kashmir.
Pakistan, on the other hand, is passing through one of the toughest phases of its recent history and needs to focus on its western borders to curb terrorism with a complete peace of mind that nothing would go wrong at its eastern borders. Both of these countries also need to reduce their massive defense budgets to create a cushion to spend on socio-economic uplift of their ordinary masses, hence peace is in both India and Pakistan’s interest.
If NATO forces are seriously interested in leaving Afghanistan and want to see durable peace in this region; they should know that the historical tension between India and Pakistan is one of the major threats to Afghanistan’s stability. Thus, it is in their interest, too, to leave a region with minimum number of disputes. Now it is upto our political leadership to seize the moment.
Here, it is worth-mentioning that certain actors do not want peace between India and Pakistan and something goes wrong whenever talks between the two looks promising. However, this time a non-state actor helped in building a positive image of Pakistan while the talks were taking place. The Indian media was all praises for human rights activist Ansar Burni for his role in the release of six Indian crew members form Somali pirates.
Burni, who was deported from New Delhi airport by Indian immigration authorities in June 2008 on the grounds of “inadequate documentation” was raising funds and playing his role for the release of all crew members, including Indian crew members.
His act simply shows that people-to-people contacts are much stronger than official contacts. Ordinary citizens, through their CBMs like Aman ki Asha, Imagine New South Asia, and Climate Action Network South Asia, etc., can teach states how to engage in a civilized peace process: a civilized process in which military conflict is replaced by the vocabulary of peace. Hope our decision-makers give peace a chance and contribute to a prosperous South Asia.
writer is the executive director of Sustainable Development Policy
Institute and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mounting public debt: the way out
Poor governance and dysfunctional markets figure high among reasons why growth in Pakistan could not achieve sustained acceleration
By Alauddin Masood
Pakistan’s public debt surged to Rs10.5 trillion by March 2011 while a majority of the citizens are still without clean drinking water, bread, clothing and shelter. People are justified in asking the rulers where the borrowed money has gone.
It has taken 60 years for the public debt to reach Rs4.8 trillion, but the state hierarchy added Rs5.7 trillion to it during the last four years. How disturbing, addicted to heavy borrowing, state minions added more than Rs1.085 trillion to the public debt in the first nine months of the fiscal year 2010-11.
Meanwhile, country’s external debt has increased from US$ 55.9 billion at the end of June 2010 to US$ 59.5 billion by the end March 2011 against US$ 37.9 billion at end of June 2000.
In the fiscal year 2011-12, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) anticipates a total revenue collection of Rs1.952 trillion. After paying Rs1.07 trillion or 55 percent of the total anticipated revenue collection on debt-servicing and defraying Rs790 billion on security related concerns, the national exchequer would be left with Rs92 billion. The amount earmarked for debt-servicing includes Rs791 billion on account of interest payment while only Rs243 billion has been set aside for repayment of foreign loans.
However, the total anticipated expenditure for the year 2011-12 comes to Rs2.767 trillion. As the FBR claims to have met its revenue collection target, the exchequer would be left with a fiscal deficit of Rs975 billion. The country’s economic wizards propose to meet the fiscal deficit by borrowing Rs851 billion and creating a provincial surplus of Rs. 125 billion. Will the provinces succeed in creating the surplus is anybody’s guess. If the provinces fail in creating the surplus, the government would have to resort to additional borrowings to meet the huge fiscal deficit.
Given the history of meeting revenue collection targets, it seemed doubtful that the FBR would be able to meet the target set in the new fiscal year’s budget proposals. In the original target fixed in the budget 2010-11, FBR was supposed to collect Rs1.680 trillion, but the target had to be reduced to Rs. 1.588 trillion in May 2011.
According to a study by the World Bank, the tax gap (tax evasion), which was 69 percent in 2008, has now gone up to 79 percent. This was the highest ever figure, concede FBR authorities and admit that it would have to be reduced to achieve the revenue target set for 2011-12.
No doubt, the real revenue potential of the country is almost double the amount of Rs1.952 trillion targeted for collection in 2011-12, but those familiar with the domestic environment apprehend that like last year this year’s revenue collection target will also have to be slashed in May 2012.
Meanwhile, tax-to-GDP ratio has fallen to 9.1 percent from last year’s 9.2 percent. Conceding that there was a potential to reduce the evasion percentage to 40-50 percent, FBR Chairman Salman Siddique said his organisation was focusing on reducing the tax gap. Briefing newsmen on new taxation measures on June 6, he projected the tax-to-GDP ratio at 9.5 percent for 2011-12.
While over 42 percent of the country’s population lives below poverty line or is deprived of basic facilities, the ever-increasing perks and privileges of top bureaucracy and lavish lifestyle of the state minions consume billions of tax-payers’ money.
The taxpayers will have to bear Rs2 billion for foreign jaunts of the head of the state and head of government alone. Though President has no constitutional role in the day-to-day running of the government, he is allowed to have a huge secretariat and a large number of government officials, who would cost the exchequer more than Rs482 million in terms of their salaries alone in the fiscal year2011-12.
At a time when the country’s growth rate is at 2.4 percent, lowest during the last 25 years, it is disappointing to note that there has been no mention of austerity drive and cut in government expenditure or measures to motivate society, (including exemption-enjoying commercial enterprises owned and run by the powerful establishment) to pay taxes. Is it not time that long existing exemption-enjoying commercial enterprises be now brought into the tax net?
While our leaders drive in bullet proof cars, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president is known for driving a 33-year old car till recently. Ahmadinejad has now auctioned his car for $1 million with the intention of utilising sale proceeds for building 60,000 homes for the disabled and needy women. Will our legislators follow suit?
In total contrast to Pakistan where men in politics are fabulously rich, the sitting 76-year old Uruguayan President, Jose Mujica’s entire wealth is nothing more than a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph (June 5, 2010), President Mujica doesn’t have a bank account or other assets and doesn’t reside in presidential palace. He donates a major chunk of his monthly salary for charitable purposes. He has refused to move to the official presidential residence, opting to stay in the simple home his senator wife owns on the outskirts of the capital, Montevideo.
A former guerrilla fighter in the early 1960s, Mujica was Uruguyan minister of livestock, agriculture and fisheries from 2005 to 2008 and a senator afterwards, before assuming charge as head of state in March 2010.
In Pakistan’s case, public sector enterprises continue to bleed despite tall claims made by the authorities last year to restructure these loss-making institutions.
Milton Friedman’s saying, “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there would be a shortage of sand” perfectly fits Pakistan where the government is in every sector and as a direct market participant/competitor it is obstructing private sector’s entry into the market and thus arresting growth of both revenues and economy.
According to the findings of Pakistan’s Planning Commission (PC), the footprint of the government has been estimated to be as large as over 50 percent of the national income, making it very difficult for the private sector to expand.
Poor governance and dysfunctional markets figure high among the most important reasons why growth in Pakistan could not achieve a sustained acceleration, admits PC in its May 2011 publication, “Pakistan: Framework for Economic Growth.”
With no reasonable fiscal space in sight, the government has again felt compelled to allocate Rs166 billion as subsidies out of which a major chunk of Rs122.7 billion has been earmarked as subsidy for the power sector. Therefore, the sooner the government entrusts the management of public sector enterprises to the private sector the better it would be for the national economy.
The government used to pump money every year into taken-over banks but after privatisation the banks have become robust dividend-paying entities. Likewise, after privatisation public sector enterprises may start yielding profit and paying handsome amounts in taxes to the government, which would not only rid the nation of the menace of subsidies but would also bolster its revenues in the shape of taxes.
By Beena Sarwar
It is never boring to be a journalist in Pakistan, even though it can be deadly, as the condemnable murder of investigative journalist Shehzad Saleem last month highlighted. Years of adversity have certainly toughened Pakistani journalists. They are outspoken, defiant, and bold. But the ‘Pakistani media’ is not a homogenous entity.
Saleem Shehzad’s death made headlines, but the murder of journalists in conflict-ridden Balochistan barely even merit small reports in the mainstream media. The Baloch journalist Malik Siraj Akbar, editor of the online daily Baloch Hal, has lost six colleagues in the conflict during the past nine months. “The authorities have not investigated or punished those responsible for these killings. Worse still, official pressure on media outlets has led to a complete blackout of the news concerning their deaths,” he writes. (‘Death is one Pakistani reporter’s constant companion’ iwatchnews.org, June 3, 2011).
Target killings in Balochistan of what Akbar calls “the cream of society” — progressive, secular, middle-class, educated people, writers, journalists, students — combined with the ongoing radicalisation of the youth, means that the few moderate voices left in Balochistan speak at peril to their lives. Moderate voices in Balochistan, as elsewhere in Pakistan to a lesser extent, walk a tightrope between the military and the militants, where one man’s martyr is another man’s traitor and vice versa. By blocking Baloch Hal, one of the few Baloch voices still calling for reconciliation, parliamentary solution, and dialogue, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) has done democratic politics in Pakistan no favour.
The result of the silence in mainstream Pakistan about Baloch issues was exposed poignantly in a BBC video report, in which people in Lahore — the capital of Punjab Pakistan’s wealthiest, most populous province — were asked what they know about Balochistan. The ignorance — and in some cases, indifference — that emerged said it all. Most couldn’t even name a city in Pakistan’s largest province (Punjab Balochistan ke barey mein kitna janta hai, Sharjil Baloch, BBC Urdu online, March 1, 2011).
Silence on Balochistan and a few other sacred cows aside, Pakistani media is on the whole certainly very courageous and spirited. Pakistani journalists have been arrested, tortured, flogged and killed, and newspapers have been censored and forcibly shut down, particularly during the decades of military rule. My Indian friends sometimes say that they wish that Indian journalists would take such bold stands. But then, Indians have not had the adversarial relationship with their state that Pakistanis have experienced. The political process in Pakistan has been constantly interrupted — compared to just one such interruption in India, Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.
Pakistan’s media is stronger and more independent than ever before, but as evident around the world, independent media does not necessarily mean better, more mature public discourse. The ratings-driven ‘big media’ are often so sensationalist and ‘dumbed down’ as to be counter-productive into a democratic discourse.
A new factor in the equation, facilitated by the rise of the Internet and mobile telephony (and their marriage on sites like YouTube) are ‘citizen journalists’. Ordinary people documenting issues that matter to them, making these documentations public via email, blogs, social media (facebook, twitter, etc) with cell phone uploads, are impacting public discourse as never before.
Sometimes, the ‘big media’ is forced to follow the lead of the person in the street. A Sindhi language TV channel repeatedly broadcast the blood-chilling video of para-military Rangers killing an unarmed young man in a park in Karachi last month, but it was only after mainstream Urdu TV channels picked it up — following the buzz created via cell phone and Internet shares — that the video had nation-wide impact.
Politics in Pakistan continues to remain volatile, but a consensus is emerging around the need for a continuation of the democratic political process. This is supported in no small measure by the ‘alternate’ media world of blogs and tweets. If the current government completes its tenure, holds elections, and hands over power to the next elected government, it will be a first in Pakistan’s history. The situation in Pakistan is far from ideal but that would be a step in the right direction. And a journey of a thousand miles begins, as the Chinese say, with one step.
The building of around 500 schools in Pakistan is a constructive idea for a region where rulers are obsessed with building motorways and flyovers
By Adnan Adil
The Danish government has launched a US$28 million two-year development aid programme for Pakistan. It is amazing to see that a country with almost half the population of the city of Lahore has come forward to provide financial assistance for building schools, training teachers, and running advocacy campaigns on the issues of democratic development, gender parity and human rights’ awareness. Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people, while Pakistan is inhabited by 180 million people.
On June 23, the Danish assistance programme, known as DANIDA Pakistan, was officially launched at a ceremony hosted by the Danish Ambassador in Islamabad, Mr Uffe Wolffhechel. A large number of civil society representatives, journalists and diplomats attended the function, while a joint secretary of the federal government, Muhammad Asif, was the chief guest.
The Danish Ambassador said Danish assistance programme was aimed at contributing to development and stability in Pakistan and support peace-building in the region. He said since Pakistan is facing a lot of challenges, Denmark has extended its support in curbing these challenges through the development initiatives.
A part of the Danish assistance has been allocated for restoring infrastructure, services and livelihoods in the country’s conflict-ridden border areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. The Denmark government has granted $11 million to UNICEF for rebuilding 473 schools that have been destroyed or damaged during the conflict in recent years. This aid will also be utilised for training of teachers and special education and re-integration of 14-18 year old children.
The second part of the Danish assistance worth $7 million will support the development and democratic process in conflict areas through the World Bank-administered Multi Donor Trust fund, which will be working towards the restoration of damaged infrastructure and disrupted services in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and FATA.
A third component of the Danish assistance worth $7 million is for the civil society organisation in Pakistan, with an objective to support initiatives, including good governance, human rights and gender equality. Almost 50 percent of the aid for the civil society has been allocated for the media development programmes like mainstreaming of women in media industry and conflict solution through media. Besides, Denmark has committed another $2.2 million for improving border control and criminal justice system in Pakistan.
Ms Esther Lonstrup, the development counselor and DANIDA representative in Pakistan, said Denmark’s development agency has been working in more than 25 countries and now, for the first time, has launched its programme in Pakistan in supporting its socio-economic development. The fact that a small country thousands of miles away from Pakistan is concerned about the social and economic plight of the people living here and sharing its taxpayers’ money for the welfare of the Pakistani people should be an eye-opener for rich farmers and businessmen of Pakistan who evade paying due taxes. Pakistan has one of the lowest GDP to tax ratio of 9 percent in the world.
Pakistan is a medium-sized country with much larger agricultural land than Denmark and a much larger human resource, but it has mismanaged its affairs so badly that now it has to get charity from a much smaller country to build its schools and repair its infrastructure. Had the Pakistani state focused on social and economic development instead of creating militias, and the people of Pakistan had been honest in taking up their responsibilities, Pakistan would not have been receiving aid from Denmark but providing grants to other less fortunate countries.
Denmark’s aid also brings a message of goodwill from a non-Muslim, European society that it cares for other people regardless of their religion and creed. A few years ago, some Danish cartoonist made some caricatures which provoked Muslims all over the world and protests were taken out on the streets of Pakistan. This assistance demonstrates that Denmark is a pluralist society where the act committed by a person does not necessarily represent the opinion and feelings of the entire society.
As a nation, the Danish people are above prejudices and respect other societies and care for them. The presenters of xenophobic worldview in Pakistan should also take into consideration this aspect of the European country. The building of around 500 schools in Pakistan is such a constructive idea for this region where rulers are obsessed with building motorways, airport terminals, flyovers and fancy buildings. Even those coming from a remote corner of Europe have a better judgement about the needs and requirements of people living here and have set their priorities right. Welcome DANIDA!
Crux of the matter
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq
Collection of taxes has assumed enormous significance in Pakistan in recent months. There is a general consensus now that our economic survival lies with rapid and adequate increase in tax revenues. The common man always views with suspicion and distrust ‘enthusiasm’ of the revenue authorities in collecting taxes.
There are a number of reasons lurking behind this attitude. Corrupt tax officials have created an atmosphere of mistrust between the taxpayers and the state. Governments have failed to utilise taxpayers’ money in a transparent manner. The continuous ruthless utilisation of public money by all consecutive rulers has forced the people to openly defy tax laws.
The present situation of antagonism between the state and taxpayers needs to be reconciled through a process of national reconciliation. A National Tax Commission, comprising judges, professionals and representatives of both taxpayers and tax machinery, is the need of the hour. The task of tax reforms cannot be achieved through handpicked experts (mostly from Washington). The decision to reform tax system and laws through FBR’s selected tax reform committees, in which various assignments have been given to ex-bureaucrats (who are in fact responsible for the present state of affairs), is not an answer.
The tension prevailing between the government and taxpayers can only be eased through a national reconciliation process but certainly not by issuance of threatening statements by FBR high-ups, who are only pre-occupied in self-projection. The proposed National Tax Commission as a truly representative and competent forum can provide a basis for an equitable tax system in Pakistan in the near future.
The process of national reconciliation on tax matters will certainly require some time. Meanwhile, the government, in order to restore the confidence of taxpayers, should immediately table Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights in the Parliament. The provisions of the Bill must:
(a) safeguard and strengthen the rights of taxpayers;
(b) ensure equality of treatment;
(c) guarantee privacy and confidentiality of their declarations;
(d) provide right to assistance by state in tax matters;
(e) guarantee unfettered right of appeal through an independent tax appellate system; and
(f) provide facilities for independent review of disputes with tax authorities.
In recent years, both the United States and the United Kingdom specifically enacted and implemented laws to further strengthen their already highly developed tax cultures. The US Technical and Miscellaneous Revenue Act of 1998 contained a Taxpayer Bill of Rights. The UK Inland Revenue issued in 1996 a Taxpayer’s Charter informing taxpayers of their rights in audit and the tax collection processes.
In Pakistan, the state has never bothered to educate taxpayers about their obligations. They have been left at the mercy of ruthless tax officials and/or unscrupulous advisers. The taxpayers have no specific Bill or Charter of Rights. Tax reform efforts would remain a cliché unless the state takes some fundamental steps to restore confidence of the public in general and the taxpayers in particular and also convince them by concrete action.
Taxpayers are the most humiliated beings in Pakistan, although it is a fact that very few pay their taxes honestly, but even they have no protection of life and property. Others assert that a government, which is incapable of protecting life and property of its citizens, has no right to impose or collect taxes.
In the name of “withholding of taxes”, life of the ordinary people is becoming difficult with each passing day. In the eye of rulers, the only purpose of tax reforms is to extort more money from the poor people for their luxuries. Thus, billions collected are spent on giving unprecedented perquisites to the rulers of the day.
The existing tax system is highly unjust. It protects the establishment and exploitative elements that enjoy complete monopoly over economic resources. There is no political will to tax the privileged classes. The common man is paying an exorbitant sales tax of 16 percent on everyday basic commodities, but the mighty generals, bureaucrats, politicians and landed aristocracy are amassing wealth, paying negligible taxes and flouting all rules.
It appears our policymakers have never bothered to study well-known cannons of taxations, or these are intentionally ignored to protect their own interests. Time and again, we have demanded that law should be passed requiring public disclosure of assets and income tax declarations of senior bureaucrats, generals, judges, politicians, public office holders, professionals, and beneficiaries of bank loans. It will promote tax culture and bring transparency in tax administration. Unless the rich and mighty are taxed nothing will change in this country.
Adam Smith in his 1776 Wealth of Nations propounded the following four principles of taxation (commonly known as canons of taxations):
Equity: The tax payable should accord with ability to pay or taxable capacity.
Certainty: The taxpayer should know exactly what is being taxed, how much he has to pay and when he has to pay it, meaning that the law should be clear and unambiguous and its interpretation by tax authorities should be readily available.
[In Pakistan, there is no certainty about taxes. The administrative authorities keep on playing havoc with tax laws through the infamous SRO system. Taxpayers have been left to the amazing wilderness of confused laws that are vulnerable to varied interpretations with authorities’ explanations adding to the confusion].
Convenience: The tax should be payable in a manner and at a time convenient to the taxpayer.
[FBR makes it a point to make life miserable for the taxpayers. The procedures for collection of taxes are cumbersome and most inconvenient in Pakistan].
Economy: Enforcement and collection costs should be reasonably proportionate to the receipts.
[Quite the opposite is the situation in Pakistan. FBR has reduced its cost of collection by shifting its substantial part onto the withholding agents and that too without giving any compensation. In all the civilised societies, tax authorities allow percentage deduction to withholding agents to compensate for the cost of complying with collection of taxes.]
There are flagrant and perpetual violations of established principles of taxation by the state, yet the people of Pakistan, who are perhaps the most heavily taxed in Asia, are being threatened every day by tax authorities of dire consequences. It is time the government showed a conciliatory gesture by promulgating the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights.
The economic survival of the country now lies in paying taxes. The state must ensure taxpayers full protection of their rights, transparency in utilisation of taxpayers’ money and implementation of a fair tax system.
writers, tax lawyers, are Adjunct Professors at Lahore University of
Management Sciences (LUMS)
mine workers protest against low wages and miserable
By Waqar Gillani
Just about 225 kilometers from Lahore — the heart of Pakistan and the capital of the largest province of Pakistan — there are some people living in an environment which can be compared with Stone Age.
Twenty rupees is a precious amount for hundreds of unregistered workers of the Punjab’s Salt Range mines and quarries.
Until recently, they had been getting Rs120 for extracting one ton of gypsum from the rocks in the range for the past many years. But that eventually changed.
A recent movement by trade union, with the help of local and national NGOs, enabled the workers to go on a strike, compelling contractors to increase the per ton rate up to Rs140, a big achievement for labourers.
The Salt Range — spanning over 120 miles from Jalalpur (district Jehlum) to Kala Bagh (district Mianwali) in the Punjab province — is rich in mineral resources, including salt, coal, gypsum, limestone, fiber-clay, sandstone, chromites, etc. The main centre of mines is at Khewra.
The salt mines are about 200 kilometers from the federal capital Islamabad situated in tehsil Pind Dadan Khan, district Jehlum. These mines are the second largest rock slat mines in the world. These days, according to different studies, Khewra salt mines produce 325,000 tons salt per annum.
The owner sells the extracted gypsum at Rs630 per ton in the market. The mine owner also deducts the cost of explosives, which is used to extract gypsum, from the wages of workers. As a result, a miner gets Rs5,000 to Rs6,000 per month on average.
Muhammad Zulfiqar, 26, who lives in nearby locality Dhok Sakhi, is a labourer who extracts gypsum. He says they have to work without any security equipment because the owner does not pay for it and he simply cannot afford it. “The explosives cost us Rs80 per ton on average, leaving nothing for us. We also have to extract, cut, crush and finally load gypsum on the truck of the contractor,” he says, adding, “We are paid on a monthly basis only for gypsum loaded onto the trucks.”
According to an estimate of a local NGO, Anjuman Rifah-e-Aama, the unregistered number of gypsum, salt, and coal mines in tehsil Pind Dadan Khan is up to 5,500. “The number of registered workers is only 1,200 who get some benefits from the provincial and federal mineral development corporations and authorities,” says Mailk Azmat, an activist associated with the NGO.
There are more than 35 slat mines and 67 gypsum quarries in this town. The main objective of the movement is to organise and create conducive working environment for unregistered workers, he says. Mines and Gypsum Quarry Workers Union, in collaboration with Anjuman Rafah-e-Aama and ActionAid Pakistan organised an impressive gathering of workers from the area and other parts of the Punjab province.
The workers, as observed by The News on Sunday, have to work in miserable conditions without any modern equipment and without any safety measures. “If I get a helmet for my safety during the work I have to pay for that,” says Arung Zeb, another worker. The contractors do not care for our safety and do not give any medical cover and meals during working hours.
The number of workers who died or were seriously injured during the last two years is up to 10, according to the data complied by the union.
A 19-year old Muhammad Usman is the latest tragedy, who died in an accident while working. His family was not given any compensation by the contractor or the government. “My son was the only earning member of the family,” says the poor father, who is also a worker and who lost one leg during the work a few years ago.
Yousaf Naz, General Secretary Mines and Quarries Union, Pind Dadan Khan, says the number of unregistered workers is much higher than the registered workers but the authorities are paying less attention to them. “There are no health facilities and most of the workers live on the mercy of the contractor, lease owner or government authorities.” He says they are trying to organise unregistered workers and make a union. “Our demands are reasonable wages for the workers, giving them social welfare allowance, register them and educate them and their families by opening schools for them, giving compensation to the family of a worker who dies during work and plan gratuity scheme,” he says.
Education remains low on priority list in our assembly debates, Sindh is no exception
By Dr Noman Ahmed
That Sindh education minister was taped watching a dance on his electronic device during an assembly session amply reflects the scale of seriousness about the ailing sector.
The province has been given a reasonable 26 billion rupees share in the proposed educational spending during the budget 2011-2012. The worthy minister only informs that the bulk of this money will be used to complete ongoing projects. What bearing the completion or otherwise would bring to the status of education is anybody’s guess. The signals received so far in respect to the sector are dismal, to say the least.
Few weeks ago, Secretary Education in Sindh was sent on leave after her bold stance and initiatives against corrupt elements in the sector, as widely reported in the media. It is alleged that during a session of the Public Accounts Committee, the officer identified the core causes that led to the rot in the working of government schools. It was astonishing to learn that out of about 47,000 schools in the province, only 7,000 were actually functioning. 4,000 of these institutions were in cities while rural children had access to only 3,000 schools.
Government spending on schools that only existed on paper was Rs200 million. This sad state of affairs shattered several myths, especially related to budget. That less amount of money was allocated for education is only a shred of truth. The real question is whether all the eight billion rupees that constituted public spending on education this year were actually utilised for the purpose. And apart from the quantitative actions, the qualitative measures enforced to obtain the real worth of spending are also a main question to be answered by the concerned.
In Sindh, education sector is mired in ailments. Ghost schools, absconding teachers, falling enrolment rates, dubious and unreliable examination systems, lack of qualified and motivated teachers, poor infrastructure, unreliable monitoring mechanism, financial malpractices, political manipulation in recruitment process, limited opportunities in female education, etc, are some parameters.
Many donor agencies, including the World Bank, have extended numerous loans and grants to consolidate the sector, but the net outcome has only marginally improved. It is ironic to note that where public sector initiatives fails, the private sector seem to succeed. And it is not a coincidence that dozens of MNAs/MPAs of fake degree cases have stilted the reputation of a prime university in the province. When the disease spreads at the bottom, upper tiers are also infested.
The educational performance can only yield positive results if a few basic practices in the sector are restored. The foremost is the time table and school calendar. A school that completes full academic cycle and imparts education throughout the stipulated hours of the day is certainly bound to improve.
By using cooperative arrangement in the localities, deployment of technological gadgets and dependable external monitoring, visible change can be ensured. School buildings, physical environment, and facilities can become a sound attraction for pupils and their parents to stay connected with education.
A comprehensive process of review of existing building complexes can generate report on the prevailing infrastructure. A simple procedure for developing quality buildings and spaces can be devised, provided the political leadership and bureaucracy agrees to oversee the process with diligence.
With assistance from headmasters and teachers, a mechanism for disbursement or subsidised sale of school textbooks and other academic material to pupils can be enacted. Assistance of local community organisations and NGOs can also be sought to facilitate this process.
Total re-vamping is needed in the examination system in various districts, including Karachi. Whereas the pattern and content of examination must be continuously revised, the mechanics of conducting examinations must be totally changed.
On an average, about 300,000 students appear in Secondary School Certificate examination every year in each board. The boards may consider holding examinations under the surveillance of independent managements with capacity and credibility.
A transparent system of assessment must be worked out. Such teachers may be recruited for assessment of answer scripts who have unblemished records of honesty and capacity.
To ensure transparency in management, the authorities concerned must devise credible mechanisms of surprise checks. Inspections should be focused to raising the standard and performance of stakeholders, and not witch-hunting.
Liaison with the private sector and philanthropic organisations can also help in preparing better school management plans and initiatives. Sindh Educational Foundation and the Citizens Foundation (TCF) are two worthwhile stakeholders. Such initiatives will ensure appropriate utilisation of budgets.
After the operationalisation of the 18th Amendment, provincial education departments shall have far greater outlays for spending than the available funds. But if the current practices continue, the ‘value for spending’ will not be achieved. Needless to say, public money is a public trust. It has to be used with utmost caution and wisdom.
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