Angry and bemused
The maturity that both the PPP and PML-N claimed they had acquired by acknowledging past blunders is, for the moment, conspicuous by its absence
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
It has taken a year for the celebrated PPP-PML(N) coalition that emerged in the aftermath of general elections to disintegrate. In truth, the recent turn of events is not a surprise. Disappointing perhaps, but not a surprise. It is now anyone's guess how things proceed from this point onwards.
Power politics is typically thought to be a zero-sum game. It is true that Nawaz Sharif and his party appear to have adopted more principled positions on most contentious matters in recent times, but it would be terribly naοve to presume that the fallout between the PPP and PML-N is explained primarily by irreconcilable ideological principles. In fact, what lies behind this increasingly epic spat is the simple question of how to share power.
However, what has left many well wishers of Pakistani democracy both angry and bemused is how quickly the underlying reality of power politics in Pakistan has disappeared from the radar screen, to be replaced by a tired pattern of bickering over not very much at all. In short, the PPP-PML(N) conflict obscures the fact that neither party exercises countervailing power in Pakistan's military-dominated political system. There is, to put it simply, very little power to share.
Those who have become cynical to the point of no return suggest that the PPP and PML-N are simply squabbling over the power to dole out patronage to their supporters. In other words, they are arguing that the elected government is little more than a clearinghouse for jobs, licenses and pardons. While the extreme view is too simplistic, there is credence to the claim that major policy alignments are dictated by the interests of the permanent state apparatus on the one hand and external financiers / patrons on the other.
So, for example, who can possibly argue with the proposition that the federal government has virtually no control over the levers of economic policy?
The recent announcement that just about every public sector organisation not already on the privatisation chopping block, including the Pakistan Railways, is to be put up for sale, simply confirms what has been an open secret for a long time: the IMF pulls our economic policy strings. The irony of the same PPP that undertook the nationalisations of the 1970s now championing privatisation is surely not lost on the party's ideologues themselves.
Then there is the question of multiple military operations in the NWFP and FATA. The recent deal in Swat notwithstanding, many areas remain wracked by a brutal and cynical war. I do not believe it is outlandish to claim that the elected government has little input into how this war is prosecuted by the military. The only thing that one can say for certain vis-a-vis military operations and the civilian government is that the latter's emphasis appears to be on avoiding conflict with the military and its American patron.
It is telling that even 62 years after the departure of the British there can be 'Governor Raj'. As I have already hinted at above, the institutional contours of the post-colonial state are scarcely different from its colonial predecessor. And this is why the conduct of the two biggest parties is unfortunate: instead of opposing the colonial logic of centralisation that has left them at the mercy of a ruthless permanent state apparatus, both appear to be concerned with benefiting from access to this apparatus as far into the immediate future as possible.
It is worth noting that in the 1970s when the PPP had the best possible chance to assert the supremacy of elected representatives over the military and bureaucracy, its leadership (and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in particular) chose not to unseat the state apparatus and instead simply 'people' it with loyalists. It found out under Zia-ul-Haq that its loyalists could be evicted, and the same apparatus used to terrorise and reassert the power of the unelected
One wonders whether the lessons of the past have been learned. For its part, the PML-N is not doing the cause of democracy any favours by calling for people to engage in reactionary protests, many of which have turned violent. It is all good and well to decry the illegitimacy of the actions that have been taken since Wednesday, but invoking random acts of civil disobedience at this juncture does not constitute anything like a coherent political strategy. In short, the maturity that both the PPP and PML-N claimed they had acquired by acknowledging past blunders is, for the moment, conspicuous by its absence.
Having said this, it is important to avoid the typical doomsday refrain that follows such episodes. I cannot imagine for a second that the relatively thoughtful elements in both mainstream parties consider what has transpired a step forward. Thus, these elements can be expected to try and make reconciliatory efforts. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in Pakistani politics, the conflict has effectively become a personal one in which Nawaz Sharif has pit himself squarely against Asif Ali Zardari. This might be interpreted as an attempt by the former prime minister to drive a wedge between Zardari and his party. In any case, both leaders need to show magnanimity if the present democratic experiment is to be salvaged.
Perhaps even more important than whether the spirit of unity that was in evidence after last year's general elections can be recovered is the question of the military establishment's role in times to come. Predictably, some quarters have started gleefully asserting the tired claim that it is the antics of the politicians that mandate an interventionist role for the military in
Pakistani politics. The refrain is that after so many attempts the politicians simply do not learn.
Many of us have argued for a long time that there is no credence whatsoever in the argument that politicians invite military intervention in politics. Regardless of what has happened over the last few days, or what might happen in the future, there can never be a justification for the military to 'restore order'. It is another matter altogether that Pakistan happens to be engulfed by imperialist war, is effectively bankrupt and has only just managed to restore some semblance of normalcy to its relationship with India.
It is important to remember what the PPP and PML-N themselves have chosen to overlook: that the military is the dominant institution in the polity and the various quagmires we find ourselves in today are a function of this structural dysfunction in the state. One hopes that the elected leadership will recognise that only through a long, sustained and unified effort can the real power struggle in Pakistan be won.
Turning dreams into reality
The poor women should be facilitated at all levels in their quest to become self-sufficient
By Madiha Mujahid
Across Pakistan, millions of women remain caught up in a vicious cycle of endless poverty and desperation. They face tremendous odds, from being widows with young children to having unemployed or incapacitated husbands or fathers; thus leaving their households with no breadwinner. These poor women have no formal education or means to earn a living for themselves. It is only through using some skill that they might possess, which can be employed in the form of an ingenious small-scale business started at home or at a small scale elsewhere, that they are able to earn a living for both themselves and their families.
Therefore, it is through the promotion of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that these women can be successfully incorporated into the economic sphere. This would bring the twin benefits of personal gain for these needy women and a spike in Pakistan's economic growth, through improvements in the gross domestic product (GDP) and a boost in the country's export earnings. This is due primarily to the fact that a flourishing SME sector has long been acknowledged as one of the vital characteristics of any thriving economy that is firmly set upon the path of development.
A country can realise its true potential only when it chooses to acknowledge the economic potential and promise of its female population. SMEs tap this important but unutilised factor of production human resource in the form of unemployed women. By making use of this talent, small- and medium-scale industries have rightfully been acclaimed as the driving force for a sustainable economy. Hence, the development of SMEs is a precondition for sustainable economic growth, especially in transition economies like that of Pakistan.
In Pakistan, the problem of gender typecasting is a major impediment to the country's economic development, because there is still a misconception that it is socially and religiously unacceptable for a woman to work outside her home. Therefore, men undermine the very important economic contribution of women. The types of work customarily open to women reflect domestic roles as wives, mothers and homemakers. There are social barriers about the place of women as only caregivers, and not as active economic agents, in the society.
These widespread social prejudices can be measured by factors, such as not allowing girls to go to school, giving more importance to boys and men, putting restrictions on girls and women, not allowing women to go out for work, and not allowing girls and women the right to make their own decisions. In this perspective, small businesses are a boon for these women, because they solve their problems by allowing them to become economically active entities while staying within their homes. This also makes it possible for them to become financially secure, thus enabling them to enjoy a higher standard of living.
The recent growth in the number of women-owned SMEs in many regions of the world, and the opportunity this trend provides to enhance the economic independence of women and their contribution to regional, national and
global economies, is of vital importance, because increasing and improving women participation in policy
implementation, decision-making and economic activity is one of the most important means of realising a country's economic potential.
The economic crisis being currently faced by Pakistan highlights the need for sustainable economic development and this service to the economy can be provided by SMEs, because it is easier for them to prosper in an environment that might not be conducive to large-scale industries. This is due to the reason that the SMEs are able to weather economic upheavals in a comparatively better way, especially because they can adapt to the changing market conditions.
However, in Pakistan, until recently small-scale industries had not received the kind of attention that they warranted and the prospective employment generation they characterised, especially for women. Though a large network of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) existed to facilitate the small-scale industry, the government has only recently started taking additional steps to promote this sector, realising its important economic role. More of the same is needed to harness the potential of talented women who have specialised in a specific trade or craft. They just need the requisite support to turn their skills into productive and marketable enterprises.
It is important to remember that there is demand both at home and abroad for the products of SMEs; such as jewellery, handloom cotton fabrics, hand-woven carpets, carved wooden handicrafts, traditional shoes and bags, embroidered fabrics and handicrafts, silverware, pottery, etc. This demand must be exploited, so that these women can earn an adequate livelihood, and their skills can be properly utilised to bring about positive gains for themselves in particular and for the country in general.
However, women entrepreneurs wishing to set up a business still face a number of problems, ranging from lack of financing to lack of knowledge about current market trends and other technical aspects involved in the manufacturing of their product; be it on a small scale or a large scale. Additionally, they do not know how to procure raw materials for producing their goods and, once that is done, how to market their products in such a manner that they are able to reach out to the most widespread consumer base.
Hence, the need of the hour is that these women are empowered to make the most of their potential and capabilities. It is imperative that the issues that are being faced by these prospective and established women entrepreneurs be addressed immediately, and that they are equipped with all the required skills that they need to set up and run a successful small-scale business, besides facilitating them in all other aspects of their enterprises. The need for easy and widespread availability of micro-finance should also be highlighted, because it is one of the most beneficial and important factors in the study of SMEs in Pakistan; most women entrepreneurs require financing to start up a new business or keep a present one going.
In Pakistan, micro-finance is finally gaining popularity as an extremely effective tool of social mobilisation and poverty alleviation. Currently, a variety of institutions ranging from NGOs to private- and government-sponsored rural support programmes are providing micro-finance services to the poor. A number of commercial banks such as Meezan Bank, First Women Bank, Bank Islami, etc are also providing lines of credit for the micro-finance sector. By supporting women's economic participation, micro-finance empowers women, thereby promoting gender-equality and improving household well-being.
Additionally, a large number of government-sponsored initiatives have been introduced during recent years to facilitate the women-owned SMEs. One of the premier institutions of the government to promote SMEs under the Ministry of Industries, Production and Special Initiatives is the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA) that was established in October 1998. The basic premise behind the setting up of this organisation is to provide an enabling environment and business development services to small and medium enterprises.
Asked about how the authority seeks to help women entrepreneurs, SMEDA Project Manager Memoona Sattar stated: "Our aim is to provide women entrepreneurs consultancy services about the A-Z of setting up a business: from providing them with training, briefing them about current market trends, and assisting them with legal and market ethics issues to helping them find suppliers to acquire raw materials from and finding buyers for their products; both in the local and international markets."
Additionally, realising the importance of facilitating women entrepreneurs, SMEDA has set up a Women Business Incubation Center (WBIC) to provide 'hands-on' support. It is a pioneer in the country in this regard, because it is the first such entrepreneurial community established solely to encourage and support women-owned and -managed small businesses. It does so by addressing the issues that women entrepreneurs face, and provides them with low-rent offices, display facilities, training programmes and business development services all under one roof.
The SME Bank was incorporated as a public limited company under the Companies Ordinance, 1984. The government is the major shareholder of the bank, which is trying to bridge the gap between the financing needs of SMEs and their access to financing sources. This is particularly useful for women entrepreneurs who can apply for short- and long-term loans, in order to set themselves up in business and become economically active citizens of Pakistan.
Khushhali Bank is the country's first major initiative to bridge the demand for micro-finance services. Fundamental to micro-finance services is the concentrated and unceasing social support for the mobilisation, management and development of all clients of the bank and their access to basic infrastructure services. With initial funding from Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the paid-up capital subscribed by 16 commercial banks, Khushhali Bank Limited was established in August 2000 as the country's first licensed micro-finance institution.
The Punjab Small Industries Corporation (PSIC) also has a wide network to help small industries. It does so through the provision of a number of common facility centers, mostly intended to upgrade the technology of SMEs through the renting of equipment and the provision of advisory services, training centres, small industrial estates and investment promotion activities, including the provision of financing under several credit schemes without differentiating between men and women applicants for the loan. The PSIC also runs a number of special programmes, such as the rural industrial programmes and self-employment schemes.
The governments of NWFP, Balochistan, Sindh, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) also provide similar types of services to their small industries through the Sarhad Small Industries Development Board; the Directorate of Industries, Balochistan; the Sindh Small Industries Corporation; and the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Small Industries Corporation, respectively. These organisations, as well as other public and private sector organisations that exist solely to facilitate SMEs, indicate that increasingly these small-scale businesses are being rightfully regarded as the engine of economic growth in Pakistan.
SMEs make available low-cost employment, because it is more feasible for them to do so since their average unit cost of employing labour is lower than that of large-scale units. Even more importantly, they make it possible for women to become economically functioning citizens, without them having to venture out from the security of their homes, thus enabling them to overcome the negative societal misconceptions about them working. In addition to this, the presence of a strong SME base exercises a positive effect on the trade balance, because SMEs generally use indigenous raw materials. Hence, small-scale industries add appreciably to export revenues, because of the low-cost and labour-intensive quality of their products.
SMEs have the potential to contribute substantially to the economy, and this proposition can be set into motion by using the dormant economic potential of the millions of women who would otherwise be unable to engage in any commercial enterprise. This is of great significance because historically only those countries that choose to realise the economic importance of their women citizens have been able to embark on the path of sustained development. After fully incorporating previously unemployed women into the fabric of economic life, SMEs can then realise their full potential and provide a strong base for the growth of new industries, besides strengthening of the existing ones, for Pakistan's future development.
Imposition of taxes on public goods that must be freely accessible to everyone sounds death knell for the poor
By Dr Noman Ahmed
The City District Government Karachi (CDGK) has to face a lot of criticism since the imposition of Public Utility Charges (PUC). The key arguments presented against PUC include lack of consultation before their imposition, their universal application on property holders and their inappropriate timing. Some quarters have also pointed out the unexplored potential of enormous revenue recovery from the existing heads of local and provincial taxation.
On the other hand, the CDGK rightly believes that the recently developed infrastructure has to be managed and maintained. For this work, funds are needed to prevent the sharp degradation, which normally occurs without a repair and up keep strategy. An objective assessment of the entire scenario shall be worthwhile before a decision is made to implement this taxation resolution.
The imposition of a new levy must follow the review of prevailing tax profile at the local levels. The citizens are paying property tax, motor vehicle tax, fire and conservancy charges, and many other levies. They pay high utility charges across a low level of service that is neither commensurate with normal living standards nor useful to support a competitive business enterprise.
The fundamental issue that has surfaced is that the CDGK has taxed a set of public goods that must be freely accessible to everyone without hindrance. Improved environment was a long denied right to the people. This argument derives from the fact that this city contributes the highest proportion of direct and indirect taxes to the national exchequer. Thus, a better living environment and the corresponding infrastructure becomes a matter of right, not a charged privilege.
This charge is likely to divide the city into 'have' and 'have not' quadrants. The upper- and middle-income localities, commercial areas and posh localities shall be the focus of this levy and consequent spending. Un-regularised areas, expanding low-income neighbourhoods and semi-urban areas will eventually be let to their own fate. Pressure from taxpayers will not allow the public infrastructural spending to address the less privileged locations.
New projects shall keep evolving around the old contexts. It is already a well-known fact that roads and highways have marginally benefited low-income localities. Similarly, the conflict of jurisdiction will become a core issue. Such localities that do not fall under the sphere of municipal or provincial taxation system shall be automatically exempted from the infrastructure levy. Similarly, the settlements on grabbed land will continue to obtain free services. It is vital to note that free beneficiaries exist in high numbers, quantification of which is required on an urgent basis.
The coverage of new levies must take into account the nature and scale of users. For instance, road user charges must be revisited and made compatible with the road development projects that have been executed recently. Benefits to motorists should not be charged to pedestrians or property owners. It may be noted that the lion's share of investment has gone into roads, expressways, flyovers, interchanges and bypasses. In the vast majority of cases, road-widening schemes have deprived the pedestrians from the basic right of proper sidewalks. Moreover, there are only a few pedestrian crossings. High velocities of traffic have rendered crossing of streets as prohilibitively dangereous.
The status of solid waste management in the city is also dismal. While contractual complications did not allow the involvement of a foreign firm into this service, the current performance of the CDGK on this count is far below the desired standard. The domestic and other types of waste are thrown into open nullahs, vacant plots and even parks / playgrounds. With more than 25,000 tonnes of settled garbage waiting to be lifted, the situation is far from satisfactory. Ill-conceived attempts aimed at solid waste management have caused deterioration of environment in almost all the neighbourhoods of Karachi. With rising temperatures, the spread of stench and rodents shall increase.
The CDGK complains about the low taxation base. This fact merits a review of the recovery of existing levies. The city has enormous potential of revenue generation with respect to property taxes. Understatement of property values and poor collection practices are only two of the various ailments afflicting this sector. Water supply in the city is almost free for those who get it from the pipes or those who obtain it through informal means. Water vendors who supply water through tankers charge many times higher for the same service.
An extended number of households are dependent on bowsers for their daily supplies. The collection rate is well below 20 percent of the number of consumers. No monitoring is done to regulate the more than two million motor cars and motor bikes. They are a genuine source of revenue pertinent to motor vehicle tax. Non-utilisation fee on vacant plots is another head that can be explored to its logical end. This is also crucial as a large-scale enterprise of land sub-division and sales is devouring away precious land resources of the city. A taxation and monitoring regime is essential to put on halt this negative and quasi-illegal practice.
The CDGK must revisit the concept and application of PUC. The proposal of new taxation must emanate from the premise of beneficiaries and affectees. Those who benefit must share the cost of investment in the maintenance head. An adequate allocation must be ensured for the less-developed locations in terms of basic infrastructure. An equalisation fund can be created to establish the mechanism of public spending in the less-privileged localities.
These types of funds normally draw a certain percentage of taxes collected from affluent localities for developing the less-developed neighbourhoods. In other words, high-income neighbourhoods contribute to the improvement and maintenance of low-income settlements in an institutionalised manner. In addition to the exposed components of infrastructure, emphasis must also be given to revitalising underground drains, conduits and pipelines. The tariff and schedule of charges need to be fixed after a scientific review of the ground realities. Finally, participation of the stakeholders can add substantial value to the whole exercise.
A local solution
We need to situate the latest peace deal in the right context before criticising it
By Tahir Ali
The pros and cons of the latest peace deal between the government and the militants in Malakand are the talk of the town these days. However, only a few people know about the exact details of the deal and several articles written about it in newspapers are based on false premises. Most people, for example, believe that the government has entered into an agreement with outlawed outfits like the Tanzeem-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM).
Others like the United States think that the deal will give the terrorists time to regroup (surprisingly, it is willing to accept a similar pact between the Taliban and the Hamid Karzai government in Afghanistan). Critics have also termed the deal an abject surrender before the militants. To some, the deal would open floodgates of future challenges to the state's writ.
It is easy to criticise the deal sitting in cozy drawing rooms, but one needs to take into account the hardships of the people of violence-hit areas before jumping to conclusions. The government cannot and should not rely on military power alone for solving problems. Similarly, it should avoid succumbing to terrorists' demands. However, the government should not waste an opportunity to resolve disputes amicably, especially on its own terms. One should also remember that the Awami National Party (ANP), which was voted to power for its agenda of peace, has so far suffered the most at the hands of terrorists in the region.
The Maulana Fazlullah-led Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) first announced a unilateral 10-day ceasefire that was reciprocated by the government; later, it extended the ceasefire for an indefinite period. Therefore, it seems that the militants too were waiting for an opportunity to secure peace and end their agonies. The government has already said that it will talk to the militants once they laid down their arms. It has also lifted the curfew and halted the military operation for the time being. However, the army will remain in the violence-hit areas until peace is fully restored.
Although TSNM chief Sufi Mohammad was initially in favour of militant struggle, now he is not. He has always maintained a distance from al-Qaeda and the TTP. Fazlullah, on the other hand, still believes in extremism, though he has also said that his organisation will fight against those who would not lay
down arms once the demand for the implementation of Sharia was met. In short, it can be said that the government needed a man with some following to neutralise the TTP and Sufi Mohammad is not a bad choice.
The previous peace agreements inked in 1994, 1998, 2004 and 2008 were dictated by the militants and they mainly favoured them. In those pacts, the government had accepted the militants' demands of halting the military operation, withdrawing troops, granting amnesty to and releasing the militants, and paying hundreds of millions of rupees to them. Nothing of the sort this time!
Moreover, the government has not entered into an agreement with the outlawed TTP or TNSM, as is generally believed. The deal is between the NWFP government and Sufi Mohammad in his individual capacity not as the chief of TNSM, but as the son of one Maulana Hasan. This speaks volumes of the wisdom of the people representing the government in the talks. They have not committed themselves to talking to the militants. Instead, Sufi Mohammad has promised to talk to and persuade the TTP to lay down arms and shun militarism. The militants may be pleased with the deal right now, but will eventually realise that their status has not been legalised as they may have thought. This important point has not been discerned by most commentators.
Secondly, the agreement stipulates that all the existing laws would be brought in conformity to the Shariah, but adds that the laws to be implemented and the mechanism to be adopted would be strictly in accordance with the Constitution of Pakistan. This has already been promised in all the Pakistani constitutions. Thirdly, deciding on the religiosity or otherwise of laws has been accepted as the prerogative of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) a constitutional body that consists of educated intellectuals, not of clerics appointed by the TNSM or the TTP. This practically means that the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in their existing form will remain intact in Malakand, unless the CII declares them as un-Islamic.
The Nizam-e-Adl regulation would be imposed only after peace returned to the war-torn valley. No date has been fixed as to when the new laws would take effect. Moreover, it is unclear as of now how would the system be different from the PPC in vogue in rest of Pakistan. Experience tells that the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation to be imposed in Malakand may not be as radical as is generally believed; it will change little in substance. Under the previous regulations, of 1994 and 1999, the designation of judges was changed to qazis, but neither were convicts ever lashed nor were their hands chopped off. Importantly, the contentious clause of appointing assistant qazis which was being seen as tantamount to opening the gates of judiciary for clergy has been removed from the agreement.
The appeal against the decrees would be made only in courts in Malakand. Division benches of the Peshawar High Court and Supreme Court will solve this problem. We may prefer to call it a pact representing a radical interpretation for our own satisfaction, but it is not. Rather, it is a question of speedy justice. The pact provides for an increase in the number of courts. It also fixes a timeframe for the disposal of criminal and civil cases: four and six months, respectively.
We should remember that Swat was a princely state that had its own judicial system before it was merged with the federation of Pakistan. "The logic behind this agreement is a local solution to a local problem, which is quick dispensation of justice. It is not appeasement towards the militants," Foreign Minister Shah Mahmmod Qureshi has rightly said.
It is high time that the government goes beyond resolutions and fully implements the 1991 water accord
By Nasir Ali Panhwar
The decreasing floodwater from the Indus river and other seasonal rivers is reportedly a major cause of degradation of the mangroves along the Indus Delta. The construction of a series of dams, barrages and other engineering structures has diverted a large quantity of water for irrigational use, with the result that floodwater quantities reaching the mangroves have decreased substantially. Moreover, the silt reaching the mangroves has also decreased. These two interconnected factors affect the mangrove forests the most.
The most severe environmental stress that the mangroves face is the reduction of freshwater flow down the Indus river. While mangroves, especially Avicennia marina, are able to survive in seawater without regular freshwater input, it is unlikely that they can thrive indefinitely. The Indus Delta was formed from the freshwater flow into the sea carrying 400 million tonnes of silt. Over the years, the flow recharging the delta has reduced drastically. The reduced flow in the Indus river means that the already high salinities in creeks and soil will become higher.
In its last session, the Sindh Assembly demanded effective measures to protect the erosion of land by the sea in the coastal areas of Badin and Thatta districts. The demand was made through a resolution adopted unanimously by the house. Dr Sikandar Mandhro of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) moved the resolution regarding the erosion of land by the sea. In the resolution, it was pointed out that the "active process of sea intrusion and ever increasing rate of erosion has already eaten away millions of acres of fertile land, pushing the population into insurmountable socioeconomic hardships."
In his speech, while quoting data, Dr Mandhro expressed concern and highlighted the need for the construction of a coastal highway to protect land from sea erosion. He pointed out that the Indus Water Treaty, which was signed by Ayub Khan and Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960, deprived the country of the water of three rivers; while the construction of dams, including Tarbela, resulted in reduced flow of water downstream Kotri.
According to an international research report, the sea is eating away 80 acres of fertile land daily since 1960. Going by this calculation, the sea has already eroded about 1.4 million acres of fertile land. If the Sindh government builds a coastal highway and sets up windmills along the country's coastal belt, Pakistan could overcome the energy crisis. Moreover, the huge amount of water that makes its way into the sea could by used for cash crops during the Kharif season.
The resolution was also supported by MPAs Heer Soho, Anwar Mehar, Syed Sardar Ahmad, Bachal Shah, Humera Alwani, Nuzhat Pathan, Sassui Palejo, Manzoor Wassan, Syed Murad Ali Shah, Jam Madad Ali and Ayaz Soomro. The resolution is a timely initiative of the legislators; however, to curb the sea intrusion, multidimensional interventions are required. There is increasing evidence that many environmental disasters, such as droughts and floods, are caused by the degradation of natural resources, and they contribute to widespread damage and destruction.
Sea intrusion has been classified as one such phenomenon. It constitutes the encroachment of saline seawater inland and up the channels of rivers, because of sea level rise, depletion of freshwater flows in the river channel or both. The 2004 tsunami made it clear that healthy mangroves serve as a natural barrier against natural or human-made disasters, protect infrastructure and save lives. Pakistan has the biggest mangrove forests in the world; however, their significance in terms of ecological and economic value has remained undocumented and poorly understood.
Historically, the abundant freshwater discharges and nutrients-rich sediment load was conducive to a highly productive coastal ecosystem, including mangroves and fish, which form the livelihood basis of local communities around the Indus Delta. Human activities have, however, progressively altered the discharge pattern of the Indus river and, therefore, of the sediments. It is suspected that the most severe environmental stress that the mangroves are facing results from the reduction of freshwater flows down the Indus river, carrying with it reduced loads of silt and nutrients.
The estimated available flow from the Indus river is about 150 million acre feet (maf) per year. Substantial quantities of freshwater have been harnessed through large-scale engineering projects, such as irrigation channels, barrages, embankments, dykes and multipurpose dams. Because of these interventions, the Indus river freshwater discharge in the deltaic region has been reduced to one-fifth of its natural flow and the river has been confined to a single channel almost down to the coastal area.
After the 1991 Indus Water Apportioned Accord, 10 maf per year were allotted down the Kotri barrage for downstream ecosystems and the livelihood of local populations. However, not even the 10 maf water promised under the 1991 water accord has been released down the Kotri barrage in recent years. In 2000-01, the flow reportedly reached the lowest level in Sindh's recorded irrigation history: only 0.72 maf. On the other hand, there are plans to build new dams that will further reduce the freshwater input.
Therefore, desolation can be witnessed in the coastal areas of Karachi, Thatta and Badin districts. The 1991 water accord was a unanimous covenant signed by the federating units as well as the federation, and it was protected under law after being endorsed by the Council of Common Interests (CCI). The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) had also been constituted under this water accord. The coalition partners in the government have been advocating for the implementation of the 1991 water accord. Now, when they are in power, it is high time that they go beyond resolutions and implement the 1991 water accord, as well as decide about the quantum of water for downstream Kotri. In addition to making resolutions in the parliaments, this long outstanding issue can only be addressed through a strong political will.
(The author is a freelance
There is an urgent need to invest in the youth of Pakistan
By Soufia A Siddiqi
It is a good opportunity for Pakistanis to wake up, because a storm is knocking at the door: more than half of the country's population is under the age of 17. Therefore, it is high time for the government to think about reversing the situation in the next few years. How? The answer is simple, one that Mehbub-ul-Haq gave decades ago: invest in the youth of Pakistan. However, a big question mark hangs over the performance of successive governments, because the majority of the country's youth does not yet have the right to decent education.
The curriculum taught in schools and colleges has set an unhealthy standard of competition, with record-setting marks / grades being the end objective of 'successful' students. That our education is not grooming concerned citizens of the state is obvious, whether at the reception of a hospital, in the market or even on the road, all of which are characterised by an aggressive and selfish struggle to make a place for only oneself.
Moreover, average college students cannot effectively communicate their ideas to even a friend, let alone an examiner or a panel of researchers. Sadly, this is the case in both English- and Urdu-medium schools. Primary schools are supposed to concentrate on inculcating in children values like patience, discipline and cooperation at the right age less than 12 years. High school ought to prepare young students to take up a more critical analysis of the discipline they choose to study in college. However, on both accounts, we have almost nothing to show.
A report on curriculum and textbooks in Pakistan, prepared by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), refers to another way in which our education system has been tainted. The 'disproportionate inclusion' of Islamic Studies in various disciplines it mentions is a phenomenon in plain sight.
Take the equivalence formula developed by the Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC), which mandates the inclusion of Islamic Studies in subjects considered for converting foreign-school qualification into a local one. Similarly, the first 'salient feature' of the Education Policy (1998-2010) desires for all citizens of Pakistan to be trained to live as true, practicing Muslims. It is almost as if the white part of the national flag does not exist, as if this country was not made with the faith that minorities too had an equal say.
The IBCC on its own exhibits behaviour that is still more erratic. It chooses to punish those educated in a system alternative to Pakistan's, whether within the country or outside of it. Take the 20 percent marks deduction on internally evaluated school transcripts. Similarly, the 10 percent deduction that is standard for all foreign qualifications, even if externally examined. If these committees consist of intelligent people, should not they be more concerned with why an alternative to the national education system is gaining such popularity?
One of the best ways in which the public can be educated outside of schools is through social platforms. Lahore, a city of about seven million, has only five major libraries open to the public. The most established of them, the Quaid-e-Azam Library, still does not have a children's section, nor does it offer membership to students not holding or enrolled in a master's degree programme. In Karachi, apart from ethnicity-specific ones, there are no wide-scale community centres supported by and administered through the city government.
In general, throughout the urban centres of the country, the people have been unable to dismantle the elite 'clubs', whether they are of the colonial era or are the more recent golf-and-country sort. Is this the kind of atmosphere in which we expect our children to learn to preserve knowledge, overcome ethnic divides and narrow class segmentation?
The problem of education in Pakistan is simple: it lacks a committed goal towards securing the freedom of its citizens. In every action that the state or society takes, a meaningful consequence is felt by the students the portion of society that is the most tender; hence, the most susceptible. It is not and cannot be sufficient for those linked with the education policy to restrict themselves to books or curricula. In short, the accessories of good education cannot be denied.
An agenda for class deconstruction and the encouragement of thinking, rationalising individuals is needed. However, of equal consideration are tools of indicating public respect for learning and improving libraries, discussion forums and even municipal council meetings with residents of an area.
It is not enough for the state to allocate a right. For it to exist, the circumstances and aids necessary to facilitate its use must also be considered. The right to freedom of expression is a token in Pakistan as long as the men and women of the country do not have the means to think, question and act. Expression is not just verbal, but it is also written and even acted out. It is not for the lucky few; it is for everyone. If the basis for such expression does not exist, how useful is such a freedom and how great is the state for granting it?
Important decisions in Pakistan are taken in haste and without taking into loop all the stakeholders. The recent tax reforms are no exception
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq
On Jan 15, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), while explaining the rationale for integrating the administrations of Direct Taxes, Federal Excise and Sales Tax into that of Inland Revenue headed by a single Member claimed that the move was aimed at "enhancing resource mobilisation". It was projected as the FBR's "stabilisation and reform strategy to meet the targets of sustainable growth". The action, taken for the "establishment of a fair and efficient tax administration", was received negatively by the officers of Customs and Sales Tax groups, which have higher merit for selection in the CSS exams than the Income Tax Group.
The officers of Customs (responsible for collecting Federal Excise Duty) and Sales Tax groups are of the view that this move, besides causing them personal disadvantages, will adversely affect revenue collection. They argue that officers of the Direct Taxes wing are not well versed in tackling matters relating to the levy of Sales Tax and Federal Excise Duty. It is unfortunate that this controversy has hit the ranks and files of the two sister wings of the same department at such a crucial time, when the FBR is facing the tough challenge of meeting the revenue target of Rs1.25 trillion down from Rs1.36 trillion after the IMF's second review meeting in Dubai.
The focus of this article, however, is on the impact of this step from the perspective of revenue collection and improvement in the working of the tax machinery. Tax collection requires, among other things, competent, transparent and efficient tax apparatus. The Tax Administration Reforms Programme (TARP), funded by the World Bank among other donor agencies, is being implemented for the last five years. The foreign consultants have been asking for functionally integrated tax administration of sales tax, federal excise duty and direct taxes, thus facilitating the taxpayers to avail the self-assessment scheme.
Despite their insistence, during the five years of TARP, the FBR continued to operate in separate domains of direct taxes, federal excise duty and sales tax, to garb more and more posts with cosmetic adjustments such as sharing of buildings at the level of headquarter and field formations. Now with greater dependence on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, because of the country's record fiscal deficit, the government has been forced to take this step. Had it been so important, what prevented the FBR from implementing it in the first year of TARP? Why such an important reform programme has been introduced at the fag end of the programme, and that too without any public debate or parliamentary process?
The whole process was a closed-door exercise, which is highly lamentable. Important decisions in Pakistan are taken in haste and without taking into loop all the stakeholders. Therefore, their implementation becomes a problem. The important issue is how the Member Inland Revenues now responsible for all field operations at the regional tax offices and large taxpayers units across the country for direct taxes as well as indirect taxes, excluding customs duties is going to handle affairs. Can he or she do it single-handedly?
In other tax administrations around the world, decentralisation is considered as the best practice, but our economic wizards are going in the opposite direction concentrating all power in the hands of one person! Instead of judicious distribution of powers and functions, one person exerts absolute control. By just saying in an official press release that "this step is intended to facilitate taxpayers by creating a single window access and aligning all business processes to promote a tax compliant culture", it does not become so in reality! It has been said that "a new support function of enforcement and accounting has been introduced in the functional design, which is to be administered by a separate Member. At the same time, the taxpayers' audit has also been entrusted to an independent Member separating it from the internal audit function."
The FBR, at the beginning of TARP, experimented with line and functional members. People were hired from the market at hefty salaries, but everything ended in a fiasco. They proved to be worthless, more interested in personal benefits than reforming the system. The same is going to be the fate of the new experiment. The move is nothing but eyewash. Strangely, in the wake of this ill-conceived move, FBR Chairperson Ahmad Waqar has vowed "to move ahead with the reforms process underway in the FBR". He has assuaged any apprehensions resulting out of the ongoing integration of various functions to modernise the tax administration. One wonders how modernisation can be achieved by just appointing one member for three distinct taxes that require, for their collection, highly qualified and professional people.
Addressing officers of the Customs and Excise Group in Karachi, Waqar was recently quoted as saying: "I can't take sides but I would definitely take sides with the reform process which is the key to improving revenue generation and modernising the FBR to prepare it for future challenges." He told the officers that "their concerns were largely based on mere apprehensions", because introduction of new administrative changes is an operational-cum-management step that would not jeopardise the promotion prospects, allocation of seats and career paths or discriminate officers of one group in favour of the other."
The FBR chairperson conceded that the integration was a consistent theme that had been recommended over the years by various agencies / international bodies. However, no explanation was offered by him as to what prevented the policymakers to meet this 'essential objective' earlier. Waqar further elaborated that the step of creating a fully integrated tax administration of sales tax, federal excise duty and income tax mechanism was inevitable "for improving tax facilitation, removing distortions, preventing revenue leakage, broadening and widening of tax net, and enhancing tax to GDP ratio."
The setting up of Inland Revenue mechanism, he said, was just "the start of a process that reflected a futuristic approach and would be completed over a period of time and inputs from all the stakeholders would be obtained for attaining the goals and achieving the objects in an effective manner." What a tragedy that the head of the FBR, almost near the completion of a five-year reform programme, is still experimenting with an idea that, according to him, is just the beginning! These are our bureaucrats and policymakers who are not accountable to anyone. After wasting a $100 million loan, they are still fumbling with the tentative stage of reforms.
The administrative move introduced by the FBR like all the earlier moves is cosmetic in nature. The crux of the issue tapping real tax potential of the country remains unattended. No policy paper is issued in this regard for public debate in the media. Establishment of Inland Revenue will not solve the basis problem of improving tax-to-GDP ratio, and fair distribution of income and wealth in the society.
The FBR has lost is functional efficiency, thus facing difficulties in meeting even the revised revenue target of Rs1.25 trillion for fiscal year 2008-09, while the actual tax potential of Pakistan is not less than Rs3-4 trillion. Non-taxation of the wealthier sections of society is the main obstacle, but there is lack of political will to remove it. The FBR is not keen to suggest the areas from where huge revenue can be collected. By protecting the rich and mighty, the FBR also remains unpunished despite its established highhandedness, corruption, inefficiency and incompetence.
Things will not improve even after establishment of Inland Revenue. The real issue is that of political insulation of the FBR. The present political setup will never allow the FBR to work independently and collect taxes fearlessly from sources owned by the ruling elite. The poor of this country will remain the victim of tax highhandedness, no matter under Inland Revenue or any other nomenclature. Courtesy anti-people policies of successive Pakistani governments, the poor are paying 16 percent sales tax on even basic commodities of life.
When the colonial masters imposed salt tax in the Subcontinent, a grand disobedience movement (andulan) was launched and they were forced to withdraw it. In the so-called post-independence period, our rulers and tax managers have proved to be even crueler than the colonial rulers were. A widow earning Rs99,000 as profit from a bank pays Rs9,900 as full and final tax, while a property owner earning Rs200,000 a month also pays the same amount in taxes! Instead of removing these unsightly distortions in the system and levying taxes on the rich, the FBR is busy in administrative gimmicks having no real impact in terms of better tax administration or revenue generation.
(The writers, authors of many books, are visiting
professors at LUMS.
The role of lobbyists is the ugliest among the interest groups that seek to influence public policymaking
By Dr Arif Azad
Public policy despite being formulated, legitimated and enforced by governmental institutions is enriched and refined by input from a medley of interest, pressure and civil society groups. This factor has led to an increased focus on the role of organised groups in public policymaking. As a result, literature on the role of these groups in public policy has proliferated over the years. The important role organised groups play in public policymaking is also manifest in the mushroom growth of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in both service delivery and policy advocacy. The work of John Walker, for example, testifies to an enormous increase in the number of NGOs and citizen action groups in the United States in recent years.
Although service delivery function of organised groups may not have a direct impact on public policy, enough literature is available to show the power of lower-end service delivery bureaucracy in refining public policy options. The 'Group Theory of Public Policy', an influential analytical model, begins with the premise that interaction among groups is the warp and woof of politics. According to Earl Latham, a noted 'group theorist', "what may be called public policy is actually the equilibrium reached in the group struggle at any given moment, and it represents a balance which the contending factions or groups constantly strive to tip in their favour."
The 'Group Theory of Public Policy' views policymakers as reacting perpetually to pressures emanating from various interest groups and lobbyists, bargaining and negotiating their way to a policy that agglutinates a broad range of interests. Central to this theory is the concept of power: which of the groups commands more influence and power in public policymaking. For example, during the formulation of Britain's National Health Service Policy, doctors' trade union British Medical Association used its influence and got many benefits. Power is dispositional; it is an ability to do something. Robert Dahl defines power as something that coerces other to do what they would not do otherwise. In his words: "A has power over B to do something B would not do otherwise."
Groups involved in public policymaking can come in different forms and labels despite sharing the singular aim of influencing the policy. The groups that are central to the policy process range widely from single-issue groups and lobbyist to pressure and interest groups. The influence and entry points of different groups in a political system depend on existing intuitional arrangements.
The work of Richardson and Jordan shows that a weak British parliamentary system with a strong executive affords entry point to interest group to influence public policymaking. Interest groups are especially effective in countries with a strong legislature, such as the US. Another opening also allows groups to enter and influence public policymaking: weak response of citizens to a public issue. This is most likely to happen in cases where policy is concerned with technical subjects in which either public knowledge is limited or public interest is, historically, low. The British atomic policy serves as a good example: only scientists played role during its formulation and implementation. Similarly, during the formulation of Pakistan's Human Transplantation Act, doctors particularly urologists played a major role.
Conversely, established policy advocacy groups can use enhanced media and public interest around a public issue to enter a particular policy area. For example, during various recent humanitarian crises, helped by increased media attention and heightened public interest, previously unknown advocacy groups entered the policy area. The example of South Asian Tsunami readily comes to mind in this connection; many small British advocacy groups were able to enter the policy area on the back of media-propelled crisis.
The media can also become a major actor in public policymaking. For example, the media in Pakistan, due to its reporting of the lawyers' movement, became an important actor vis-ΰ-vis the independence of judiciary. Hence, Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf's double-edged extirpation of the judiciary and media in a single stroke through the imposition of 'emergency' on Nov 3, 2007.
Groups can also enter the policymaking process if they make themselves indispensable to governments in public policy areas in which governmental expertise is either lacking or not up to the mark. This is most likely to happen in poor countries where governmental expertise in a whole range of policy issues is lacking due to either budgetary constraints or bureaucratic lethargy.
The downside of too much reliance on outside expertise is the ever-present fear of what is called 'interest group capture' of a policy field. For example, under the Bush administration, the US foreign policy was widely believed to be hijacked by think tanks, such as Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation and Centre for American Enterprise. These think tanks, staffed by neocons, literally dictated the US foreign policy during George W Bush's eight years in power as the American president.
In some areas of service delivery, government can also facilitate the entry and entrenchment of groups with special expertise in the policy and delivery processes. This has happened more recently worldwide, with neo-liberal governments contracting basic service delivery functions to groups in an ideological drive to slim down the government. For example, the housing market previously administered by the British government has now been handed over to private housing associations. Similarly, in Germany, after the Second World War, the government entered into an agreement with trade unions to ensure the implementation of the industrial policy.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of the 'Group Theory of Public Policy' are the marginal groups with fringe interests that are not normally reflected in policy options. Public policymaking affords such marginal causes or groups to insert themselves into the policy process. For example, over the years, groups working on racial discrimination and ethnic minority rights in Britain have been able to contribute to the policy process because it is open to plural ideas.
By far the most effective notorious interest group in public policymaking are the professional lobbyists. The study of lobbyists by Milbraith, titled The Washington Lobbyist, finds that the US capital was awash with lobbyists who tend to influence public policy their way through various means. The lasting and enduring influence of lobbyists, despite strong criticism in recent years, can be gauged from a recent book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, titled The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy. The book outlines a detailed case of how pro-Israel lobbyists bend the US foreign policy in the favour of Israel.
(The writer, a policy analyst, is a fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and a visiting member of the Foreign Trade Institute of Pakistan.
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