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The change industry
Those who believe that removing Zardari & co. will magically solve the problems we are facing said the same thing when Iftikhar Chaudhry was restored and when Pervez Musharraf came to power. Surely, we have suffered enough collectively to recognise that such 'change' merely exacerbates the problem
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Try as I might it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the talk of 'change' that is reverberating around Islamabad (and Rawalpindi, of course). The prime minister and president have more or less admitted that something is afoot, even while exhorting their party leaders and workers to remain steadfast in the face of 'conspiracies against democracy'.
It is pointless speculating on the veracity of the rumours that are flying about, but it goes without saying that we will all be much the worse for a renewed period of political upheaval. One cannot, therefore, be critical enough of the media-persons who are trying their hardest to manufacture a 'change' as if to suggest that there is anyone (read: general) or any party on the horizon that is ready and willing to do what is necessary to guide the country away from the untenable political and economic course which it is currently treading.
Aafia Siddiqui's sentencing by a US federal court to 86 years in prison will only heighten the political temperature. Hawks and opportunists alike will rehash the tired old argument that the elected government has sold out its heroes and completely surrendered its sovereignty to the United States (of course we have been virtual serfs of Washington since 1954 when we sold our soul and joined anti-communist security pacts). Dramatic calls to patriotic action will echo on TV channels and front pages alike and those who purport to make 'change' happen will be turned into overnight idols.
I am still not convinced that the kingmakers can forge a 'change' that looks and feels significantly different to what is currently on offer. Having said this, I suppose the writing was on the wall when Altaf Hussain effectively called for martial law to be imposed by 'patriotic generals'. If 'patriotic generals' or their handymen do attempt to undermine the elected government -- no matter what the latter's failings -- some of us will no doubt be on the streets. In the days to come, the elected government itself will have to do much more than it has done in the past two years. Whether or not it takes to the task will determine its future.
The first signs are hardly encouraging. Less than four months since the federal budget was announced, the government has revised upwards the estimated expenditures on defense by Rs110 billion. The standard explanation citing expanded counter-terrorism costs and unavoidable military operations has been invoked. Needless to say, development expenditures have been slashed further (following the cuts levied in the wake of the floods).
One could argue that the decision to avert a head-on confrontation with public sector universities by releasing funds to meet impending overhead costs is light at the end of the tunnel. I think it is more like fire-fighting. The (meager) Rs15 billion that the federal government has promised the vice-chancellors will be diverted from some other development scheme. The structural problem will remain unaddressed.
Progressive circles have been insisting on the need to cut spending on defence and debt-servicing for decades. Following the floods, the need for bold discretion on the part of the elected government was even more urgent. Most disappointingly, the exact opposite appears to be happening. Given that the government itself is claiming that democracy is facing serious 'threats', it is difficult to understand why what needs to be done is not being done. If 'patriotic generals and their cronies are ready to pull the plug on the Zardari experiment, which they would only do if Washington gave them a green light, then who is the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) leadership appeasing now?
Perhaps the president still believes the kingmakers have not yet decided to abandon him and his party. But then he is simply playing a waiting game. For the best part of its existence the PPP has claimed that it represents the anti-establishment mainstream and has, therefore, always suffered the brunt of the establishment's conspiracies. No serious political activist or observer will deny this claim to the extent that it is true. What matters at crucial junctures of history is whether anti-establishment credentials are actively demonstrated or if instead one just sits and waits for the inevitable to happen.
The PPP is, of course, entitled to do politics exactly as it sees fit. Some on the left believe firmly that the PPP would not be too devastated to be unseated from power because this would confirm in the eyes of its diehard followers that it is unacceptable to the establishment and, thereby, sure up the standard PPP vote in the next election. I doubt that this is how those actually sitting in the president's and prime minister's house actually see things in the here and now. In any case, the PPP appears not to want to rock the boat, even while others may be trying to sink it.
Which brings us to the other political contenders: it is sad but true that so many of our politicians are hopelessly compromised. Fate would have it that Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League and the PPP have been cast together at the present time whereas just about everyone else is clamouring for 'change'. Parties outside parliament such as the Jamaa't-e-Islami and Tehrik-e-Insaf are biding their time in the hope that they will be granted some share in a future dispensation. For all of the talk of revolution about, not one of the protagonists has a clue what a genuinely revolutionary programme is, let alone the will to actually implement it.
To be sure, revolution is precisely what Pakistan needs: a thorough restructuring of the state, relations with the outside world, and society at large. Conditions are ripe. Until there is a genuine chance that such an agenda can be effectively set and operationalised, however, the best bet is to protect and substantively deepen the process that was won back in February 2008. This must be done in spite of the weaknesses of the elected government and its inaction on the basic structural crises of the state. Those who believe that removing Zardari & co. will magically solve the problems we are facing said the same thing when Iftikhar Chaudhry was restored and when Pervez Musharraf came to power. Surely, we have suffered enough collectively to recognise that such 'change' merely exacerbates the problem.
The flood inquiry tribunal has a huge task to perform
By Mahvish Ahmad
With 20 million people affected by floods, one wonders whether the body count of 1600 is accurate. The suspicion opens up a larger question of what exactly has transpired during the floods, and whether much of it could have been avoided.
Visit Muzzafargarh District in Southern Punjab, and you will hear whisperings of unreported deaths as high as 500 in an area where the MPA Ahmad Yaar Khan speaks of limited or no deaths. Suspicions that much of the damage caused by the floods could have been avoided are likewise spoken of. Area officials, like the Sabit Nazim Muhammad Ashraf Rind and MPA Ahmad Yaar Khan agree that if alternative decisions had been made at the time of flooding, damage to crops, housing and infrastructure and, most importantly, loss of lives could have been limited.
Last Monday, a three-member tribunal consisting of Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah of the Lahore High Court, the retired Secretary of Punjab's Irrigation and Power Department Mansoob Ali Zaidi, and Dean of Civil Engineering at UET Abdul Sattir Shakir, commenced hearings in affected areas starting from Jinnah Barrage in District Mianwali in the north all the way to Mithan Kot in District Rajanpur in the south. The tribunal was set up almost two weeks ago to inquire into breaches that took place at barriers separating dry land from water (also called bunds), and, most importantly, to identify and fix responsibility on agencies, officials and others who might have played a role in the breaches that caused such widespread devastation.
Whatever the intentions of the tribunal, questions remain whether they will be able and willing to get to the bottom of the real causes behind floods. If their results show criminal negligence, corruption and ill-fated decisions, how will the tribunal deliver justice to those whose lives have been devastated?
Drive down towards Taunsa barrage on the Indus River and you might see something peculiar. On the right hand, behind the bund connecting to Taunsa Barrage are acres upon acres of lush farms growing cotton and sugarcane. According to select irrigation officials, the MPA, Sabit Nazim and eyewitnesses living in the area, these areas (ponds) are government land, previously part of the old river bed, and serve as ponds where water can be redirected in case of excessively high water levels during floods. It is also an area with almost no or negligible settlement. On the other hand, the left bank of the river, where the breach took place, is populated.
The ponds on the right side, where the eye needs to look far and wide to see human life, are empty of water. No one can confirm who these lands belong to or why they are dry while the left side is flooded. But whisperings of powerful interests that wanted to protect their lands thrive, and the hope is that the tribunal can help prove, or disprove, that this was the case.
The story does not end here. In the days leading up to the flood, 10 gates in the Taunsa Barrage were closed. Many including the Sabit Nazim Rind and the MPA Yaar Khan claim that they had called for their opening, but were told that they were not technicians who knew what they were talking about. Theories about how the gates were deliberately kept closed thrive, and suspicion towards officials seems widespread.
Speaking to eyewitnesses living alongside the bund, some speak of no proper warning that the flood was coming their way. Others speak of no help from government in rescue operations, indicating that the Pakistani army has played a smaller role than portrayed in the media.
If it is true that powerful interests are at play, then the tribunal has quite a task on its hands. At places where no one wants to be blamed for the floods, how can the tribunal ensure that the information they gather is not tainted by the very people who might be responsible?
The very process by which the hearings are taking place makes it even more difficult for those in less powerful positions to give their side of the story. According to an English daily on September 8th, "Any person desirous of making submission before the tribunal is required to register with the Registrar of the Tribunal and file written submission along with a copy of NIC." At a place where many do not even have NICs, and even more cannot write, how can the tribunal make sure that voices are not silenced? As the proceedings stand now, it is up to organised groups, NGOs and activists to act as representatives for these voices. What if there are places that do not have willing volunteers to represent these voices? How does the tribunal plan to ensure that all are heard?
Realising the need to uncover the truth behind what happened, Hirraq, a local activist organisation, has plans to organise a Lok Sath or a People's Tribunal in mid-October in an effort to make sure that all voices are heard. At the moment, there is no news of tribunals being held at Jinnah Barrage, at Chashma, or the many other places along the Indus river. Who will make sure that voices are not silenced along the river Indus?
Challenging fundamental notions
Last year at the tail end of a Rehabilitation and Modernisation Project commissioned by Punjab's Irrigation Department and funded by the World Bank, select areas around the barrage were flooded for the first time in living memory. One anonymous irrigation official claims it was because the project inadvertently raised the riverbed. The Sabit Nazim Muhammad Ashraf Rind argues that the barrier had been narrowed and thus became weaker than it had been before the rehabilitation project. The flood was nowhere near the levels reached in the last month, but activists from Hirraq, selected irrigation officials, and contractors as well as people living near the barrage suspect that the project itself might have played a key role in exacerbating the impact of the abnormal rainfalls this year.
Some claim that the existence of Taunsa Barrage, or for that matter any engineering structures that attempt to control the natural course of the Indus river, could have played a key role in the excessive damage caused by increased rainfall. On August 16th, article in an English daily argues that "engineering structures" are not necessarily the "best way to control flooding" and the people who have been living next to the river might know more about the best way to manage the river than "the engineering community".
If these claims are true, it requires that the tribunal is willing to fundamentally question the way irrigation and agriculture is currently imagined in Punjab. With the tribunal being so engineer-centric (UET's Dean of Civil Engineering Abdul Sattir Shakir is one of its members), will it be willing to ask such difficult questions?
If there is an interest in understanding what caused the breaches, there needs to be a willingness to understand why the bunds were so weak that they broke, and whether the very existence of such structures might have exacerbated the impact of increased rainfall.
As a judicial inquiry that is carried out in private, without public scrutiny and void of any promises to publicise its results, the question remains whether it will actually be able and willing to deliver justice. Judicial inquiries typically end up in a report, that explain what happened and points at those who were responsible. At the moment, there is no real consideration at the part of the government or the commission to make it a public trial. How can we make sure justice is done, when the trial is private? And on top of that, has a heap of bureaucratic loopholes that affectees would have to jump through before they could submit their statement?
There is also no real discussion around the output of this inquiry. How can we make sure that the inquiry actually provides justice to those affected? How do we define this justice? If there is talk of criminal negligence, are trials enough? Is compensation needed? Or is it enough just to write up a report?
In the past, similar tribunals have been accused of making it "seem like justice has been done", becoming a talking shop or even white-washing those in power by justifying their decisions. How can we make sure that this tribunal delivers the justice so urgently needed?
The Lok Sath being organised by Hirraq hopes to organise the silenced voices of their area to not only find the truth, but also define what justice means for them. It is difficult to measure the value of all that was washed away in floods -- homes, livelihoods, lives -- to find out what is needed for justice to be done. But the discussion, so obviously absent as this formal judicial inquiry proceeds, will take place.
Many who have visited the flood-affected areas speak of damages to livelihoods and loss of lives that far exceed what we are told in the media. Let us hope that the tribunal can deliver justice to the many silenced voices who call for it.
Afghanistan's voting woes
Elections of parliament's lower house have exposed loopholes in the voting process
By Zia Ur Rehman
Afghans have cast their vote in the country's second parliamentary election on September 18th held amid violence and bomb attacks across the country by the Taliban insurgents who sought to disrupt polls. Concerns are growing that votes are marred by intimidation and corruption.
Afghan people went to elect lower house of parliament (called Wolesi Jirga in Pashto) and councils in each of the country's 34 provinces. All the 34 provinces were constituencies and candidates who win most votes in a constituency get the available seat while the same system is for councils. Around 12.5 million people were registered to vote out of a population of 30 million but threats from Taliban to disrupt the votes appeared to have an impact, with about 3.6 millions ballots cast, according to preliminary statistics released by Afghanistan election commission.
The UN and other observers had opined before the vote, in the context of Taliban's threats, a turnout of between five and seven millions would be considered a great success. The poll was already postponed from its original date May 22nd this year by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) due to security concerns, logistic problems and insufficient funds.
There were 2577 candidates, including around 400 women contesting for the Wolesi Jirga's 249 seats according to the IEC while UN-backed watchdog body Elections Complaints Commission (ECC) had removed some 38 names of candidates from 17 provinces over alleged links with illegal arms groups, including Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Many of the contesting candidates were wealthy warlords, former mujahideen factions' leaders and local tribal powerbrokers. Due to security reasons, around 700 candidates were participating from Kabul as candidates from unsecured and insurgency-torn parts of the country have chosen Kabul as it is safest area to run election campaign.
The Taliban had already vowed to disrupt votes. Threatening letters issued by Taliban-declared Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan were circulated widely in Kandahar, Nuristan, Baghlan and Balkh, suggested the people should stay away from the polling centers as they will bomb them. "We urge the people not to participate in the election. Everyone affiliated with the votes is our target -- candidates, security forces, campaigners and the voters", said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. They killed three candidates (in Ghazni, Heart and Khost provinces) and 11 campaigners before the votes to frighten the Afghans forcing them not to go to polling stations.
At least 29 people, including 11 civilians, 13 Police officials and five foreign soldiers were killed in Election Day violence, dozen more wounded in 63 gun and rocket attacks, 33 explosions and 30 other insurgent attacks, the Afghan media reported. Two poll workers were killed after being kidnapped in Balkh Province.
The New York Times reported that more than 30 rockets hit Kandahar city alone on the election day while Afghan TV Tolo reported five missiles attacked eastern Jalalabad city. The worst single incident emerged in Balkh province where nine civilians died in a roadside bomb explosion. Security threats closed 461 polling stations in addition to the 1000 centers closed by IEC announced prior the votes.
Local media reported serious security incidents around 400 polling stations. Polling centers were blown up in Kunar, Khost and Kandahar and captured in Laghman, Kunduz and Baghdis, shutting down the process of voting in those centers. The governor of Kandahar escaped in a bomb attack as he traveled from one polling center to another, seeking to demonstrate it was safe to cast a vote in Kandahar. Dozen of rockets fell on Kandahar city throughout the day and also hit near polling centers in the eastern and northern part of the country.
An ISAF spokesman claimed the alliance had provisionally recorded 445 violent incidents aimed at disrupting the election, compared with 479 incidents on the August 20 presidential election last year.
Observers said the turnout was very low due to threats from the Taliban but the elections on the whole were safe despite numerous attacks by Taliban to disrupt polls. Basir Ahmed Hotak, an Afghan journalist, said a declining trend in vote turnout can been seen in the four past consecutive polls held in the country -- 7.4 million in first presidential elections 2004, 6.4 million in first Wolesi Jirga elections 2005, 4.8 million in second presidential elections 2009 and now 3.6 million in second Wolesi Jirga elections.
The results of parliamentary votes will not be released for weeks following complaints of any fraud or irregularities, said Afghan election commission sources. Afghan non-governmental election monitoring bodies and media have reported extensive irregularities in the elections. IEC says delay in the final outcome is because of the logistics involved in getting ballots from remote areas to the regional counting centers, then back to the capital Kabul for verification and this process involves transport ranging from donkeys to helicopters. An official of IEC said the counting of votes has been completed in 32 of the country's 34 provinces and hoped results of the polls is expected in the end of October.
Bashir Rahmani, a journalist form Kabul, said voters in different provinces complained of technical problems which included washable ink, late opening of polling centers and delay in supply of ballot papers. He said widespread abuse by candidates, including vote being traded for $1 to $15 with the average price of $5 each vote. He also said that interference by candidates, candidate agents and other unauthorised persons during the closing procedures was widely reported. The scale of rigging in last year's presidential elections had embarrassed Karzai and called into question credibility of the country's electoral process.
The Free and Fair Election Foundation (FEFA), an independent watchdog, said in a statement that "violence by candidates, their agents and local powerbrokers was reported in several areas and so were a worrying number of instances of governmental officials in the polling process to sway the results in favour of their chosen candidates". FEFA deployed about 7,000 people around the country, making it the largest observer of vote while many international observers supported their operation because of security reasons.
Maulvi Shahzada Shahid, a former mujahid leader and a candidate from Kunar, said IEC members were paid by wealthy candidates. He said electoral observers were not allowed at the polling station in the province, adding many cases of rigging took place in elections like casting of votes more than one times by voters. Gulhar Jalali, female candidate from Kunar's district Nadi, complained that 8000 residents of Nadi, including 5000 women didn't cast their votes because of lack of polling ballots and IEC was not able to send ballots at time. Shokria Barakzai, a former member of Wolesi Jirga and now re-contesting, said rigging this time compared to the elections held in 2005 was way more prevalent. Barakzai said voters are threatened into casting their ballot to a particular candidate, with help of police of IEC officials.
Helmand police had found two stuffed boxes abandoned in corn fields in Nowa district. They arrested a man with a list of 12,000 voter registration card numbers with which he intended to record thousands of fake votes, local media revealed. In Uruzgan province's Gandab area, hundreds of Hazaras seized the main polling stations forcing security and IEC officials to leave and cast about 4200 ballots for their candidate against Pashtun candidates and then left, media reported. News reports of fake voter cards printed in Pakistan and Iran and shipped into Afghanistan for use by candidates were published.
More than 100 complaints have already been filed according to the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), an Afghan-International joint watchdog body that investigates them. Complaints were frequent from Kabul, Helmand, Nangahar, Paktika, Kunar, Uruzgan, Balkh and Baghlan.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), an NGO that works for promotion of democracy in South Asian countries, has also called upon the government to allow an international probe into elections. ANFREL's head Somsri Hananuntasa, said it was surprising the president of IEC is appointed by the Afghan president himself while the independence of IEC and ECC is marred by several cases of corruption and nepotism.
Majority of the candidates contested independently because culture of party elections is not common in Afghanistan. Recently, the Ministry of Justice announced new laws that the 110 registered political parties needed re-registration and for this purpose, a party needs about 10,000 members. Thus, most of the ghost parties with no office and supporters vanished and many could not manage 10,000 members with ID cards to get the registration.
Afghan and international officials rushed to describe elections as a "great success".
The writer is a freelance journalist and social researcher. He works on militancy, development and human rights.
On the ground
Rehabilitation of the flood-hit areas is going to be a tough and massive task
By Aoun Sahi
Everything was working fine for Faheemullah, 25, a miner from Peer Sabak village of Nowshera district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa till August 2; the day flood hit his area. "I was earning Rs300 after working 12 hours a day in the mountains which was enough money to support my family. Since floods have hit our area everything has finished for me. I have lost my home as well as job. I am ready to work to earn money for my family but the contractors have disappeared as the communication infrastructure has wiped out and there is no way to get marble and precious stones out of mountains", he says, adding, "more than 1500 miners were working only in Nowshera. All of them have lost their jobs after the floods. I have contacted my contractor and he has told me that it would take at least six moths to start mining work in the mountains" he says.
The situation is similar hundreds of miles away form KP in southern parts of Punjab province and Sindh. Livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people have either been lost or badly affected by flood waters. Alamdar Hussain, 38, a farmer from Muzaffargargh district who grew cotton and vegetables in his 50-acre agriculture land, said his whole crop was destroyed by flood water. His house collapsed and his four out of seven buffalos, two cows and five goats either died or were lost in the aftermath of the floods. "Last week the water went down and I was able to enter the fields. Everything has been destroyed. This land is the sole means of income for my family (7 members) and families of two servants. I have been left with nothing to offer them. The crops were in full boom and rates were also high and I was expecting around a million rupees' profit," he says.
Flood waters have also badly hit the tourism sector in Gilgit-Baltistan and KP provinces. "More than 400,000 families directly or indirectly earn their livelihood from tourism activities in Pakistan," says Arif Aslam Khan, chairman Shangrila resorts and ex-chairman Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. "Dozens of hotels -- both in Gilgit-Baltistan and KP -- have been destroyed while hundreds have been deserted after floods. There are more than 65 resorts and hotels in Gilgit-Baltistan area, more than 1000 jeep drivers, around 2000 porters, and 1000 guides. All of them depend on tourism to earn their livelihood. It is said that almost 20 percent of the total population of Gilgit-Baltistan was directly or indirectly employed by tourism industry. They all have lost their livelihood and jobs this year," he says.
While an estimated 20 million people have been affected by floods in the country, the entire villages and farms have been swept away. Homes have disappeared under flood waters. Dead livestock has been left rotting in the mud. Irrigation system has been wiped out. International Labour Organisation (ILO) has estimated that more than 5.3 million jobs may have lost or affected as a result of mega floods hit Pakistan.
Dr Ahmad Kamal, member administration and finance National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) says almost all sectors of economy have been badly affected by floods. "Agriculture is the worst hit but other sectors like health, education, communication, energy and power, oil and gas, chemical industry and small and medium enterprises have also been badly hit. So far, we have not made an assessment how many jobs have been lost in the aftermath of the floods but I believe the number will be in millions," he says.
An initial assessment conducted by ILO in the days following the floods indicated it caused widespread destruction of most infrastructure and shops in the affected provinces with heavy losses in agriculture and livestock sector. The assessment says residents of the badly affected parts of the country would require "substantial support to rebuild their income-generating prospects". Compounding the devastation was the fact that the areas affected are amongst the poorest in Pakistan, the ILO says. "By losing their employment, even for a short period of time, workers in the affected districts have already fallen into extreme poverty", says the ILO Country Director Donglin Li.
"ILO has compiled the initial report on the basis of field trips taken by its staff, friendly local organisations in collaboration with World Bank and Asian Development Bank and the data complied by NDMA," Dr Theodore Sparreboom, Labour Market Specialist ILO Geneva tells TNS. ILO has a breakdown of joblessness in the aftermath of floods in the sector but he believes the agriculture sector is among the most severely affected. "We have not yet made recommendations to the government as the final report will be published by mid of October. We will come up with a comprehensive rebuilding plan after the report. But, now we have been working on how to provide temporary jobs at least for 30 days to these more than 5 million jobless people," he says.
In order to meet the needs of the population in the afflicted areas, the ILO urges programmes aimed at generating new employment and other income-producing opportunities be incorporated into the rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes that will need to be immediately undertaken following the relief efforts now underway.
These would include employment support services to provide both information and short-term training for the jobs that will be generated through the reconstruction effort; financial and institutional support to rebuild small businesses and income-generating assets in both the rural and urban areas; channelling of financial support from the outside world, including remittances from overseas toward meeting urgently needed basic services; and the creation of institutional mechanisms to ensure that this happens. "Rebuilding the basic infrastructure can create employment. This means ensuring that decent and productive labour-intensive methods are utilized," says Dr Theodore Sparreboom.
Dr Ahmad Kamal of NDMA says right now the rehabilitation process is going on in the flood-hit area but once rebuilding process starts, many job opportunities will be created for the locals. "The same has happened in earthquake hit areas of Pakistan" he says.
Bagh district of Azad Jammu and Kashmir was among the worst hit by earthquake in 2005. Thousands of houses and livelihood opportunities were wiped out there. "The first two months were very tough after the earthquake but then things started turning around as far as job opportunities for local was considered," says Safdar Gardazi, 32, a resident of Bagh district.
The existing tax policy needs to be reformulated providing an equitable and business-friendly tax system
By Huzaima Bukhari and Dr. Ikramul Haq
Achievement of the cherished goal of self-reliance is not possible with the existing pro-rich and unjust tax system. It is high time a paradigm shift in prevalent tax policy takes place. Our revenue potential is not less than Rs4-5 trillion provided pro-growth, equitable and rational policies are devised with the backing of stakeholders. We need broadening of tax base, overhauling of tax machinery and withdrawal of all exemptions and concessions available to the privileged sections of society. If we do that, there will no be no need for any internal or external borrowing. Implementation of a rational tax policy can convert our current fiscal deficit into surplus within one year.
Successive governments -- civil and military alike -- have not initiated any meaningful debate on formulation of a pro-growth 'National Tax Policy'. On the contrary, they introduced tax policies that have pushed millions of people below the poverty line. In the wake of massive destruction caused by floods, we will have to move quickly and decisively to reverse this trend. Following are some key areas where a paradigm shift is needed -- at structural and operational level -- for ensuring not only substantial revenues for the State but also redistribution of wealth.
Countering tax evasion
Ostensibly, money for industrial and business growth and public benefits is scarce, but colossal unaccounted for cash supply is circulating in the economy in search of further undercover gains. Racketeering is doubly compounded as it necessitates greater tax burden on law-abiders. The most crucial problem faced by us is taking stringent measures to curb tax evasion, thus, distributing the burden of taxes fairly and justly in society. The rich should pay more; but they are enjoying tax exemptions.
Honest taxpayers are disillusioned by the fact that the ruling elite is not only paying its taxes, but also abusing their position for unprecedented luxuries. If we want to bring any meaningful change in our tax system, the progressive taxes, abolished during the last 30 years, should be restored and regressive ones to be abolished forthwith. Tax amnesty schemes are to be dispensed with once for all and unexplained assets must be confiscated by the State for the benefit of the poor.
Positive change in tax policy
The existing tax policy needs to be reformulated providing an equitable, pragmatic, and business-friendly tax system, integrating good tax administration with simplified tax laws that are easily understood and hassle-free from implementation perspectives. Recent efforts of the government to reform tax system, through foreign loans/grants have not yielded any positive results -- these remain a closed door, bureaucratic exercise lacking any meaningful dialogue with taxpayers, public pressure groups and tax experts. In the absence of a well-designed tax policy, the agenda of tax reform will never succeed. Tax bureaucrats are not supposed to make any legislative and administrative changes, but in Pakistan they are doing so.
The existing tax system protects exploitative elements having monopoly over economic resources. The poor are paying an exorbitant sales tax of 17pc to 23pc (in fact 40pc on finished imported goods after customs duty, special federal excise duty, sales tax after mandatory value addition and income tax at source) on essential commodities. But the mighty sections of society such as absentee landlords, big industrialists, generals and bureaucrats are paying no wealth tax/income tax on their colossal assets/incomes. It is tragic that in a country where the rich make billions on a daily basis, tax-to-GDP ratio is pathetically low at 9.8pc.
The government is least bothered to tax the rich and crack down on underground economy. There is an urgent need to tax wealth and income of the rich and mighty. Rent of agriculture land derived by absentee landlord should be taxed so heavily that they are forced to give up ownership -- these lands should be with the tillers who produce agriculture produces. The corporate rate should be brought down to 20pc to promote industrialisation, but any director or other office holder (having more than 20pc shares) drawing annual salary exceeding Rs5 million should be taxed at the rate of 50pc.
Our rulers -- military and civilian alike -- have failed to convince people that payment of taxes is their collective responsibility. The sole reason being that they have been engaged in wasteful expenditure, never bothered to live within their means and failed to even protect the life and property of the people, what to talk of providing them with basic needs of health, education and civic amenities. Because of this callousness of rulers, massive tax non-compliance is rule of the day. Rulers do not pay taxes despite having enormous assets at home and abroad and whatever is collected from poor masses is squandered by them with impunity for personal comforts and luxuries.
The government should launch programmes, financed mainly through taxes, to solve the twin problems of unemployment and poverty. These welfare-oriented schemes may also include subsidised/free medical and educational facilities, low-cost housing, and drinking water facilities in rural areas (especially flood-ravaged ones), land improvement schemes, and employment guarantee programmes. Once people see tangible benefits of the taxes paid, there will be better response to tax compliance. Taxes cannot be collected through harsh measures and irrational policies. It is high time politicians, judges, civil-military high-ups and public office holders made public their tax declarations.
Assignment on tax
On the one hand we have too many taxes in the country (federal, provincial and local, although the last two only generate a negligible nation's revenue) and on the other, benefits of revenue collection are not reaching the poor masses. Fiscal gap is increasing every year bringing more miseries for the common people of Pakistan.
We have utterly failed to reform our tax system. Taxation is a potent instrument to shape and influence the socio-economic polices of a country. It is, therefore, imperative for us to formulate a nationally acceptable tax policy keeping in view our own peculiar conditions and not by following blindly, prescriptions given by donor agencies.
Our tax policy must take into account (a) present stage of our economic development (b) objectives of economic policy and (c) priorities of economic policy which continually change with the changing economic, social, and political milieu. We need to bring fundamental structural and operational changes in all spheres of governance. For achieving rapid industrial and economic growth reforms are needed urgently -- once these goals are fulfilled revenue collection will automatically be taken care of. Revenue mobilisation is a byproduct of growth and productivity. Over-taxing an ailing economy -- putting undue burden on the masses -- can best be described as a suicidal path.
The writers, tax lawyers, are members of visiting Faculty of Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
Breaking the myth
When it comes to donating, the slightest inkling of corruption could dampen the spirits of compassionate donors
By Rana Sajjad Ahmad
Ever since the floods started, we have been hearing about the international community's lukewarm response to aid appeals for flood relief. We have also been constantly reminded of our government's lack of credibility as the reason for the reluctance of donors to give. Based on the discussions in the print and electronic media, it appears that this is the only reason for the disappointing response. But is it the only reason?
Various studies have been conducted to determine the specific reasons and considerations taken into account by donors before donating for a specific cause. While lack of credibility is certainly one of the reasons, it is not always the only reason or the primary reason for not donating.
One of the main factors besides credibility is the strategic advantage of donating to a particular country at a particular time. This explanation runs the risk of discrediting the donor and raising questions about their real intentions. However, studies have shown that some countries are motivated by political, economic and strategic considerations while donating. For instance, as part of its foreign policy, the donor country may have certain strategic and economic interests in the recipient country or the region in which the recipient country is located. Depending upon the specific interests, a show of benevolence and compassion could advance those interests. On the flip side, a country having a reputation for benevolence and compassion might not step up to donate to another country because it may not see any strategic advantage in donating. Therefore, the act of donating is not always based on emotion and compassion; it could merely be a calculated decision to achieve a certain strategic objective.
This explanation may be counterintuitive considering that donating is essentially motivated by compassion or at least that is what it is assumed to be. Compassion means sympathising with people suffering from a misfortune with a strong desire to alleviate that suffering. Therefore, strictly speaking, any donation given for reasons other than compassion should not be considered a donation. But it is clear that what happens in practice is not always consistent with theory.
Another widely held and commonly believed view in relation to aid and donations to Pakistan is that since it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, donors are reluctant to help out. The obvious and legitimate concern is that the donors' money would go into the wrong hands and never be utilised properly. As a result, when it comes to donating, the slightest inkling of corruption could dampen the spirits of the compassionate donors and potentially lead to a significant reduction in the anticipated aid inflows. In Pakistan's case, the reputation of the Pakistani government has been especially damaging in this regard.
Surprisingly, some studies have shown that a high level of actual or perceived corruption does not necessarily lead to low levels of aid. According to these studies, in the case of some countries, there is a positive correlation between aid and corruption which means that these countries donate more to countries that are more corrupt. In a paper entitled, "Why Corrupt Governments May Receive more Foreign Aid" by David del La Croix Professor of Economics at UCLouvain (Belgium) and Clara Delavallade, Executive Director Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) South Asia, the authors have explained low economic productivity in the recipient country as one of the reasons for more aid. Since the poor countries with low economic productivity also happen to be more corrupt in some cases, more aid ends up going to the more corrupt countries.
A couple of other explanations given by some experts for this seemingly illogical relationship between aid and corruption are that the donors either do not care about the level of corruption in the recipient country or that they care but cannot do anything about it. These explanations could also be tied in with a donor country's decision in light of its strategic considerations. A donor would not be particularly bothered by rampant corruption in the recipient country as long as the donation can be used as an effective policy tool to advance its strategic interests. On the other end of the spectrum, these studies have also mentioned countries that donate more to less corrupt countries.
The unenthusiastic response to pleas for Pakistan's flood relief donations is partly attributed to what is called "compassion fatigue". The argument is that since donors have contributed frequently and significantly in the past few years for various disaster relief efforts including the Tsunami, the earthquake in Pakistan, and the recent earthquake in Haiti, they are simply tired of donating. Furthermore, the competitive business of collecting the highest amount in donations entails constantly chasing down potential donors. The recent increase in the number and scale of natural disasters has only made the efforts for collecting donations more frantic and the competition for collection more fierce. Donors now claim, rightly or wrongly, that this process has taken a toll on them, both in terms of their money and their desire to donate, that is, compassion.
To me, the term "compassion fatigue" is an oxymoron because compassion and fatigue do not go hand in hand. The words compassion, generosity and benevolence have positive overtones that signify a feeling, an emotion that is boundless. If you really are compassionate, how can you watch human suffering without having the desire to alleviate that suffering? In my opinion, the term "compassion fatigue" may well have been coined by donors to use as a convenient excuse when they, for whatever reason, do not wish to donate.
Clearly, foreign aid does not always have the much-touted noble goals. An understanding of these goals and objectives gives us a new perspective on the politics and economics of aid which in some cases trumps the philanthropic or compassionate aspect of it. In the case of Pakistan's flood relief, instead of complaining about the international community's tepid response to aid appeals, we should ask ourselves why we almost instinctively resort to foreign assistance in the first place. We should also ask ourselves whether this unprecedented disaster is our chance to break the proverbial begging bowl. And finally, we should ask ourselves whether we, as a nation, can turn this disaster into an opportunity, an opportunity to become a self-respecting and self-sufficient nation by ending our slavish reliance on foreign aid.
The writer, a graduate of Columbia University School of Law and member of the New York Bar, is a Lahore-based lawyer.
Is that what caused floods?
Pakistan is among the countries which are expected to be hit hardest by effects of climate change
By Farah Zahidi Moazzam
Nicknames like "Slow Tsunami" and "Hunger Tsunami" are being used for the disastrous floods of 2010 that have not just claimed the lives of some 1600 people, but have dealt an irreparable blow to the already fragile economy of a pre-dominantly agricultural country.
A huge fraction of agricultural land has been flooded. Estimates say a minimum of 3.2 million hectares of standing crops, ready to be harvested soon, have been destroyed and no less than 200,000 livestock animals are among the collateral damage -- a damage that has cost millions of farmers their livelihood.
More than 17 million people are today adding to the country's already staggering number of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). Nearly two months have passed since the torrential rains began swamping the Northern areas of Pakistan and relentlessly continued to move downwards towards the Southern parts of the country -- parts which had never before seen such flash floods. Two months later, the nation is still coming to terms with the shock of this natural disaster.
But why should this come as a shock? Meteorologists had long since been warning everyone that disastrous effects of climate change in the region would cause unforeseen catastrophes in Pakistan as well.
Ironically, Pakistan is among the countries which are expected to be hit hardest by effects of climate change, even though it contributes only a fraction to global warming, averaging a meager one 35th of the world's average of carbon dioxide emissions.
Research indicates that Pakistan produces minimal chlorofluorocarbons and negligible sulphur dioxide emissions, thus contributing minimally to acid rain and ozone depletion. Yet, the country had been tipped off by experts in the past that it will suffer disproportionately from climate change and other global environmental problems.
As the country struggles to come to grips with the floods that promise to have long-term devastating effects on the country's infrastructure as well, discussions among all strata of the people of Pakistan continue, as people want to make sense of this swathing disaster. Is it merely the wrath of nature? Did it worsen, if conspiracy theories are to be believed, by industrialists and feudal landlords diverting the courses of angry water bodies away from their own lands? Are bigger international forces at play? Or is the average Pakistani missing out on the obvious link here -- that these floods are a simple and expected effect of climate change?
Statistically, temperatures in the country's coastal areas have risen since the early 1900s from 0.6 to 1 degree centigrade, which is not a small change. The main reason for the rise in temperature is human activities. Accelerated industrialization, burning of greater quantities of fossil fuels and the deforestation results in increased levels of Carbon-dioxide (CO2) being emitted into the atmosphere. This carbon envelopes the earth, traps the heat and, in turn, causes global warming.
This climate change causes, as geographers point out, dramatic changes in weather patterns such as increased droughts and flooding, and changes in freshwater supply.
Not many, at this point in time, seem to remember the droughts of 1999 and 2000, which caused sudden decrease in water tables and dried up wetlands, degrading the ecosystems. The link, back then, was also climate change. In a conference organised by the Ministry of Environment and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Pakistan, held in early 2009, Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Chairman of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), had forewarned that Pakistan was witnessing severe pressures on natural resources and environment.
Discussing that the impact such changes were likely to have on a country like Pakistan and on the lives of its people, Dr Pachauri had said that health of millions would also be affected with diarrhoeal diseases associated with floods and drought becoming more prevalent. Today, Pakistan is living that warning.
Although in a recent post-floods article published by IPS on August the 16th, Dr Pachauri has said it would be scientifically incorrect to link any single set of events with human-induced climate change, he does agree that there is enough evidence to show an increase in the frequency and intensity of floods, droughts and extreme precipitation events worldwide. "The floods of the kind that hit Pakistan may become more frequent and more intense in future in this and other parts of the world."
Realistically, floods are just one aspect of how climate change can cause "natural" disasters. When weather patterns are transformed, not only is there increased flooding, but also droughts, alterations in freshwater supply and an increase in severe weather events.
The Himalayan glaciers are at a risk of melting, which will cause changes in itself. Agricultural output and productivity will see a decline. Environmental losses of bio-diverse nature like extinction of rare animal and plant species may occur.
An increase in air pollution will give rise to excessive health and environmental problems for urban parts of the country as well. Pakistan's population, both rural and urban, is at health risks, which the already volatile and fragile country is not equipped to handle.
The Indus basin has forever had a tendency of being flooded. With predictions from water experts signaling what may follow, it is time that the authorities realise that in all probability, this may not be the last of such calamities. Being well-prepared is necessary to safeguard both the lives and livelihoods of Pakistanis.
Discussing the effects only is not enough. Lack of preparedness exacerbated the problems. But a major cause, if experts are to be believed, is climate change. Can the nations of the world unite in the fight against this inevitable, global scourge which we have brought upon our own selves?
As Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations said, "Climate change threatens the entire human family. Yet it also provides an opportunity to come together and forge a collective response to a global problem. It is my hope that we will rise as one to face this challenge, and leave a better world for future generations."
Democracy will only take root once different institutions remain within their limits
By Salman Abid
The relationship between the government and media has mostly been uneasy in our part of the world. Every civilian government comes in power with some political and democratic commitments, including that of independent and free media. The political government claims that it ensures free expression to developing good relationship with the media for strengthening democratic institutions.
But, unfortunately, most political governments seem to see the media with apprehension. This fear creates mistrust in each other and destroys understanding between both the parties.
The current tussle between the government and a section of the media is very critical. Both the parties seem to have serious reservations about each other. The present government blames one section of the media of destabilising the government and the democratic process. The Punjab Assembly's resolution against media also seriously reflects on the relationship between the two. Now the question is whether the media is playing a responsible role to strengthen democratic institutions through political process or not?
The answer is difficult because people seem to be divided in two different camps about the role of media in the country. One section strongly believes the media is playing a very good and pro-active role. This section raises serious concerns about the ruling elite and their governance issue. On the other hand, some media groups, academics, and civil society activist have a different opinion about the current media and point out serious reservations with regard to the democratic process in the country.
Reaction from media associations, workers, civil society organisations and some opposition political parties is strong. In some cases, pressure form civil society organisations and media on the government is due to media manipulation and support form various factions of society. This makes the government vulnerable.
The media, especially print media, has played a very vital role in the country's democratic process for the last 63 years. Media associations and media workers have jointly struggled against all dictators, including civilian dictatorial rules. Most of the journalists were arrested and went behind bars and were victimised at different times.
We should admit that we are facing a serious institutional crisis in the country and media is also a part of it because we cannot see media in isolation. I also agree that the state and governments are often trying to control media through different illegal actions for their own larger political interest.
During the last few years, media has expanded in Pakistan. The policy of media privatisation, especially in electronic media, is to create more space for the media itself. This initiative also creates a new debate between state, government and the media. The common man appreciates the birth of new media and, thus, has large expectations from the media. Free media is a very popular slogan and every one is inspired by it, because it can bring a very positive change.
Democracy here has to survive under the threat of military intervention and non state actors. The non democratic intervention always comes when institutions cross their limits and clash with each other. This situation gives support to groups that believe in non democratic actions.
Unfortunately, once again, there is a clash between media, judiciary, and government. Sometimes more activism transforms into an irresponsible media. No doubt, in Pakistan, government transparency issues are very critical and their actions also go against an independent media. But the question is if only government is responsible for this conflict? Can we assume that other institutions, including the media, are innocent?
Media also has the same problems and issues with others institutions. The major issue is the lack of willingness of acceptance of its own mistakes. Media should understand that not only government and state have reservation about their role, there are other sections of society like academics, media activists, political and social activists, etc, that have serious reservations about the role of the media.
The major allegation against the media relates to lack of investigation, research, ethics, and other issues. The major responsibility of media is to present a true picture and not to consciously create crisis. Hype created by the media has at some pints damaged the image of country.
Transparency and accountability of government is important. One should realise that both electronic and print media is linked with democratisation of politics in the country. Both can support each other in the larger interests of the nation.
The government should accept open criticism from media on different policies, especially on the operating governance model in the country. At times, the government reacts very strongly and creates panic within the media community without understanding the importance of the issue and sensitivity within different sections of society.
If the government has reservations about the media role or some specific group, dialogue is the only way to resolve the issues. The government can talk with different media associations and develop a joint mechanism for further action. Likewise, media people should also realise the difference between criticism and character assassination. It should focus on research-based investigation and news. Sometimes, media people cross the limits in criticising the government or an individual.
Actually, the issue between the government and media is about trust deficit. The Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) cannot resolve the crisis. In my view, more collaboration and coordination between the government and media associations is required to finalise a joint mechanism regarding a code of conduct for each party.
If PEMRA begins to implement the code of conduct, the media blames it on government and state agencies. Already, independent media associations show their reservation on PEMRA ordinance and on the press council of Pakistan act.
Private and government media organisations like All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan's Newspaper Editor (CPNE), Pakistan Federal Union of Journalist (PFUJ), South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA) and members of parliamentary committee for media, need to bring all stakeholder on board to finalise a proper way to settle down things and play their role.
Pakistan's history is marred with institutional conflicts at different times. The situation is no different at the moment. Democracy will only take root once different institutions remain within their limits. When institutions cross their limits democracy faces serious crisis.
The writer is a political analyst and a human right campaigner. He can be reached at email@example.com