WITH the new government about to assume office and address a huge economic challenge, reflecting on the enormity from a citizen’s perspective is condescending to say the least! While we want a lot from the state, taking a few lessons from history should not hurt anyone. The government to be, must have a lot of plans for resurgence of the economic engine, but one cannot discount that economic reforms without social reforms will not happen, come what may. The transition from a feudal mind-set to a merit based synergy that leans on research and development for decision-making and decision taking are at the root of the way forward. ‘Changing of laws’, ‘assertion of ownership’ and the ‘liberty of enterprise’ are three basic factors for the resurrection of this very dead economy. This is the fundamental lesson history tells us, for us to take serious cognizance of.
Towards ‘changing of laws’, people’s power is the true strength of a state and that happens when a strong social justice system is in place. We are still struggling with the order of 1866 for our criminal and civil penal codes, which we inherited from the British Raj based on a colonial philosophy of law making. This has to go and as soon as possible, so that the people are free from the dragnet of institutional slavery. The legislature needs to play its role, perhaps for the first time in seventy years, and work hard to achieve this objective, instead of simply being recipients of governmental dole to develop individual political constituencies. If people are not legally empowered to use the law to protect their life and legal rights they will never be able to fulfil their legal obligations. The one law university in Pakistan and the Ministry of law should be deployed to address this priority on war footings.
Towards ‘assertion of ownership’ people that are inflicted with poverty and the crises of living cannot aspire for ownership of their nationhood. Fiscal empowerment is the solution to this phenomenon and this is the reality of progress in human history. The old and feeble, the unemployed must immediately come on dole via banks, as this will benefit the buying power of the masses and serve like feedstock for industrial progression. The population must get contained into territories that they can relate to, benefit from and monitor for standards, and therefore ‘urbanization’ is equally fundamental. A good citizen is law abiding and therefore providing discipline and skills formally buttons the basics for ‘taking ownership’. The army is a fine platform to spread its wings and embrace the population for this responsibility through compulsive conscription for a limited period of time. This is not so much to educate the people in managing a gun, instead to teach them discipline and a skill of their individual liking.
Towards the ‘liberty of enterprise’ a level playing field is the crying need of the hour. From an investor’s perspective there are three parallel economies in the country. Each, in the order of size being that of the Army, followed by the bureaucracy and finally the people. Then, investments are subject to political and bureaucratic reservations often representing the lack of merit and intimidation for corruption. The solutions are oft suggested and in addition to urbanization a score of industrial estates have to be created with agriculture and mining restricted as corporate activities only. Towards the macro initiative, taxation has to be reigned in, to be only from land revenue and the old ‘Patwari nizam’ has to be dumped for good. This is crucial even for the protection of our sovereignty because in today’s world each foot of land can be indentured. The office of the Surveyor General of Pakistan needs to rise to the occasion. Land in the possession of individuals or institutions, without exception, must all be paying revenue to the government as the only head of taxation.
Industrial, agricultural, mining, tourism and all activity must get exempt from taxes. A ministry for standards, that meets the highest level of material hi-tech known, should play the regulatory role for all factors of production and consumption. The strength within is the harbinger of the strength overseas and that implies a shot in the arms for exports. More. On the periphery for sustaining a high degree of quality production an extended market is inevitably required. The ideology of our state offers in a unique way the creation of a commonwealth and that can come into being through a preferential trade and tariff protocol. We must allow duty free imports from these countries and ceiling free exports in reciprocity to them. We must also disregard all self-imposed conditional ties of using the hard currencies for maintaining a balance of trade. The State Bank can maintain accounts for counter-part funds for each trading partner. We must import in the rupee and export in the currency of the buyers.
The final suggestions that can support the laundry list proposed herein are back integrating the bureaucracy into civil society and a serious consideration by Pakistan to sell its entire foreign debt in exchange of a development trade off for urbanization. Energy needs, skills development, foreign investment, open house industrialization and corporate management of population and resources can establish the true worth and value of the country. I am tempted to suggest in concluding this article that this unique opportunity, with a strong parliament in place, see the future of bilateralism free from foreign dictates and with ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth’ for foreign affairs. Best wishes to the new managers of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
— The writer is an entrepreneur and author based in Karachi.