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Sovereign Economy

Nisar A. Memon / articles /

Nisar A. Memon

27-January- 2020 – Pakistan Observer

THE coalition government led by PTI is struggling for last 17 months to get the grip of economy. It needed some shot in the arm to create investors’ confidence but instead received a setback last week with the release of 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) by the Transparency International, which shows Pakistan has dropped 3 spots to 120 position amongst the 160 countries, thus placed us amongst the band of higher corrupt countries.

Despite increased accountability launch in the country, the corruption continues to burden the lower income groups first with the increased prices of the basic food items, education and health facilities; secondly the weak governance talk of controlling the corruption but unable to control its own service delivery mechanism, leaving the citizens to the whims and fancies of corrupt segment of society.

It seems the government is spending proportionally large chunk of its time and resources on foreign visits and foreign affairs compared to national issues. One hopes this will result in putting pressure on India to end violation of fundamental rights in Indian occupied Kashmir, stop violation of LOC and killing innocent citizens, and adhere to implementing UN resolutions; containing US pressure for scaling down CPEC plans; eliminating terrorism specially in Quetta; and increasing regional trade links like TAPI gas pipeline.

Economic challenges and impact on people of Pakistan are visible in various economic indicators. The GDP per capita in this budget year came down to US$ 1,388 from 1,545; electricity rates per unit increased to 17.69 from 11.71; domestic gas rates increased per MMBTU to 300 from 127; Petroleum products too scored big increases. The inflation rocketed to 12.42 from low of 4.1; circular debt increased to 1.66 trillion from 1.18; external debt increased to 107 from 95.097. Enough for the economic indicators which have direct bearing on social indicators. We should be working to put them in right direction rather than creating hopes only.

The 17-plus months which included full year 2019 and full budget year July 2018-June 2019, the federal government was seen wanting in taking timely decisions and when decisions were taken they were changed such as: admitted failure of selecting unprepared and inexperienced economic team later replaced with economic managers of previous governments for enforcement of internationally directed policies which ‘hit’ the common man as well as time tested friends like China. It is well admitted fact that the reduced corruption improves lives of people and it should be highest priority. It is corruption when prices are unchecked, quality control not there, writ of the government not visible.

As the economy is pivotal to sovereignty, the economic governance issues should have high priority ensuring the federal government economic managers who appear to be either detached from common man or have vested interests to serve some agenda.

This perception gains ground when we affect our time-tested friend China and CPEC programs by our utterances and delayed decision making of the projects.

The year 2020 is officially described as ‘year of economic revival and job creation’. In order to succeed and not succumb we need to address the revenue growth, investors’ confidence which get seriously impacted by results like CPI, lack of necessary investment in infrastructure development like power distribution, inflation, increasing prices, reducing imports by doing away which luxury goods imports etc. Our federal parliamentary form of government with Council of Common Interests (CCI) with representation of federation and all four provinces is a key constitutional forum, more it is strengthened the stronger will be the federation and its constituents and 220 million people of sovereign nation.

CCI is required to meet to resolve the issues between the federal and provincial governments, in real time. Let the federal government do the soul searching if it is giving required time, like it has to give time for meetings of cabinet, party and parliament. If not, the leadership must act before any sense of deprivation takes place in provincial governments being the representative of the people just like the federal government represents the majority of people of Pakistan.

We salute all governments for their sagacity in getting the National Finance Commission Award (NFC) agreed since it is a major political undertaking. It is under NFC that distribution of finances to provinces and federation is established. It is a constitutional requirement and binding on federal government to ensure every five years it is updated. The 7th NFC award came into effect in 2010.

The 7th NFC award was historic with federation agreeing to increase provincial share and factors other than population were considered to resolve critical issue of distribution among the provinces. The noteworthy aspect was that PPP government was in federation while PML-N in Punjab which agreed to reduce its share to accommodate requirements of smaller provinces.

Now the 9th NFC is reconstituted by the President under Article 160 of the Constitution and will take up, in days ahead, the challenge since provinces have more responsibilities after the passage of 18th Amendment and are demanding more resources also the erstwhile FATA is merged into K-P. We hope, like in the past the political government at federation will come up to mark before any other institutions like supreme court reminds us of political responsibilities.

The economic sovereignty is the core challenge and has nexus with security thus severe accountability to end corruption must continue across the board, focused foreign policy preserving the friendship with time-tested friends, continue strengthening CPEC, increase revenue, provide fair prices to Agri-growers to produce food for all, reduce luxury imports, increase value added exports, reliance on local intelligence and resources, achieve fair distribution of resources in 9th NFC award, adhere to constitutional provisions with active oversight of the parliament over government policies and programs. Let all our endeavors be people-centric with good governance to achieve sovereign economy.

—The writer is Former Federal Minister & Senator.