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Reforms and elections

Some salient points for consideration of all political parties and national debate

Reforms and elections

For years, we have been doing everything in our power to erode the state in every way. The rich and powerful have habitually used the state to obtain easy riches. Learning from them, state functionaries — civil service, army and the judiciary — developed perks, plots and protocol as a means of joining the elite

What reforms mean, Nadeem Ul Haque

Political parties in Pakistan should show maturity in the wake of Supreme Court’s verdict in the Panama Case. It is a great opportunity for the entire nation to reject the corrupt and come out of the cultism rampant in our political culture. No one is indispensable. Individuals come and go — what matters is welfare of masses, effective functioning of institutions and enforcement of rule of law.

Democratisation of political parties, accountability of all and supremacy of the Constitution alone can strengthen democracy — this is also necessary to check influence and interference of army in politics. It is time to reform all institutions and ensure economic progress of Pakistan.

The nation should demand that all political parties should show maturity by immediately giving up worshipping personalities that head their parties, desist from mudslinging and present their manifestos for the forthcoming elections. There should be consensus on one point: in the coming years we all want to make Pakistan a true egalitarian state. For achieving this goal, political parties must debate all-out reforms in all areas with the aim to move towards the cherished goal of self-reliance and becoming a welfare state.

It is not possible to make Pakistan a welfare state unless we undertake structural reforms in the prevailing politico-economic system that unjustly favours the minority elites at the expense of the majority less-privileged segments of society.

The outmoded justice system needs major changes to ensure that rights and obligations are discharged within the four corners of law. For establishing true democracy, we need to have a fair and just tax system. Taxes should be collected fairly and should be spent prudently providing social justice to all citizens.

We need a roadmap and plan for its implementation for achieving the much desired goal of autarky leading to a welfare state. It is high time that media starts a public debate for ‘National Election Manifesto 2018’ — a document for a prosperous Pakistan, no matter which party wins the election, must adopt it. This would be a great step towards national cohesion and for extending social security to all citizens.

The foremost task is establishing democracy within political parties and making election processes transparent. We also need to reform existing inefficient and corrupt institutions. This requires fundamental reforms in all areas — not badly-designed plans or half-heated efforts. For reaping the fruits of our undeniable geostrategic, business competitive position in the region and China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it is essential to change the basic structures of all vital state institutions to deliver and sustain a vibrant society. Reform or perish is our formidable challenge, and we must stand up to avoid the latter.

Reform in one sector ignoring the ills in the other, resorting to improving something at the cost of leaving aside the one interlinked, will not yield desired results. The case of tax reform divorced from elimination of black economy is the point in focus. The main cause of fiscal deficit is allowing an unprecedented size of underground economy to flourish and the perpetual existence of incompetent and inefficient tax machinery. Therefore, reforms in tax administration without routing the causes of parallel economy and vice versa are not going to improve our fiscal woes.

The failure of democracy in Pakistan, among many other factors, is attributable to lack of democratic values within political parties — they are dominated by individuals who openly defy laws and avoid transparency in their affairs. It is sad to note that political parties, despite criticism from everyone, are not ready to introduce democracy within their ranks. Unless these parties reform themselves by introducing fundamental changes in their working, there is dim hope for meaningful (sustainable) democracy in Pakistan.

In all established democracies, political parties regularly hold elections, publish their audited accounts, file tax returns, disclose details of expenses and names of donors — all these elements are conspicuous by their absence in our political culture. Media must start a campaign asking political parties to meet these standards.

The salient points for consideration of all political parties and national debate to evolve national election manifesto can be:

Fundamental reforms in the justice system and in administrative/governance apparatuses to eliminate the causes of litigation. Ensuring efficacy and accountability of all institutions.

Revamping of education system to end ignorance and illiteracy, and make people skilful rather than distributing paper degrees and diplomas. Focal point of education should be creating a society that is tolerant, disciplined, courteous and knowledgeable — capable of making innovations and technological advances.

Direct elections of Senate and giving it powers to vote on Money Bill.

Live telecast of the national and provincial assemblies and Senate proceedings.

Decentralisation of political, administrative and financial responsibility to local governments. Education, health, housing, local policing, and all civil amenities should be provided through elected representatives of the local governments that should have powers to raise taxes for these purposes.

Digitization, transparency and accountability in the governments at all levels to enable citizens to understand and participate fully in the process of national integration. Reforms in civil services, fair deal for employees with effective and across-the-board accountability.

Elimination of terrorism, sectarianism, bigotry, intolerance and violence though enforcement of law and by taking concrete measures to ensure social development of society based on higher values of life and humanity.

Strict laws and their effective implementation to curb terrorist financing, money-laundering, plundering of national wealth, political write off of loans and leakages in revenue collections.

Devising long-term and short-term strategies to break the shackles of debt-trap, making Pakistan a self-reliant economy and ensuring social security and economic justice for all citizens.

Reform and strengthening of management of public finances. Transparent public sector spending coupled with efficient performance.

Determination and political will to control wasteful, non-developmental and defence expenditure.

Reform of technical, institutional and organisational dimensions of public finance.

Good governance and corruption free government structures.

Federal government should only collect income tax and customs duty. Harmonised sales tax on goods and services should be in the provincial domain. All federal, provincial and local taxes should be collected through one agency (National Tax Authority) which should also disburse pension and other social security payments to all citizens.

Reduction in excessive marginal tax rates making them compatible with other tax jurisdictions of the world, especially in Asia. Substantial reduction in corporate rate of tax. Elimination of onerous taxes and other regulations for corporate sector that are the main stumbling blocks for domestic and foreign investments. Simplification of tax laws and procedures.

Dr Ikramul Haq

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