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Archive for June, 1991

Bangladesh and the Ershad factor

Former President of Bangladesh, Lt Gen (Retd) H.M. Ershad, has been sentenced to 10 years RI on a charge of keeping arms without licences in his place of official residence. Looking pale, Ershad protested the verdict to the assembled reporters and said he would appeal to the Supreme Court. In the meantime Begum Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), opted to overturn the Presidential system instituted by her late husband and former President, Gen (Retd) Ziaur Rahman, and go for a Parliamentary form of Government as was being demanded by the main Opposition party, the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib’s daughter, Hasina Wajed. To non-discerning public both these are unconnected facts, given the circumstances both are very much inter-linked.

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The Armed Forces selecting the chiefs

Lt Gen Shamim Alam Khan has been appointed Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) and Lt Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), ending months of damaging speculation about these two crucial appointments. Both are fine upright military officers who are well respected and have impeccable backgrounds. There is still some time to go before they assume their appointments, Shamim, the nominally superior, later than Asif Nawaz, because Gen Beg, the COAS, retires a few months earlier than Admiral Sirohey, the incumbent CJCSC. The Government has done well to make early announcements for these posts.

The CJCSC-designate comes from a line of brothers who have served (and are serving) the three Services of the Armed Forces, one of his younger brothers, Mushtaq, having died in service of the PAF during a low-level combat exercise while the younger to him, Ijaz, was killed in action on his tank near Sialkot during the 1971 war. One of his brothers is a senior serving officer in the Pakistan Navy, another is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pakistan Army. One brother is serving in PIA having retired from the PAF while the eldest (and the most well known), Brig (Retd) Z.A Khan, commanded the SSG battalion that kept secure the ports and airfields in then East Pakistan in the first crucial days after the Army crackdown in March 1971. Professionally able and meticulously correct, Lt Gen Shamim Alam is uniquely qualified to be Chairman CJCSC.

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The politics of economics

With the Presentation of the Federal Budget, the economics of the nation has become subject to partisan political in-fighting. While the treasury benches are mostly singing praises of the measures proposed by the Finance Minister, the Opposition has unilaterally taken up cudgels “on behalf of the people”. Essentially both are correct and are also in the wrong. The Opposition must necessarily act as a democratic check against the excesses of the Government on the people, it is also their responsibility as legislators to support any process where the good of the masses is clearly manifest, not to oppose only for the sake of opposition. At the same time it is incumbent upon the members of the Treasury Benches to go over the Budgetary proposals with a jaundiced eye so that they can excise those proposals which they feel lack merit or substance only or are likely to affect the everyday living of the common man, they must not rubber-stamp all the Government’s submissions without critical analysis. In essence it is a joint responsibility of all our law-makers to ensure that the common citizens who have voted them into office are vindicated in the reposing of their trust in them.

Given all this, it is still the right of the Government, having been elected as a majority, to foster their own declared manifesto on the nation, making only those compromises which they feel they must make in the national interest. Political parties are supposed to be elected based on their stated programmes, in Third World countries, more after than not, it is a combination of the charisma of the leaders and the strength of the feudal system that decides the issue. Except for a few die-hard political activists and analysts, almost no one ever goes through the manifestoes, which are invariably devoted to promises that the leadership swear to high heaven they will honour once elected, almost all of which concerns the welfare of the people, and are mostly forgotten after the elections are over.

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180 Days in Economic History

Almost two decades ago, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) set in motion a chain of events leading to economic apocalypse. In defence of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto it must be said that while riding the crest of public opinion (which was aroused against free enterprise held captive of a handful of robber barons), he genuinely believed that a socialistic system would bring about amelioration in the miseries of the masses. In this he was not alone in the world, this was the fashion of the times in most Third World countries. Our tragedy was that in reacting against the greed of the few we ended up in the proliferation of corruption, at a particular economic crossroads we took the wrong turn. The collapse of the Socialist Empire has seen, a reaction against the system set in through the Third World, everybody is now abandoning Carl Marx for Adam Smith.

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Budgeting the impossible

Why anyone would enjoy being the Finance Minister of a Third World country in the present world-wide recession escapes sensible logic but obviously Sartaj Aziz relishes his job and thrives in it. An honest, unassuming person, his workaholic nature blends well with his bureaucratic background and present political image. The articulate, confident manner of the Presentation of the Federal Budget was no surprise, neither were there any real unpleasant surprises within the Budget document itself. While it will take some time to go through the complete document, the immediate reaction by the ready economic indicator, the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) was favourable. The special Post-Budget session remained upbeat on the PM’s earlier pronouncement showing 52 gains against 18 losses while the KSE Shares Index rose to an unprecedented record peak of 1772. This is despite the fact that there seemed to be a tone of uncertainty at the fag end.

Total gross Federal revenues are estimated to be Rs.212.551 billion. Of this Rs.136.544 billion comes from Tax Revenues with Direct Taxes (Income & Wealth Tax) contributing Rs.24.489 billion while tax receipts from Commodities and Transactions make up the Indirect taxes of Rs.112.055 billion. Non-Tax Revenues are taken from Income from Property & Enterprises (Rs.32.385 billion) and Receipts from Civil Administration and other Functions (Rs.22.263 billion) amounting to a total of Rs.54.649 billion. Surcharges on Natural Gas (Rs.7.579 billion) and Petroleum (Rs.13.779 billion) make up the balance Rs.21.358 billion. When you deduct the Provincial share in taxes (Rs.59.163 billion) as per the NFC Award, the total amount comes to Rs.153.388 billion, which comprises the net Federal Revenue available.

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