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Archive for October, 1996

Ms Benazir’s government Transition period

While it is considered good form in western democracies to give any new government coming to power a honeymoon period of at least 100 days, the compulsions of the November 13 Presidential elections will probably eliminate that possibility. This is rather unfortunate as it takes time for the new incumbents to settle down into the business of running the day-to-day affairs of the country and it is not fair not to be given a transition period in which to structure one’s “A Team”. Furthermore, despite its commanding lead of NA seats, the Ms Benazir Regime has to tread with care in the formulation of its executive authority and enunciation of its policies on various issues because of the swing vote that the minority groupings seem to command in all the Assemblies.

The first and foremost concern of the Government of Pakistan (GOP) should be the economy of Pakistan. Essentially Pakistan has been in a transition stage because of the wide-ranging liberal economic reforms enacted by the Nawaz Sharif regime. As bureaucratic obstacles came tumbling down and the Pakistani Rupee came close to free convertibility, the Establishment dug its heels in and slowed down the process by various subterfuges and stratagems. At the same time, the privatisation process did not go along the accepted Thatcher-model of “letting a hundred flowers bloom” with respect to proliferation of shareholding among the general public. Already vulnerable because of the transitional status, the economy was hit with the worst floods in the century in September/October 1992 causing extensive damage as well as diverting precious time and resources. The “Long March” followed in November 1992 and then after a brief hiatus, the sustained political crisis of 1993 that saw three changes of government including the present one. The economic state had become uncertain by the time the last Caretaker Administration took over. Changing from over-centralization to the other extreme in liberal economic mores require a stable economic environment over an extended period, economic emancipation can only be achieved by way of increased investment which becomes shy in an unsettled state. Because of increasing development expenditures, there is an increasing of deficits in the face of decreasing revenues. Nawaz Sharif may have been politically destabilized by the process initiated against him, simultaneously the country went into a state of economic limbo. What the Caretaker Government inherited was not the result of bad economic management or policies but the cumulative effect of a government paralysed by political and bureaucratic action over an extended period of time. According to the Caretaker Administration that handed over charge to the elected Bhutto government, their action in devaluation and raising of prices has put the economy on the road to a very sound footing. This will have to be confirmed by Mr. V.A. Jafarey, the Advisor to the PM on Economic Affairs, who is not an innovator in the class of Senator Sartaj Aziz but is well respected as a sound fiscal manager.


IMF Conditionalities versus Economic Realities

The major reforms that the Bhutto government is depending upon to bail out the economy and the country from its present state of crisis are IMF dictated strictures such as (1) controlling of expenditures (2) increasing revenue collection (3) imposing financial discipline in public sector financial institutions (4) imposition of farm taxes (5) extending General Sales Tax (GST) to cover every product and (6) reduction of defence expenditures. It is only due to the existence of our very vibrant parallel economy that we remain alive and well despite being supervised by the most atrocious team of economic managers that this country has ever known. Since almost all social and political aberrations have origin in the economy, the social divide and political crisis we are immersed in can be said to be caused by the partial failure of the economy, directly attributable to mismanagement.

Whereas most of the reforms sought by the IMF are neither uncalled for nor surprising, at least one does not reflect geo-political ground realities. Almost all governments are guilty of excessive expenditures, mostly because of lack of control or deliberate misuse of funds earmarked for (1) entertainment (2) travel (3) telephone calls (4) transport and fuel (5) medical and (6) personnel. Arguing how to control all this would be futile, let us simply “privatise” the concept of bureaucratic perquisites (“perks”). To provide transportation and fuel, the Government should select a standard economy car (Suzuki Alto, Khyber or Margalla or equipment depending upon the Grade) for the public servant and lease it out at 50% of the lease cost, the government bearing the balance, giving the public servant a fixed amount for a driver and fuel, on a sliding scale depending upon the city classification (whether expensive, average or low cost). Let the bureaucrat contribute to medical insurance from a government approved panel, the government paying for the insurance premium. As regards using government employees as household servants, this should be forbidden except in the case of few public residences such as the President’s, PM’s, Governor’s, Supreme and High Court Judge’s and Minister’s. For telephone calls, give the bureaucrat a fixed amount for local calls and have him justify each long distance call before reimbursement i.e. if it could not be done by E. Mail or courier, if it was that urgent. Elected representatives who become public servants (i.e. Ministers, Advisors etc should have a little variation as aforementioned e.g. their vehicle can come from a small staff pool — and no more than one vehicle, an economy model at that).


The constitutional process

By insisting that Pakistan is not facing a serious social, political and economic crisis, the government is losing the “credibility battle”. Except for the propaganda disseminated by the government media, everyone else seems to agree with the Opposition that we are indeed in the throes of a series of tumultuous events that may lead us into a state of anarchy. We normally turn to the Army to drag us back from such an abyss, very well knowing that once the military takes power they automatically assume responsibility and it is then easy, once their usefulness is over, for motivated interest to tar and feather them for their “Bonapartist” tendencies. Luckily for us, a new found sophistication among the military hierarchy as well as the absence of cabal similar to that of the trio of three-star intriguers who manipulated events and pushed poor Gen Waheed into an ill-suited role as mediator in 1993, has ensured that the Army has stayed publicly out of the political fray. On the other hand the military hierarchy’s resolve seems to have quietly stiffened up the spine of both the President and the Supreme Court (SC), taking care not to influence them towards any particular direction or end but giving them the necessary confidence to do what they are supposed to do, to separate right from wrong. With that necessary constitutional check and balance in place as in any democracy, any Government, including conceivably Ms Benazir’s one, may function responsibly toward the populace as is their fundamental duty under the Constitution. There is much truth in the dictum about “absolute power” corrupting absolutely. The division of authority between the President, the PM (and as such the executive) and the judiciary has always been delineated but never really adhered to, resulting that at any one time, depending upon the personality and the opportunity, either the President or the PM has exercised more authority, with a more or less subservient judiciary toeing the government’s line. Whenever the friction has become pronounced, the Army has come into the fray at least thrice with direct physical intervention and a number of times before 1958 and after 1988 indirectly by throwing its rather healthy weight behind one or the other, depending upon its preference for the personalities involved.

Ostensibly this present constitutional crisis started on the morning of March 20, 1996 when the SC, in a unanimous judgment, one honourable judge being absent, held (in sum) that the attempt of the present PPP regime to pack the judicial courts with “pliable individuals” was not constitutionally correct. It must be said in PPP’s defence that before them other regimes were also guilty of the same, maybe not in so blatant a fashion. Because of a coincidental separate legal process that required the judiciary to be separated from the executive by March 23, 1996, the battle was entered into in earnest. In acts reminiscent of Hitler’s Germany in the early 1930s, the SC was intimidated, harassed, cajoled and subjected to adverse propaganda by the state-controlled media, most of it focused on the person of the Chief Justice. Having neutralized the Air Force and the Navy by having pliable men of straw to head their hierarchy, the PPP regime had tried in similar fashion to install one of their favourites in the Army and failed. Ironically had they done so, they would have been in real dire straits by now, given that particular gentleman’s penchant for back-stabbing his mentor in time of crisis. In actual fact the present constitutional crisis started on Dec 12, 1995, when the President, duly fortified by the advice of the outgoing COAS Gen Waheed, made his own judgment about the selection of the new COAS based on professionalism, merit and seniority. That President Farooq Leghari could take such a far reaching decision on his own in keeping with his conscience was a crossroad of sorts in the previously unequal relationship between the President and the PM, therefore Dec 12, 1995 rather than March 20, 1996 can be said to be the benchmark in the road downhill for this government. Tantrums notwithstanding, the failure of the PM to coerce the President into rubber-stamping such a major decision gave heart to those who thought the President was only a ceremonial prop for the Bhutto clan. Other than late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, people forget that the PPP had platonic beginnings, being formed as a pure ideological party by such honourable men with misguided socialist vision but with honesty and interesting of purpose as J.A.Rahim, Dr Mubashar Hasan, Meraj Khalid, Shaikh Rashid, Mairaj Mohammad Khan, etc. This once great party that was in the forefront in the fight against corruption and deprivation has now been reduced to a “wagon circle” mentality of defending its leaders from charges of corruption, mostly from whom they have deprived, the masses. Its plight can be measured. Things started to unravel much faster in 1996 in every sector of governance, the prime being the economy where pride of place in its being brought to its knees was not only gross mismanagement by an inept team but rampant corruption at the highest level.


The Mechanics of Accountability

After months of cajoling the PPP regime to check the rising tide of corruption engulfing the country, the President finally decided that enough was enough and sent a message to the two Houses of Parliament to enact effective measures for accountability. Instead of welcoming the initiative by a person who had not only remained a respected leader of their own Party but was their nominee for President in the first place, the PPP reacted like a wounded animal. In a rather silly ploy, the ruling Party went on a filibustering defensive, calling for a “select committee” to decide on the parameters. Since all of us know that select “commissions” and “committees” are safe euphemisms for relegating things into the waste-paper basket, the PPP reaction was very suggestive that the rulers had something definitive to hide. The general public perception is that PPP have someone they want to protect, at the cost of their conscience, at the cost of the credibility of their Party and at the cost of the economic hopes of the nation.

The US Permanent Representative to the UN, Ms Madeleine Albright, was extremely supportive of a UN Resolution on the eradication of corruption which would make it incumbent upon member States to monitor the financial dealings of citizens of other countries in their respective territories, particularly politicians and bureaucrats, maintaining large bank deposits or real-estate holdings, making it illegal and thus impossible to get away hiding their ill-gotten gains with the same impunity they do now. If such a UN Resolution should become binding, it would strike a tremendous blow for the poor, downtrodden masses of the developed world whose leaders feed them with endless rhetoric while shamelessly stealing at will from their country’s coffers. For starters we could possibly circulate among member countries the famous list of 20 which has caused considerable apprehension in bureaucratic circles and see whether it is really true that some of them are billionaires (even if they are not, some of them at least live and act like it).