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Archive for April, 1997

Sacred cows and the vision

Determined to restore the vision envisaged by the Quaid in the concept of Pakistan, Moeen Qureshi has called into question the quality of our leadership over the past four decades. He has taken steps to bring those who aspire to be the rulers of Pakistan within the ambit of the rule of Law. Civilized society expects its leaders to be subservient to the rules and regulations they are pledged to uphold, not to be above the law they enforce for others. In Pakistan today, the laws of the land are meant to govern only those who are without money and/or influence.

Some of the names of the privileged elite has been published in the loan defaulters list and some will definitely be “mentioned in dispatches” in the utilities and tax default scoresheet that we have been given to believe is to follow. While many are bracing themselves in anticipation of disclosure, in a perverse way it is a sort of a status symbol that denotes the person’s ability to not only take more out of the hopelessly over-burdened socio-economic infrastructure but also refuse to pay for the services acquired. In a manner of speaking, those who have not made it on one list or the other have failed to benefit from the “open season” on the national assets and can be classified as the great silent (and stupid) majority, serving only as extras in the grand act of the national drama.

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Crisis information and management

The recent atta crisis hit Pakistan out of the blue. It was not enough that wheat in considerable volume had gone to the flour mills, on leaving the premises the milled wheat followed the “market economy” philosophy and went to where it was fetching a better price, across the border in food-starved Afghanistan and beyond to Central Asia as well as to the arid areas of Rajasthan in India. Somebody made a killing, not only in supplying flour to the needy ex-Pakistan but when the crisis hit Pakistan at exorbitant prices within the country.

Focussed primarily on the economy, which the Benazir regime left in a continuing crisis of unimaginable proportions, the government lost sight of the fact that the country runs on its stomach, mainly on bread. The most famous example is that of Marie Antoinette suggesting plaintively, “If the people do not have bread, why don’t they eat cake?” The people took her head instead! For the first time in Pakistan. After the sugar crisis in the late 60s, we had food riots in a number of cities in the country. These were spontaneous not engineered. There was also no doubt that political activists of different ilk took advantage of the situation later and added fuel to the mass ire.

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Recovery of Illegal Wealth

Making money illegally has become institutionalised. To break that cycle, a concerted effort must be made to recover illegal wealth so that the acquisition of wealth illegally attracts exemplary punishment. Wealth that is not declared is illegal, or whether it be held in one’s own name, relatives, proxies, nominees, dummies, etc or in the name of individuals/groups, business entities, etc. For any wealth declared there has to be a source of income, an income on which commensurate tax must have been paid. For wealth traced out that is not declared, there can be only one rule of law, confiscation by the State without recourse to any caveat. Illegal wealth is usually kept either in a real estate within the country, though abroad it is mostly in numbered accounts or under the cover of offshore companies in UK and elsewhere. After years of fruitlessly chasing after people in the traditional way of searching for assets of the rich who had the money to finance the use of smart tax lawyers and accountants to keep money in safe tax havens, the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has now switched over to collecting information about the lifestyle of individuals and calculating tax thereof. This change in modus operandi has made it increasingly difficult for people to enjoy their wealth without coming under the censure of the tax-man. Theoretically this could be possible in Pakistan but our Income Tax Department which has checking of tax evasion as their primary reason for existence has more individuals within the department with illegal wealth than any other commensurate group of individuals, except maybe in comparison officials of Customs and Excise and/or Immigration. Without fear of discovery retribution thereof, the show of wealth is so blatant that one tax man displays at least four “Chughtai” miniatures prominently in his house, each painting worth over Rs.2-3 lacs. Obviously we cannot expect our tax-men to blow the police whistle on themselves or on whom they consider their own (for a price, of course).

There have to be priorities in the chasing of illegal wealth. Illegal wealth must first be classified into (1) mega-wealth, ie. those who have acquired wealth far in excess of their declared income, above US$ 12.5 million (Pak Rs.500 million approximately), (2) super-wealth, between US$ 5-12.5 million (Pak Rs 200 million to Rs.500 million) and maxi-wealth, upto Rs.200 million ie. US$ 5 million. A few are in the super-mega class ie. US$ 1 billion and beyond. Illegal wealth within Pakistan will rarely be in bank accounts or either in one’s own name. It will invariably be held in real-estate, stocks and shares, in industries, etc. A far greater amount is invariably held abroad through various sleight-of-the-hand structuring, however Pakistanis (and Indians and Bangladeshis) tend to keep a substantial amount in banks and other financial institutions in numbered accounts. Many corrupt bureaucrats lost their ill-gotten life-savings when BCCI crashed. Different teams must go after priorities set, within Pakistan and abroad. In Pakistan, the FIA made an excellent headway in tracing out the wealth looted by the cooperatives, finance and investment Companies in the 80s but the poor depositors did not get even a fraction, most went into the pockets of corrupt FIA officials. The lifestyle of our Income Tax, Customs, Excise and Immigration staff can be assessed from the real estate records in the posh areas in Karachi of KDA Schemes 1 and 5, PECHS, Defence, Bath Island, etc. One will find an inordinate amount of property in the names of females and children. How can they justify the type of income that can afford such valued real-estate ?

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Civilian coup d’etat!

The PM dropped a quiet bombshell at the fag end of his speech on TV and Radio on March 31, 1997, ostensibly in support of the economic package announced by the Federal Finance Minister earlier in the week. He had decided, in keeping with the wishes of the electorate, to revise the controversial clauses of the Eighth Amendment, in particular Article 58(2)b which gave the President powers to remove the PM for any number of reasons. Since 1988, three different Presidents have used this sword four times, three successfully. The Supreme Court overturned President Ghulam Ishaq’s adventure against Mian Nawaz Sharif, so technically he has never been a dismissed PM. His subsequent resignation was the result of a well planned conspiracy that emasculated the ability of the Federal Government to function. Faced with a situation in which would have set a precedent for the disintegration of the Federal structure, Mian Nawaz Sharif opted to go for fresh elections, little realising that while he had managed to knock out one group of conspirators led by President Ishaq (and including the Chief Minister of NWFP, Punjab and Sindh), another group led jointly by the then Chief of General Staff (CGS) and the then DG ISI had more or less the same agenda for his ouster, more dangerously they had the capability to stage-manage a favourable electoral end-result for their Collaborator-in-Chief Ms Benazir Bhutto.

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Accountability, Filipino Style

No one in modern times personified the misuse of public office for acquisition of wealth by illegal means more than late President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda Marcos. The lasting symbol of that blatant corruption was the 3,000 pairs of shoes owned by Mrs Imelda Marcos which were gawked at by demonstrators (some bare-feet) who broke into the Malacang Palace soon after the Marcos family fled Manila for safer havens. The street power that brought Corazon Aquino to the Presidential chair demanded accountability and one of her first acts as the new President was to issue Executive Order No.1 on Feb 28, 1986 creating the “Presidential Commission on Good Government” (PCGG) to assist her, to, quote “in the recovery of ill-gotten wealth accumulated by President Ferdinand E. Marcos, his immediate family, relations, subordinates and close associates, whether located in the Philippines or abroad, including the take over and sequestration of all business enterprises or entities owned or controlled by them, during his administration, directly or through nominees, by taking undue advantage of their public office and/or using powers, authority, influence or connection or relationship”, unquote. Needless to say, because the Philippines was the very first nation in the Third World to break fresh ground in trying to get the illegal wealth back into the national coffers, as such there were legal loopholes, safeguards, parameters, sensitivities of fairness and due process, etc both in national and international circles. The almost unanimous public demand for immediate accountability needed to have due legal cover and two more Presidential directives, Executive Order No.2 on March 12, 1986 and Executive Order No.14 on May 5, 1986 were issued, making the required explanations and tightening the laws. On March 25, 1986, Presidential Proclamation No.3 Article II Section 1(D) duly ratified by Parliament stated that “the President shall give priority to achieve the mandate of the people to recover ill-gotten properties amassed by the leaders and supporters of the previous regime and protect the interests of the people through orders of sequestration or freezing of assets or accounts”, unquote. The Proclamation stated clearly that “the vital task was the recovery of ill-gotten wealth to help and hasten national economic recovery”, unquote, Philippines having been beggared beyond description by the Marcos-es.

In the mid-80s the international community was still forgiving of despots in Third World countries who not only amassed wealth at the cost of those whom they ruled who also allowed their cronies and relations to run riot at the same time. Imelda Marcos had fantastic PR (Public Relations) among the jet set (“the beautiful people”), people with influence in the corridors of power in most western countries. The cold war not yet being over, the western world still had use for authoritarian regimes which held the line by proxy against communism. The Filipinos did not have a single precedent to help them, yet they went about it expeditiously, cautiously but carefully. Executive Order No.14, a little over two months later, finally put in place the necessary laws to recover the ill-gotten wealth. The laws governing the Commission (PCGG) clearly defined viz (1) who and what was the focus of recovery by the Commission (2) the powers of the Commission (3) it allotted a certain sum (Fifty million Pesos ie. about US$ 4-5 million) for financing of the Commission’s task (4) it spelt out clearly parameters regarding the powers of the Commission (5) it gave out legal cover and immunity to those engaged in the Commission’s work (6) it allowed the Commission to take over and freeze all assets and properties of Marcos, cronies and relatives, etc in whatever form domestically and internationally and not allow disposal till so allowed by the Commission (7) it forbade the disposal, transfer, conveyance, etc of all such assets and properties (8) it commanded those who knew of such assets and properties to report this to the PCGG (9) it allowed the Commission to obtain information from any person, government offices or government agencies (10) to frame and promulgate such rules and regulations as would be necessary to help in the success of the Commission’s work (11) recommend/adopt measures to prevent recurrence of such graft and corruption and (12) appeal to foreign governments in assisting to recover the ill-gotten wealth.

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