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Archive for June, 2000

Shaukat Proposes. Who Disposes?

Some people have their destinies written in the wind, ephemeral in character this disappears like chaff in the face of any crisis. And in any case the wind cannot read. This may or may not be so for Shaukat Aziz, Finance Minister-in-waiting for almost every government in the last decade. With full-time cover of a military regime Shaukat finally got his chance to define how he would govern the economic health of the nation and look after the well-being of every individual citizen, if not till Kingdom Come, maybe for the next three years, or at least for the next year. As “Mission Impossible(s)” go, Tom Cruise had it much easier, and then he had distractions of the other kind, the kind that is anathema to the Ulema who hold Pakistan hostage intermittently. Abandoning the “best dressed list” for the standard bureaucratic white shalwar-kameez, black waist coat outfit was out of character but symbolic. Whatever magnificent plans Shaukat may have had for Pakistan when in faraway land, like the Romans do when on Pakistani soil you do exactly as the bureaucrats want you to do. And when you have the fudgers-in-chief of the last 4 regimes surrounding you, one hardly has any choice.

The abolition of the wealth tax was absolutely brilliant, however this was “a Pindi-dictated” initiative not a Shaukat Aziz one. Wealth tax has been the subject of misuse of discretionary powers by the CBR personnel and the abolition of it must have left CBR shell-shocked (maybe of the self-propelled kind). He came up roses in consolidating of Provincial taxes from 30 to 9. If you own a business you would know how different Departments can drive you crazy taking full advantage of levying some unknown tax, harassing and intimidating you with penalties, incarceration, etc till you cough up. However CBR had the last laugh, importers will now be held to blackmail for “under-invoicing” at the discretion of the Principal Appraiser (PA), the threat of confiscation by Customs Collectors (who will never dare disagree with the PA’s observations) will be very real.

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Budgeting Pakistan, Mission Impossible

Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz proposed the Federal Budget for the year 2000-2001 on TV and radio on Saturday June 17, 2000. As any former Finance Minister of Pakistan will tell you, Tom Cruise has it much easier in the two “Mission Impossible” movies he has starred in, moreover Tom Cruise has distractions of the third kind. PML(N) Senator Sartaj Aziz had a perennial smile when presenting the Federal Budget, the smile of a magician about to pull a rabbit out of a hat. In keeping with the present environment, Shaukat was far more grim, and looking uncomfortable in the trademark Pakistani bureaucrat white shalwar-kameez with black waistcoat outfit. Nevertheless the military regime’s civilian Finance Minister was optimistic in outlining his plans despite the fact that with the institutions of governance in the state of disrepair they are in, it is virtually a “mission impossible”. Shaukat in fact pulled a number of rabbits out of his hat, only time will tell whether the hat was deep enough to hold the rabbits and whether the rabbits were real and not illusions.

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The Curse of Corruption

Despite the excellent work being done by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), corruption is alive and well and prospering in Pakistan. Unlike Saifur Rahman’s Ehtesab Bureau (EB) which targeted only the real or perceived enemies of Saif’s mentor or Saif himself, mostly not in that order, NAB has established a reputation for being even-handed even though sometimes they can be ham-handed. As the NAB Chief has himself acknowledged, where the target was not politically motivated EB did some good work. In balance EB failed because it differentiated between friend and foe in holding only foes accountable. The public perception about NAB is that they are going about their business without fear or favour though it is unfortunate that the “physicians have been restrained the healing either themselves or the judiciary”. This restriction undercuts the absolute credibility NAB badly needs and for that matter, deserves. However something is better than nothing, the already beggared can hardly be choosers, one’s only recourse is to be satisfied with whatever crumbs are thrown one’s way, at least a few of the infamous are being held accountable. Amjad has lived upto the reputation he arrived with to establish NAB, that in itself is a very positive sign. The character and integrity of leadership of any entity must not only be above question, it must be genuinely and universally admired to be of support to the ultimate purpose of its existence, in this case accountability with credibility.

Whether it is NAB or any other accountability unit, its effectiveness is only as potent as the integrity of its personnel, especially its lead managers and investigators. Unfortunately entities tend to misuse the military’s determination to wipe out corruption for their own nefarious purposes. Let us take the example of the 1000 or so CBR people dismissed by the Government. First of all, the purge was weighted in favour of the senior CBR personnel, the fact is that most of the corruption is at the top. Yet 850 of the 1000 suspended were class 3 employees, making a pittance for their own pockets compared to those in the upper echelon. And except for a handful of notorious cases among the senior CBR personnel, the rest were those generally without any “connection”. In the meantime, the corrupt thrive on the strength of this cleansing, they now have an open cheque to loot the country. The disappointment among the more honest CBR personnel was double, shock at seeing some genuinely honest persons among the “death” list, frustration as well as confusion at the very known corrupt surviving the axe. The question one asks, why was this cleansing operation muddied? And by whom? “Why” we can easily answer, to frustrate the process of accountability in CBR, “by whom” is more difficult.

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A long, hot summer

The Allied Landings in France on June 6, 1944 remain the greatest maritime invasion in history, widely known as “the longest day”. Karachi had recorded 47 degree Celsius 47 years ago, it reached the second highest temperature three days ago on June 7, 2000 at 45.5 degree Celsius. The last days of May and the first few days of June 2000 being any indication, we are in for a long, hot summer and not of the seasonal kind. Mulling protest in the face of documentation, the traders’ wildcat alliance with religious activists on the anti-blasphemy issue drew first blood. Since the tax surveys started on May 27, virtually the entire community of shopkeepers are on a shutter-down strike. One trader died at the hands of taxmen in Faisalabad, another shot himself dead in the offices of the Islamabad Electric Supply Company Limited (IESCO). False rumours being circulated about his “murder” by WAPDA men, the result was anarchy in parts of the capital as police used tear gas and batons to clear the protesters. Transporters have now joined the countrywide strike action as economic life threatens to come to a virtual standstill.

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Unit Durbar, Circa 2000

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica “Durbar” is a “word widely used in India to signify a court or audience chamber; also any assembly of notables called together by a “governmental authority”. In the army, Commanding Officers (COs) of various units, particularly the fighting arms, hold regular Durbars to explain their policies, plans and intentions to the rank and file, this forum gives an opportunity to the Jawans to raise pertinent questions and vent legitimate grievances. The Durbar is a very special occasion, with the Jawans sitting cross-legged on the ground facing the CO with his ceremonial chair and table, the “officer loag” and “JCO Sahiban” sitting alongside on chairs on both sides of the Assembly, ready to answer questions (and sometimes be taken to task by the CO) if need be.

With the gathering of “Editors, Columnists and Reporters” representing the Pakistani intelligentsia and masses, with members of his administration sitting on both sides of the assembled media representatives, Gen Pervez Musharraf made a blunt presentation of his government’s performance as well as his intentions for the future. The intelligentsia may remain skeptical about the conduct and style of the event, the Chief Executive’s (CE) aim was to get his message across. “The great silent majority” that provides the maximum viewers for the “World Wrestling Federation” (WWF) bouts on TV, was the target audience who had to be reached out to in words and actions in layman’s language which they would be able to absorb, more importantly, to accept.

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