Tag Archives: Parliament

Pakistan’s budget: Policy sans public

Raza Rumi
Last week, a former Minister while referring to the budgeting process remarked how the budget documents were accessible to only 3% of the parliamentarians. A lady MNA whom I met after the budget speech was ploughing through the shabbily printed pink documents, looking for the allocations for regulatory bodies and both of us could not find the relevant figures. This should be enough to describe the inaccessibility and obfuscated nature of the budgeting process in Pakistan and several other developing countries.

Executive board-room syndrome
: Lack of public consultation in the budgetary processes is another hallmark of how the executive formulates the national priorities and finances them. Our state considers the people as ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘recipients’ of the wise decisions made in air-conditioned secretariats and donor board-rooms. This is why the economic and social policies are seldom reflective of the will of the people. Pakistan’s deep rooted authoritarian tradition explains this dilemma. But the civilian governments have rarely attempted to change this trend. More often than not, they also rely on the same evergreen bureaucrats. Our present elected government has chosen economic managers who are former international bureaucrats representing the good-old Washington Consensus.

Lack of participation:
Across the globe, pre-budget consultations are exercises seeking public support and inputs for policy. Countries in democratic transition are adopting participatory decision-making processes. There is also a growing consensus that budget decisions need to be subjected to public scrutiny and debate. Earlier, our government organized seminars in big cities and consulted the business, middle classes and other stakeholders to frame the policies. This time last-minute public consultations focused on the VAT issue. Quite obviously, for purely political reasons, these consultations have failed and we have a higher GST rate thereby more exposure to inflation.Development charades: The development allocations at the time of the budget announcement are almost always notional. Invariably these are slashed in the last quarter when fiscal crunch hits the government (40% in the last fiscal year). The new PSDP is Rs 663 billion but it remains to be seen if this will hold. How has it been estimated and prepared; only a handful of people know. The overall ceiling is guided by the NFC award. But, does it address the key development challenges? Perhaps not. Overestimated figures from the Friends of Democratic Pakistan were also factored in the previous years and even this year the allocations reflect what is expected and not necessarily what we have or need.

Lobbies who always win: As before, the big business, the landlords and the security establishment benefits from the limited resource base. The business lobby has avoided VAT at least until October, no mention was made of agricultural income tax in the budget speech and of course the defence budget is higher by 17%. The local vehicle-manufacturing industry will continue to enjoy protection. Much of the defence budget is hidden under the “General Public Services” category as the salaries and pensions are not reflected in the defence category.

Inflation will rise:
Contrary to various claims, inflation is here to stay. Higher energy prices and increased GST will lead to further increase in prices of commodities with a direct impact on the poor and the fixed-income groups. Apparently a study has been carried out to disprove the link between GST and inflation but it is not in the public domain. If and when VAT is imposed, inflation will further increase whether we like it or not.

Saving graces: Three key policies are somewhat promising. First, the focus on energy conservation, by providing 30 million energy savers, is a step in the right direction. The allocation of Rs. 40 billion for Benazir Income Support Programme and lastly the increase in salaries of the government employees are commendable policy decisions. It is not clear, though, as to how far the pay and pension commission’s recommendation was taken into account while finalising these figures.

Sterile debate:
Given the lack of budget awareness, the new gurus of Pakistani conscience have been holding endless talk shows on the budget. The commentary by TV anchors and their ‘political’ hosts is emotional and largely uninformed. Debate is good but spiraling ignorance is something that we must avoid. Similarly, the polemical statements in the National Assembly are intriguing. For instance, the leader of the opposition criticized the increase in government salaries for the adverse fiscal impact on the Punjab government, and at the same time lambasted the government for not doing enough for the vulnerable. MQM’s refrain that electricity should be cheaper in Karachi is also beyond logic.

Pakistan’s democracy is nascent and fragile. However, it is also an opportunity for the budgeting process to be reformed. The government should involve the media and civil society in raising awareness and building consensus on reform. In several parts of the world, accessible materials to increase budget literacy are commonly used. Similarly, it is time that the legislators are made more familiar with the budget process to enhance public oversight. Techniques that track inter-governmental expenditures can help reduce corruption and waste. All of this requires deepening of democracy, civil service reform and the emergence of a responsible media. We need a light year to get there.

First published in The Friday Times, Lahore (June 11 issue)

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Filed under Economy, Pakistan, Politics, poverty

End of the military-jihadi nexus

By Dr Manzur Ejaz                     Daily Times 06 Jan 2010

 The military has no choice but to eliminate all types of non-state armed groups in Pakistan to save the state and its own privileges. The military may want to pick and choose among these groups, but circumstances will force it to take them out one by one.

Asia Peace, a discussion forum, opened the New Year with making predictions about the possible scenarios in Pakistan. Ultimately, the debate centred on the prospects for the military-jihadi nexus. An overwhelming majority believes that the military will keep its jihadi option intact by differentiating between good and bad Taliban and other extremist groups. A very tiny minority, including myself, optimistically believes that the military has no choice but to take out all kinds of jihadis. The military may wish otherwise and may not be fully cognizant of its limited choices but circumstances will force it to clean up the mess it created. Continue reading

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Filed under Army, Democracy, Islamism, Pakistan, state, Terrorism, Zardari

Another aspect of the judgment

By Asma Jahangir        Dawn 19 Dec, 2009 

 The NRO case, Dr Mubashar Hasan and others versus the federation, has once again stirred a hornet’s nest.

There is thunderous applause for bringing the accused plunderers and criminals to justice and widespread speculation on the resignation of the president. Very little analysis is being done on the overall effect of the judgment itself.

While, the NRO can never be defended even on the plea of keeping the system intact, the Supreme Court judgment has wider political implications. It may not, in the long run, uproot corruption from Pakistan but will make the apex court highly controversial. Continue reading

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Filed under Democracy, Justice, Law, lawyers movement, Pakistan, Parliament, state

Power with responsibility

By Haris Gazdar writing for the DAWN today

THE Supreme Court’s ruling on July 31 striking down some of the actions taken by former President Musharraf as unconstitutional has been hailed as historic.

This is hyperbole. What is more important is how the judges and their supporters plan to use the power they are acquiring with respect to the key challenges facing the state and society.

The constitutional petitions before the Supreme Court related to the legality of judicial appointments during the 16-month period when Mr Iftikhar Chaudhry had been removed from his position as chief justice. The court ruled these judicial appointments to be illegal. The jobs of 110 judges of the higher courts were put on the line. In effect, a few judges of the Supreme Court gave themselves veto power over the composition of the higher judiciary as a whole. Those declared as ‘non-judges’ included not only the so-called PCO judges but also all those judges appointed to the higher courts between Nov 3, 2007 and March 22, 2009. Continue reading

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Filed under Pakistan, Politics, south asia

RAHUL GANDHI IS NOT A PETER PAN ANY MORE

Frank Huzur has sent this exclusive piece for Pak Tea House from New Delhi.

I’m youth, I’m joy, I’m a little bird that has broken out of the egg. These words of legendary Scottish Novelist James Matthews Barrie were ringing in the ear of Indian pollsters and Pundits with resonant frequency by the early afternoon of 16 May. The verdict over 15th Lok Sabha elections was trickling in thick and fast. Citadel after citadel, bastion after bastion of fanciful imagination was dying instant death in the shooting Mercury. Many myths were raveling fast, and one of the greatest myth was unraveling of The Rahul Gandhi factor. The factor fast spread into a phenomenon over the next 48 hours as the Congress Party, the grand old party of India, clenched its fist over its most impressive tally in the past two-and-half-decade. Rahul Gandhi, apparently, had propelled the fledgling Congress party and its pre-poll allies to striking distance of magic figure of 272. The Congress was grinning like Cheshire cat with 206 seats in the lower house of Indian Parliament, quite a feat by any conceivable standards.

Rahul GandhiRahul Gandhi was no better than Peter Pan with baby teeth to army of political astrologers in the rival camp of principal opposition party, the BJP and its constituent of NDA.

The wily fox of the Hindu nationalist party took potshots at Rahul Gandhi’s political wisdom many a times in course of over 45 days electioneering saying he was merely an exaggerated stereotype of a boastful and careless boy like the original character of Barrie of the Neverland. He can only fly, not land on his own, was the constant refrain in ivory towers of Opposition. When leading trend halted a little over 200 in the seat tally, shock, horror, cynicism and disbelief was written all over the face of vanquished, a large army of losers in the battle for hearts and minds of over 700 million Indian voters. Rahul Gandhi, 38 years old Continue reading

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Filed under India, Politics

The Price of Moral Cowardice

parliament-608From The Dawn:

The price of moral cowardice
By Ardeshir Cowasjee
Sunday, 19 Apr, 2009 | 01:49 AM PST

AUGUST 11, 1947, in the constituent assembly of Pakistan at Karachi: “You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” — Founder and maker of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Continue reading

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This night-bitten dawn

By Raza Rumi

The triumph of a popular movement on March 16 has marked a new beginning. The retreat of an intransigent government and the wise response by the PML-N and the lawyers averted a major crisis that could have been violent, and also a potential recipe for harming the parliamentary system in its infancy. There was a sigh of relief among the public for a long-standing issue appeared to have been resolved. This has been a monumental achievement by all standards.

However, the inherent imbalances within Pakistan’s power structure and the state of its polity are yet to be addressed and the contradictions of how our power is exercised stared us as the good news rolled out through the ubiquitous TV channels and their zealous presenters. The way quintessentially political issues and turf-wars between the PPP and PML-N were battled and resolved through a stage-managed process only concealed the bitter power-realities of Pakistan. Continue reading

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