Tag Archives: TV

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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Our Wonderful Hosts

by Amaar Ahmad
In the aftermath of the carnage in Lahore against Ahmadis, life returned to normal. Our prime minister gazed at the wonders on display at another art gallery, our law minister spoke to TV channels highlighting the great efforts of Punjab police in striking down the terror cells, our mullahs ranted fatwas against infidels and the hosts of our television shows switched to their favorite topic of the failings of the PPP government.

The scale of the tragedy in Lahore on May 28 must have been enormous. After all, how can you explain why our television anchors felt obliged to parade Allama after Allama for delivering words of condemnation that night. No sooner did the Ulema utter words of commiseration than sermons on the context and pretext of why and how a terrorist does what he does were offered. Never mind that some of the erudite scholars also consider the Ahmadis (Qadiyanis) to be ‘wajib-ul-qatal’ who deserve to be either put down or put out. The soothing words of our Ulema are indeed a nice combination of what should really be done to these infidels as well as a condolence for the infidels when it is actually done.

The TV hosts also wanted to quickly move on to discussing the hopeless inefficiency of the Punjab police in protecting the life of citizens. The anchors decided to analyze this issue ad nauseam – a valuable use of public airtime. The citizens need to be constantly reminded of the fact that they should not be expecting any protection and ought to make alternative arrangements.

Our anchors also bring people on their shows who analyze social evils through slogans. One such slogan is ‘terrorists have no religion’. That members of religious groups are committing these acts of violence should not be a concern. That with  indoctrination so many of our madressas are mass producing murderers is not worrisome. That pamphlets are being distributed which declare open season on the life and property of Kafirs (read Ahmadis, Shias and Christians) should not disturb our sleep. That banners are openly displayed even now advertising the famous convert-or-be-killed option for Ahmadis should not make us anxious either. After all, terrorists have no religion.//

Our anchors love humanity. Oppression of fellow Muslims disturbs them even if the event happens on Pluto. When Israelis hunt down humanitarian workers on the flotilla, our hosts lose their peace of mind and grant their entire airtime to the atrocity. These troubling events also agitate our religious parties so much that they start running amok on the streets and screaming cries of anguish. Surely, our national generosity demands that Pakistan’s problems should wait.

This brings us back to the carnage in Lahore. When our TV hosts devote their valuable time to discuss the troubles of our country, they must never commit one folly. They must never allow the Ahmadis on their show. Otherwise the world would know a dirty little secret kept hidden from public since 1974. Pakistani public must never discover about the deliberate police inaction at the killings of Ahmadis in broad daylight, the government prohibition on their public gatherings, the regular imprisonment for their crimes such as declaring the Muslim Kalima, for saying the Azaan and for the cardinal sin of considering themselves Muslims.

Anchors of Pakistan! You must never let the Ahmadi explain his position on your show even if a hundred members of his community are murdered during the act of worship before Allah. Put Ulema of all breeds on your shows instead.

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A retort to Pakistani fascists

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Halal Media or Free Media?

Ahmad Nadeem Gehla

Over the last weeks, television screens have broadcasted the growing and angry media sentiment against government over ban on a talk show of a private TV channel by Dubai authorities. Freedom of expression denotes not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and delivering information or ideas.  Freedom of expression is closely related to the concept of freedom of conscience and freedom of thought. Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan gives powers to the state to restrict the freedom of expression in interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, or incitement to an offense.

It is the jurisdiction of the judiciary, which itself has been under strong influence of establishment to decide what restrictions may be placed on freedom of expression. Although these restrictions are not strictly enforced by the judiciary but religious conservative groups in the population enforce these restrictions at will followed by the heavy-handed tactics of the police, the army and the intelligence services to intimidate journalists perceived to cross the ‘limits’. The history and influence of religious extremists in media dates back to the process of the politicization and militarization of religious groups initiated both by national and international actors during cold war. Continue reading

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The AfPak War

The AfPak War

In an article in the Washington Post, Anti-U.S. Wave Imperiling Efforts in Pakistan, Officials Say, writers explain the growing hostility towards the Americans in Pakistan But what is missing from this article is the historical aspect of anti Americanism in that part of the world. During my recent trip, I was shocked to see that almost everyone in the country has become a lot angrier and anti American sentiments have reached alarming proportions.

True, there is sill support for Washington, but America’s supporters are becoming a rarity in a Pakistan. One reason for this is the role that the media (read Urdu press and private T.V. channels) is airing every gossip, every conspiracy theory about America without explaining or educating the readers/listeners that the what you are about to hear or read has not been verified. More importantly, equal time is not given to those who would present a more balanced and factual picture about ground realities. Continue reading

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Neo ‘Iron curtain’ and the loud marching steps.

The Neo ‘Iron Curtain’ and the loud marching steps of  televangelistas.

Bradistan Calling

The latest cultural trend is the sensational rise of televangelist channels in U.K, using tactics which can only be described as ‘emotional and religious blackmail’ and premium rate phone charges to raise funds from devotees, most of these are Nigerian Pentecostal ‘Witchdoctor’  (faith healer potions and exorcisms) TV channels operating from London. Generally the term ‘televangelist’ refers to American evangelical splinter churches propagating to solicit donations for converting poor Africans. This concoction of ideologies is being beamed back to Africa and Asia through satellite. Continue reading

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Bollywood,Reality TV and Indian secularism

Bradistan Calling

Indian TV has seen numerous Bollywood reality shows, competition where common boys (and occasionally girls) have won places on movies by top directors. The Show that I want to talk about is Bollywood, blind-date and arranged (and staged) marriage all rolled into one big media circus. Continue reading

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