WEB DESK: On Abdul Sattar Edhi Sahib’s sad demise, the Chairman Senate rightly said that, for six decades, Edhi Foundation kept providing humanitarian emergency services and protection to the impoverished, disabled, and disowned on an ever-larger scale, which successive government failed to provide – a rare admission of failure by our supremacy-claiming parliamentarians.
Recently, the unrepentant National Assembly members wrote another “supremely glorious” chapter in Pakistan’s parliamentary history by demanding tripling of their salaries and perks. Impliedly, they rejected the official claim about inflation being at its historic low. Didn’t they seek this relief due to high inflation while ignoring its impoverishing impact on the ordinary?
Pakistanis wouldn’t have condemned this demand had the legislators fulfilled their obligations by legislating laws and regulations based on the basic principles of ethics, met legitimate public demands prudently using the available resources, and ensured that every penny of state revenue as well as public debt was spent in ventures that guaranteed optimal real returns.
An example of how the legislators “fulfilled” their reformatory obligations is the continuation of the Protection of Economic Reforms Act-1992 that permits Pakistanis residing in Pakistan as well as abroad, to bring, hold, sell, or transfer foreign exchange within Pakistan or abroad without making a declaration thereof at any stage or being questioned in this regard.
This nation-impoverishing law – cited as the protective shield by those who transferred billions of dollars out of Pakistan for investing abroad – portrays the legislators’ nationalistic, patriotic and economic senses. How it has damaged the global perception about our legislators’ integrity is no longer in doubt. What an admirable (or condemnable?) track record it is!
The latest manifestation of the legislators’ obligation-consciousness was that, during the several-day long debate on the Federal Budget 2016-17, incomplete quorum was repeatedly pointed out to the Speaker of the National Assembly and one of the reasons cited for the legislators’ absence was allocation of either no or inadequate development funds for their constituencies.
While their absence from the National Assembly for this reason was understandable, they weren’t interested in the measures imperative for generating the resources they were demanding, ie, offer their obligatory assistance in broadening the tax net, especially taxing the income from agriculture. But with the legislators’ majority being landlords, that wasn’t surprising.
This conduct reflected the legislators’ understanding of a prudent micro-macroeconomic mix that assures requisite resource generation. It was therefore no surprise that only a miniscule minority of the legislators faulted the unhindered flight of capital, and the suicidal reliance on debt for meeting even current expenditures, let alone development expenditures.
The Fiscal Responsibility & Debt Limitation Act is violated every year because public debt continuously exceeds the limit prescribed by this Act. Yet, only a minority of the legislators point to this continued suicidal distortion, courtesy waste and theft of fiscal resources. Do the legislators realise the result of over-indebtedness although bankruptcy of Greece was a recent event?
From September 2016 onwards substantial foreign exchange outflow will begin for retiring Pakistan’s maturing external debt. Official sources report the term periods of outstanding debt in two categories, ie, less than 1 year and over 1 year, and loans are classified as bilateral and multilateral, from international financial institutions and banks, and from investors in the debt paper.
What isn’t disclosed is the loan-wise identity of the lenders, remaining period for loan repayment, instalment amounts, and the frequency (quarterly, half-yearly or annually) with which instalments of each loan will become due. Without this critical data, it is impossible to verify the official statistics of debt servicing burden in the coming years.
While ordinary Pakistanis can neither access this data nor understand the future economic implications of debt servicing, they expect the legislators they elect to know these facts, and through rational budget-making, ensure that the ordinary aren’t made to suffer miseries beyond their capacity, as the consequence of servicing of the public debt.
Even if for strategic and security reasons debt details can’t be disclosed publically, is it also risky to disclose them to the legislators in a closed-door session? Why the supremacy-claiming legislators don’t ask for this data? Can they go on approving budget after budget ignoring these harsh realities? Or is it that their majority isn’t worried about the future of the country?
Or these details aren’t being disclosed because they could anger the ordinary, triggering a demand for regime change? What the government doesn’t realise is that, in bits and pieces, the truth surfaces and exposes the quality of legislation and administration. Even if you ignore all other state failures, isn’t it true that even in the federal capital there is a crippling water shortage?
As for surfacing of harsh truths, according to State Bank of Pakistan’s statistics, by March 31, 2016 total public debt and liabilities reached Rs 20.941 trillion, and if the guesstimate about population being 195.40 million (by Pakistan Economic Survey 2015-16) is realistic, every Pakistani is now indebted to the extent of Rs 107,170 – a burden that could only increase.
Pakistan’s first-ever Multidimensional Poverty Index launched on June 20, reported that 39 percent Pakistanis (and 71 percent in Baluchistan) confront multidimensional poverty, but don’t know that, besides falling below the poverty line, each of them is also burdened with a debt of Rs 107,107 – unawareness that prevents questioning the benefits this staggering debt provided.
Since even basic civic services – health, education, sanitation, security, dispensation of unbiased justice at the lower court level – have not improved, will the legislators explain where did the funds acquired through public debt go? Except shouting in the parliament houses, do they know how to hold the government and the bureaucracy accountable?
To hold bureaucracy accountable for its performance, legislators must be truly patriotic and smarter than the bureaucrats. How many legislators fulfil these expectations? And if they do, how come virtually every state office – federal, provincial or local – is failing to serve the masses? This scenario is the undeniable reality, which will be re-established by the impending flood tragedy.
While General Pervez Musharraf too claimed his post-2002 regime to be democratic, the fallout from the version of democracy that descended on Pakistan after the 2008 elections defies legislators’ demand for unconditional acceptance of their supremacy. Legislators alone know how justified this demand is because this very demand is being questioned by the electorate.
Sustained bad governance has pushed Pakistan (a country with huge untapped potential for becoming self-sufficient in many areas, given its untapped natural resources and bludgeoning youth population) into a socio-economic chaos. It is time the competent are empowered to remedy this lethal mess for securing the nation’s future. But will this happen?
Source: Business Recorder