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- Wednesday, January 09, 2013 - From Print Edition

Winds of change are blowing across Pakistan. With the advent of the New Year, there is a twinkle of hope in many eyes that 2013 will mean the beginning of a new Pakistan, free from the corruption that has drowned it in an ocean of debt and deprivation. According to the former finance minister, the FBR alone is a constant hotbed of corruption with a sum of Rs500 billion being lost each year – some Rs2,500 billion over the last five years alone. According to Transparency International Pakistan, corruption of Rs8,500 billion occurred during 2008-2011. About Rs11,000 billion have been lost in the last five years and brought this great nation to its knees.

Pakistan is blessed with vast natural and human resources. We have the fifth- largest river system in the world, with the potential to produce 46,000 megawatts of electricity from hydropower. There are many small waterfalls in the north of Pakistan where small hydroelectric plants can be installed to produce up to 4,500MW of electricity. Our coal reserves are estimated to be about 186 billion tons. The proven reserves are 579 million tons, and they are sufficient to last us 180 years. The Thar coalfields alone can produce 50,000MW of electricity and 100 million barrels of oil each year for the next 500 years! There are many unused gas reserves also. The Tal block near Kohat has gas reserves that are estimated to be as large as the Sui gas reserves.

We have large deposits of gold and copper ore at Saindak. Our mineral resources include gypsum, limestone, chromites, iron ore, rock salt, silver, precious stones, gems, marbles, and sulphur. With the fifth-largest gold mines, seventh-largest copper mines and some valuable rare minerals, Pakistan can earn tens of billions of dollars if we develop and export the purified metals and minerals, instead of simply exporting ores at dirt cheap prices. Pakistan also has tremendous agricultural potential and can enhance its yields of many crops three-fold with farmer education and simple interventions. We are presently among the largest wheat and rice producers in the world.

Our most important potential is the 90 million people below the age of 19. This is the real wealth of Pakistan. We need to invest massively in them through education and training in order to embark on the path of a knowledge economy.

In spite of all this potential, the country is turning into a jungle. This has been largely due to sheer incompetence and rampant corruption. However, as was demonstrated in the first few years of the government of President Musharraf, the country can develop with amazing speed, given good governance. From October 1999 to October 2002 there was a small cabinet of 15 ministers, including myself. This was one of the best periods in the history of Pakistan, rivalled only by the first few years of the rule of President Ayub Khan. Pakistan recovered from the brink of economic disaster, got rid of IMF loans and achieved a GDP growth rate of up to eight percent, the fastest in Asia after China.

The IT and Telecom Division was a part of the ministry of science and technology. The explosive growth in the mobile telecommunications sector began because of a decision that I took, on the advice of my able colleague and adviser, Salman Ansari, to lower the rates of mobile telephone calls, bring in competition (UPhone) and have subscribers pay only for calls made, not calls received. This “Calling Party Pays” regime that was introduced led to an explosive growth in the mobile telephone sector which had been stagnant in 2001 at about 300,000 mobile phones, but has now exceeded 12 million – the hottest sector of our economy.

Pakistan can again get back on the road to progress if we can ensure that we have a system of governance in which only honest, technologically competent and visionary persons can come into power. The present parliamentary system of democracy has failed to deliver and it has only led to loot and plunder at the expense of the common man. This system must be brought down and a new system introduced that will prevent the corrupt from coming into power.

Allama Tahirul Qadri has come to Pakistan with wonderful ideas, and Imran Khan has been saying much the same things in the past. However, in the present British parliamentary system of democracy, in a country where feudal landlords have a strong hold over uneducated and subjugated masses, it is the powerful and the corrupt who will be elected over and over again. Most honest, competent and devoted citizens just will not consider contesting elections under the present system, as they cannot “invest” the hundreds of millions needed in the election process.

The person from the middle class or lower middle class just cannot compete in the present system of elections. The basic change that is necessary, that neither Imran Khan or Allama Tahirul Qadri have talked about so far, is installation of a presidential system of government in which cabinet ministers are chosen not from parliament but directly by the president. The role of parliament should only be lawmaking and oversight of national programmes. We have seen in the US elections how President Obama had to stand up in front of the media and have public debates on key national issues with the competing Republican candidate. As a result, his competence and knowledge was exposed to public scrutiny.

However, once elected, he was free to choose his own team to run the government from the most competent persons available in the country. Similar systems exist in France and other countries. The present British parliamentary system of democracy has worked reasonably well in India and Bangladesh because these countries did away with the feudal system soon after their independence – something that we were unable to do. So the first task before the interim government should be to get the blessings of the Supreme Court and the army, and then make basic changes in the constitution, as suggested in my articles published on August 25, September 8 and December 27.

Pakistan is on the verge of collapse. Continuation on the present path will be suicidal. We must reform the system of governance. Those who have plundered this country must not be allowed to escape. They must bring back the Rs11,000 billion they have plundered, and spend the rest of their lives in jail.

The writer is former federal minister for science and technology, former chairman of the Higher Education Commission. Email: [email protected]