After a decade of loot and plunder by successive democratic governments, there is finally hope that Pakistan will embark on the road to progress.
The massive loans taken by the last two governments have placed Pakistan in a dire financial situation. Our current account deficit is $18 billion. The value of the rupee declined from Rs60 per dollar to Rs123, whereas the magnitude of foreign loans increased from $37 billion, accumulated over 60 years, to $95 billion – an additional debt of $58 billion in just 10 years. The outstanding rupee debt is Rs4 trillion, which the new government will need to rollover during the coming months. Around 190 Public Sector Enterprises have lost a huge sum of Rs1.1 trillion, and we have lost some Rs3.7 trillion over the last three years.
The former finance minister has escaped the clutches of the law and taken refuge in the UK. He needs to be brought back through Interpol and given exemplary punishment, if found guilty of looting public funds. The former prime minister languishes in jail for massive corruption and misuse of public funds. Imran Khan has emerged as a knight in shining armour after relentlessly struggling against corrupt rulers for 22 years. His speech was full of wisdom and humility – it came straight from the heart and proved that Pakistan finally has a leader who is a visionary, and is honest and committed.
The vast amounts of looted public funds have been accumulated abroad, while thousands of Pakistanis are committing suicide due to abject poverty. The answer lies in implementing a punishment system such as that of China, Thailand, Morocco, Philippines, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq and Vietnam. Such trials should be carried out by military courts, as the normal justice system cannot work against such a powerful mafia. The murder of late Justice Nizam Ahmed is a reminder of what can happen to judges. Plea bargaining should not be allowed, except for commuting a death sentence to life imprisonment, with Class C jail facilities, only if all looted funds are brought back.
One of the most important tasks that lie ahead for the new government is revamping the judicial system. Some out-of-the-box thinking may have to be done to make this possible. The system can be improved by hiring several thousand new judges on contractual basis from a lot of qualified lawyers. They should be given the mandate to decide all new cases within three months. Those who fail this test should be fired. The backlog of cases must be cleared within 24 months. This can be done; all it requires is will. It will also be an appropriate justification to the name of the party in power -- Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
Pakistan’s wealth lies in its 100 million people below the age of 20. So our action plan must primarily focus on unleashing their potential, so that Pakistan can transition into a knowledge-based economy. Achieving this will require funds. The fastest way to generate funding is by introducing projects in the agriculture sector. Providing access to water through building dams and lining canals, reducing water wastage and using biotechnology to improve crop yield and disease-resistance should be given the highest priority.
The mushrooming of substandard universities has promoted mediocrity and contributed to the joblessness of poorly prepared ‘qualified’ graduates. This must stop. Our focus should be on sending our brightest students to top universities abroad. They must then be attracted back through research grants, jobs on arrival, and their salaries must be tripled as per the tenure track system. This system, introduced in 2005, must be made mandatory for all new faculty inductions so that there exists a mechanism for weeding out non-productive faculty through international evaluation.
There is a huge scope in several sectors of our economy. These include information technology, mineral processing, electronics, engineering goods, value-added agriculture etc. The projects to be undertaken in each sector have already been shortlisted in a 320-page document prepared as a result of intense consultations with thousands of stakeholders through a ‘foresight’ exercise carried out under my supervision during 2004-2006, and approved by the cabinet in 2007. These now need to be picked up and implemented upon.
To make rapid progress, Pakistan needs to focus on projects which can create jobs and thereby alleviate poverty. The motto of the new government must be ‘Jobs, Jobs and Jobs’. To make this happen, agricultural development and industrialisation has to be our focus. To promote manufacturing in high value-added fields, technical training, education, science, technology and innovation (TESTI) should be a priority. The autonomy of the federal HEC must be restored, and the body must be fully supported to discharge its function independently of the Ministry of Education. Some of our best universities should be transformed into ‘research universities’ and some of our best research institutes developed into centres of excellence. To promote innovation and entrepreneurship, every university should establish a Science Park for the incubation of new companies. The vice chancellors of all universities should be screened and those who appear to be academically and administratively weak should be removed, with a better person being appointed in their place.
School and college education needs to be completely revamped. A Lower Education Commission could be formed that is independent of ministries and reports directly to the PM on the same lines as the HEC, so that a coordinated nationwide strategy for improving school-level education can be developed. Similarly, the provincial HECs need to be disbanded as they are duplicating the functions of the federal HEC, and the higher education departments in each province should be given the task of uplifting colleges.
The new cabinet must not contain any politicians. It should be composed of respected technocrats, each a specialist in their relevant discipline. All federal secretaries should be replaced by top experts, and each ministry should have think tanks which comprise experts from within Pakistan and abroad. These should then advise the federal ministries. The same should be done at the provincial level.
The clock is ticking. Secretaries should be required to be in office at 8am sharp and the ministries should function till 5pm each day, including on Saturdays. National holidays should be cancelled except for one day each for Eid and Muharram. If people want to celebrate Kashmir or Iqbal days, then that week’s Sunday should be declared a working day and the salary for that day should be donated to the relevant cause. Destiny has provided a wonderful opportunity to Pakistan through a dynamic, honest and sincere leader in the form of Imran Khan. We should all gather round to support him.
The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC