Saturday May 28, 2022

Interim opportunities

March 21, 2018

The 2018 general elections are round the corner and an interim government will be formed soon. This gives Pakistan a unique opportunity to introduce major reforms in various sectors.

In the long-term interests of the country, it is important that the interim government stays in power for at least three years, with directions from the Supreme Court. In this way, democratic institutions can be restored and suitable safeguards can be put in place so that no opportunity is provided to those who misuse national assets to ever rule us. The election process needs to be modernised by using the biometric technologies that are now commonly used for the issuance of CNIC and the trade of mobile phones etc.

A proportionate system of representation in both provincial and national assemblies should be introduced so that representation is directly proportional to the number of votes cast in favour of each party. The number of provinces should be increased in a manner that suppresses the ethnic divides. Funds and power should be transferred to the local bodies instead of being largely confined to the members of national and provincial assemblies. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should be completely revamped; its members should be appointed by a judicial committee.

A presidential system of democracy, as recommended by Jinnah – his hand written note is available in the Jinnah Papers in Islamabad – should be introduced. Under this system, federal ministers will be selected by the democratically elected president instead of being elected. The note from our Quaid has been reproduced in the book ‘The Jinnah Anthology’ of Oxford University Press, page 81, edited by Liaquat H Merchant and Shariful Mujahid.

Autonomy must be granted to all key national organisations including NAB, FIA, FBR, SECP, police, SBP, PIA, Pakistan Steel and others so that they are led by their own governing bodies. The heads of such organisations should be appointed after a transparent, open and competitive selection without any involvement of the government. This will resolve the problem of cronyism and nepotism and result in a more transparent system of governance. Like China, Pakistan should also handle cases of corruption involving more than one crore rupees by swift trials through military courts with no plea bargain. For people who have illegally acquired foreign assets and who have escaped the country, red warrants should be issued and they should be brought back and tried through military courts. The country cannot flourish if corruption continues to be as widespread as it is at present.

The 18th Amendment has weakened the federation and promoted corruption. Additional funds transferred to the provinces have, by and large, ended up as foreign assets of corrupt politicians. The constitution should be amended to cancel the 18th Amendment. However, the amount of funds given to the provinces should not be decreased. These funds should be dispensed by the federal government to provincial social welfare projects such as education and health.

Aspiring candidates for positions in provincial and national assemblies should be vetted by a committee of ex-jurists selected by the Supreme Court, since the ECP has repeatedly failed in diligently performing this critically important duty in the past. People who have had their loans written off or who escaped justice by benefiting from plea bargaining or who are under investigation by NAB should be banned from contesting elections. Qualifications of at least a first class master’s degree should be introduced as eligibility requirements for parliament and provincial assemblies, as done in Iran.

The country cannot prosper unless education, science, technology and innovation are given top priority. We have more than 120 million people below the age of 25, whose talent is being wasted. This is because the majority of young people are jobless as provisions for their education and training are limited – as is industrial growth. The overall directions for socio-economic development need to drastically change; the focus should be on migrating to a strong knowledge economy. A road map – with a sector-wise strategy for development – for what Pakistan must do was prepared under my leadership during 2005-2006 and approved by the cabinet in 2007. This 320-page document should be studied and implemented with a sense of urgency. A national education emergency needs to be declared and education at all levels be given top priority.

Pakistan also needs to regularly carry out ‘foresight’ exercises (on the Delphi pattern recommended by the UN) in order to re-evaluate our national strategies and action plans. This is essential to build a powerful knowledge economy. This should comprise clear short term, medium term and long term vision and strategy, and action plans for integrating education, science, technology and innovation (ESTI) into all sectors of the national programmes ranging from industry and agriculture to health, communications and social services.

Our government officials (in planning as well as in other ministries) should be regularly trained with the help of suitable experts in carrying out Delphi-type foresight exercises. This will help transform Pakistan into a powerful economy with sustainable and equitable wealth distribution. Pakistan also needs to link foreign direct investment (FDI) to mandatory knowledge transfer, particularly in high technology fields, so that at least five percent of the cost of such projects is set aside for training and indigenous capability development, leading to national self-reliance and export enhancement. The funding for education should be increased to seven percent of the national GDP. Similarly, the budget allocation for science, technology and innovation should be increased to the three percent of GDP. We should aim to have at least five universities in the list of the world’s top 100 universities within 15 years.

We need to support the private industry in establishing world class R&D facilities and incentivise private-sector R&D. This should be done through long-term tax holidays, buy-back arrangements for products based on new and emerging technologies, access to venture capital funding, establishment of innovation parks, training of skilled manpower and other actions to promote the development of a strong knowledge economy. An important step in this direction would be to grant ‘pioneering status’ to high-tech industries with a suitable long-term tax-free status to promote manufacturing and exports in high-tech fields.

The government should also provide insurance for underwriting risk in new high technology ventures and establish a revolving innovation fund to support indigenous high-technology development in both public and private sectors. To improve the quality of our manufacturing sector, we need to improve our infrastructure for metrology and standards and testing in order to bring it to top international standards. This will help facilitate consistent high-quality exports.

The interim government will have a unique opportunity to change the direction of Pakistan so that we can quickly embark on the development of a strong knowledge economy. This will however only be possible with full support from visionary and honest politicians, the Supreme Court of Pakistan and our armed forces.

The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OICCountries (NASIC).