Thursday May 23, 2024

Bureaucracy making life difficult for govt

PM Imran Khan has blamed the bureaucracy for making the life of his eight-month-old administration difficult by being lethargic, by not signing the files and by being indecisive.

By Aamir Ghauri
March 22, 2019


  • Prime Minister Khan appeared less than satisfied with the way the NAB and the FBR are working
  • Black listing by the FATF would be disastrous for the country: Imran
  • Pakistan needs to remain vigilant till the Indian elections are over: PM

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan has blamed the bureaucracy for making the life of his eight-month-old administration difficult by being lethargic, by not signing the files and by being indecisive.

In a candid conversation spanning over two hours with editors and owners of the country’s leading newspapers on Thursday, the prime minister listed economy, institution building, on-going negotiations with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), employment creation and constructing low-cost affordable housing for the lower and middle-income segments of the society as major challenges for his administration.

Prime Minister Khan was clearly looking less than satisfied with the way the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) are working at the moment. At a time when serious questions are being asked about the way NAB is conducting the accountability process, especially after the recent suicide of a retired brigadier on March 15, who penned a letter before ending his life to avoid public humiliation at the hands of the Bureau, prime minister’s words emitted unease. “Will NAB ever catch the influential and the powerful?”

He said the small time crooks that the Bureau was busy chasing would fall in line if the mighty gangsters were served exemplary punishment. In his opinion, the Bureau had opened up a Pandora’s box of tedious and time-consuming inquiries that was taking the sparsely staffed institution down.

He also sounded a tad unhappy while talking about the way FBR has been duplicitous in its working -- drafting policy and busy collecting taxes. Citing the examples of India and Bangladesh to drive home his argument, the prime minister said exports of countries in our region have gone up while ours have fallen below the $24 billion mark. “The industry has been ruined in the process of tax collection. The non-filers are not willing to join the tax net for they feel it won’t serve any purpose. We are going to reform it.” How can a country be solvent if 60 to 80 percent of its economy is black, undocumented, he questioned.

Imran repeatedly reverted to Pakistan’s faltering economy after every few questions. He talked about the threat still looming over Pakistan’s head of moving from grey to black list of the FATF and said any such eventuality would be disastrous for the country. We are working on the conditions and hope the situation would improve, he said. To a question as to what was Pakistan doing to come out of the tricky situation when four major western countries – the US, the UK, France & Germany – are constantly seeking to list Jaish-e-Muhammad’s leader, Hafiz Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, the prime minister said it was a serious issue and work was being done to avoid serious damage to the country’s international relations.

The prime minister also said the nation could be in for a “happy news” with the next three weeks and then went on to elaborate what that news could be. He said the offshore drilling for oil in the Arabian Sea was in final stages and there could be a major find. “I implore that we all pray that Pakistan gets this natural resource in substantial quantity.”

When asked what necessitated his meeting with Pakistan’s four top military chiefs on March 20, the prime minister while praying the rosary, said his Indian counterpart – Narendra Modi – could invoke the politics of hatred to win the election. “Pakistan needs to remain vigilant till the elections are over.” If the recent events [Pak-India border tension and downing of Indian MiG-21] have helped him a little, he might not take a chance, Imran Khan said. “But if it has harmed him and his rating are sliding, then we need to remain alert.” He described the terror incidents in Balochistan as part of the same subversive tactics. To counter such attacks, there was a possible plan to talk to Baloch leaders holed up in foreign countries, he said.

Flanked by his close aides and media go-getters – Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Naeemul Haq, Iftikhar Durrani, Yousuf Baig Mirza, Federal Secretary Information & Broadcasting Shafqat Jalil and Principal Information Officer Mian Jehangir Iqbal, Prime Minister Imran Khan forced a few murmurs and raised eyebrows when he explained that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had never promised to provide oil worth $3.2 billion on deferred payment. It was widely reported in the Pakistani media quoting cabinet members that Pakistan had clinched a deal with the UAE like the one secured earlier with Saudi Arabia. But the prime minister’s perspective was: “They never agreed to it. They told us their rules do not allow [such a transaction].”

He agreed with questioners that Pakistan needed to take decisive action against militant organisations that had been allowed in the past to mushroom. Citing history, Imran Khan said these outfits might have had a use in the past.

“But how can a country allow such militias to operate. We should have taken care of them a long time ago.” Asking for societal help to achieve such a goal, he said Pakistan could not afford [activities of] such groups. “There was no Pakistani involvement in Pulwama but we were blamed nonetheless. All political parties signed up to the National Action Plan that promised to finish off these outfits but no one took any action. We are chasing them now and we will take care of them.”

To a suggestion that his government could have asked the Gulf states to import around half a million Pakistani workers who in turn would have sent the much valued and direly needed dollar remittances rather than borrowing billions, the prime minister said some work was being done on those lines and hoped a 100,000 Pakistani workers would soon be heading to Qatar for employment. But then he said his plan was to start producing “skilled workers” rather than exporting menial labour, hoping they would be of much higher value in countries needing skilled workers.

Imran once again emphasised the need to develop tourism as a stable money earner for the country and promised a major plan in this regard would be unveiled soon. “But if we have conditions where our neighbours – India and Iran – are accusing us of terrorism, no tourist would come here.”

He said the society needed to be more tolerant of divergent views and beliefs. But blamed the dichotomy wherein the “English-medium” rulers handed over the country and society to mullahs while trying to fashion Pakistan on western orientation. “Today, people like Maulana Fazlur Rehman are holding us hostages to their interpretation of religion. And who would dare challenge groups like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan when they gather outside Islamabad saying they are there to protect the sanctity of the Prophet [PBUH]. Neither police nor army can control such a situation. But we will shut such groups.”

While most of the discussion focused on economy and politics of the country, a few questions were asked about his choice of men for important executive posts – like Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. Imran patiently listened to the criticism and questions but strongly defended his man in Punjab and asked critics to be patient while Buzdar was learning the ropes of the job.

Towards the end, when his staff was getting itchy and wanted the prime ministerial conversation to culminate, Imran told that he spoke to the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday and shared thoughts on the Christchurch tragedy. He said the Ms Ardern must be praised for the way she handled the situation that arose after the terrorist attack on the Al-Noor Mosque. The prime minister also said he was sincerely impressed by the courage and composure of Mrs Naeem Rashid during her TV interview. “She presented the true picture of Islam.”