Thursday June 20, 2024

Major promises, major failures

By Ansar Abbasi
August 27, 2021
Major promises, major failures

ISLAMABAD: After three years in office, the Imran Khan government has failed to achieve what it had promised in its 2018 election manifesto, particularly in areas like governance, local government, accountability, reforms, economy, energy, housing, jobs, and others.

Looking at the on-ground situation three years later, it seems that the party’s manifesto has been largely ignored or compromised.

Local Government: In its manifesto, the PTI had promised to empower people at the grassroots level through strong local governments. It had committed to transform Pakistan by devolving power and decision-making to the people through an empowered local government but despite the lapse of three years, this promise remains a far cry.

It was claimed that local development in villages and small towns in Pakistan is controlled by MPAs and MNAs, or by the bureaucracy, who do not want to cede their authority and relevance. The situation remains unchanged even today.

“We will devolve small infrastructure initiatives to village councils by transferring resources and decision-making power to the people of Pakistan by scaling out our successful KP model across Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan.” That was the promise which has been forgotten.

Accountability: The manifesto promised to bring accountability to the core of government. “We will ensure full autonomy for, and build the capacity of, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and other accountability institutions and pursue all major corruption scandals regardless of political affiliation,” the manifesto said, vowing to review the NAB Ordinance to strengthen its mandate, independence, and the appointment process for the NAB chairman. It also promised to address legal lacunas in the accountability laws including reviewing the “voluntary return” and “plea bargain” provisions.

The manifesto vowed to build a Special Task Force to launch a drive to recover looted national wealth parked in offshore tax havens by leveraging recent changes in the Tax Information Agreements, Unexplained Wealth Orders and Illicit Assets Acts by foreign governments and international organisations.

During these last three years, neither has the NAB law has been changed nor have its legal lacunas been removed. The looted money from offshore tax havens could not be recovered and the task force made for the purpose under Barrister Shahzad Akbar has become redundant.

Police Depoliticisation: The PTI pledged in the manifesto to depoliticise and strengthen the police. “We will enforce depoliticisation of the police by building upon KP’s successful police reform model, which will be replicated nationally. Police in Pakistan are ill-equipped, poorly trained, deeply politicised, and chronically corrupt. Police reforms have been neglected by successive governments to continue using the force as a political tool.”

Policing remains unchanged. Instead, the premature transfers of police officers are far more frequent than before. Soon after coming to power, the prime minister initially assigned former IG Khyber Pakhtunkhwa the late Nasir Durrani to reform the Punjab police, but Durrani resigned within weeks in protest against the premature transfer of the then IGP Punjab.

Criminal Justice System: The PTI manifesto promised to reform the criminal justice system and provide speedy access to justice. “We will launch a judicial reforms programme that will provide speedy and quality justice for all citizens……. We will work with the judiciary to champion a programme to rapidly dispense the backlog of existing cases, through providing necessary resources and tracking systems. We will champion reforms in the Code of Civil Procedure in consultation with High Courts to ensure speedy justice, in line with KP reforms, to dispose of all civil court cases within a timeframe of one year. We will also propose amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to reduce procedural delays. Additionally, we will also promote access to justice by amending outdated laws….”

Three years after the PTI’s rule, the criminal justice system remains non-responsive, and no major reforms have been introduced during the last three years to provide speedy justice. Reforms in the Civil Service: The manifesto guaranteed, “We will transform the civil service into a merit based, depoliticised cadre of professionals.” It added, the government will assign the right officer to the right job without any political consideration, tenure protection of officers, internal accountability, along with a performance audit and a review of the compensation package.

As against what was promised before, the three-year rule of the PTI government both in the Centre and Punjab has been the worst for civil servants, who are being transferred within weeks and months with no protection of tenure, no career planning. The government’s own commission on the sugar and wheat scandals shows how the bureaucracy in Punjab has faced frequent transfers on political considerations instead of merit.

e-Governance: The manifesto undertook, “We will transform public administration with e-governance initiatives to facilitate citizens’ access to justice, rights and other public services.” It said there are multiple issues in the governance system of Pakistan: inefficient data collection systems, record keeping, intra-coordination between various departments, black economy, tax evasion, and bureaucratic hurdles in solving public issues at the federal and provincial levels.

The manifesto also promised to establish a whistle-blowers programme, which will be facilitated using a community call centre where a dedicated phone line will be available for citizens to report suspicious behaviour by individuals or entities. It also promised complete electronic mapping of property, linking it to the owner’s CNIC and thereby to his/ her legal heirs.

In this area too, the government did not do much and e-governance continues to be a dream. Press Freedom: The PTI manifesto said that it will ensure freedom of the press. “We are committed to maintaining a vigorous free media, which will evolve its own rules to ensure responsible journalism both in the electronic and print media.”

During these three years, however, serious questions were raised on the status of freedom of the press in Pakistan. Several journalists were kidnapped and beaten; many were made to be removed by their respective media houses. Contrary to what was promised in the manifesto, the government is now trying hard to set up a new media authority with which most of the journalists’ associations strongly disagree.

The manifesto had also promised that PBC and PTV would be made autonomous with their own Board of Governors like the BBC model. This also did not happen. Transforming Karachi: According to the manifesto, “We will transform Karachi into a vibrant competitive megacity through large-scale reforms in governance and with the provision of public services such as housing, mass transit, water and sanitation. We want to make Karachi the urban jewel of Pakistan….”

During the last three years, the government has been repeating these promises and announcing mega projects but the grievances of Karachiites remain largely unattended because of the failures of both the federal and provincial governments.

Reforming FBR: The manifesto assured, “that PTI will reform FBR and increase the tax net through a robust tax policy, efficient tax administration structure and effective enforcement mechanism. Pakistan’s current tax to GDP ratio is significantly less than the ratio required to sustain our growing fiscal expenditure and to pay-off the massive national debt accumulated over the last decade.”

It promised to increase the FBR’s autonomy by reducing the influence of the Ministry of Finance and ensure that FBR is performance managed. On the contrary, the FBR became more politicised and more controlled and during the last three years, it saw seven chairmen appointed while the collection of revenue has been dismal -- particularly during the first two years of the present government.

Ten Million Jobs: The manifesto pledged to create 10 million jobs and strengthen the labour market. “PTI will strengthen the labour market and create 10 million jobs over five years in key sectors: SME, housing, ICT, health, education, green economy and tourism.”

Instead of creating more jobs, the last few years saw millions of people losing their employment. The situation was exacerbated because of COVID-19. Five Million Houses: The PTI had promised to build five million low-cost housing units during its five year’s tenure. “We will ensure the development of 1.5 to 2 million urban and 3 to 3.5 million rural housing units. Pakistan is currently facing an overall housing backlog of between 11-12 million housing units. The urban housing shortage is estimated to be 4 million housing units, while rural backlog is between 7 to 8 million housing units,” said the manifesto. However, after the lapse of three years not even 1/20th of what was promised has been achieved.

Fixing Energy Challenge: The PTI government promised to fix Pakistan’s energy challenge, which after three years has only got worse. It had committed to solve the circular debt issue through reducing transmission and distribution losses and to “implement our plan to harness our natural resources towards a greener energy mix.” However, the circular debt which was a little over Rs1 trillion has crossed the Rs2.2 trillion figure despite much more expensive electricity than what it was just three years ago.