For a Different Democracy (Part 6)

Atta-ur-rehman-1.jpg

Prof Atta-ur-Rahman
FRS, N.I., H.I, S.I., T.I

I was asked by DG NAB (Sindh) to be the Chief Guest for a function, including a public march, against corruption on Friday 8th December 2017. Carrying large banners stating “say No to Corruption” we walked along the sea side of Karachi, with our cricket legend Javed Miandad and our hockey legend Salahuddin by my side. As I walked I reflected how the country had been destroyed in recent years. We had a public debt of $ 33 billion in 2004, a sum accumulated as a result of 57 years of borrowing. The subsequent 14 years have been disastrous for Pakistan, with our external debt reaching about $ 83 billion, an increase of 250%. Almost none of this additional $ 50 billion borrowed has gone into education, science, technology, health or for the industrial development of products that would enhance our medium and high technology exports. In fact we witnessed a 60% cut in the development budget for higher education which was slashed from Rs. 21 billion to about Rs. 8 billion in the last financial year, sending our universities into a nose dive and putting to shame the tall claims of our government to be supporting higher education. Pakistan continues to spend a pathetic 2.3% of our GDP in education resulting in this country being ranked among those nations that have given the lowest priority to education. If the loans had been spent in massive hydro-electric plants or solar plants that can produce electricity at less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour, as is being done by UAE (for solar plants) this would have been understandable. We could have then been able to sell electricity at Rs.4 per unit. Instead we continue to install electricity plants that is sold to our industry at Rs. 20 or above per unit resulting in our exports being unsustainable. The result is that our exports have gone down to about $ 20 billion while our imports have shot up to $ 53 billion and continue to grow.
According to independent estimates, the mega corruption committed by our rulers amounts to about 50,000 billion rupees ($ 500 billion) which is about 6 times our external debt. If this money could be recovered and the crooks brought to justice, not only would we be able to pay off our debt but still have over $ 400 billion for education, science, health, clean drinking water , infra-structure and armed forces.
The looted money has not just come from our budget but from many other sources. For example there are about 35,000 plots in Karachi alone which have been illegally extracted from lands allocated for public amenities. At an estimated value of about Rs. 2 crore per plot, a sum of Rs, 70,000 crores (Rs. 700 billion) have been looted from this sector alone. Our former Minister of Finance Mr. Shaukat Tareen admitted publicly that about Rs. 500 billion ($ 7 billion at the rate of exchange then prevalent) are lost each year due to corruption in FBR alone. So about $ 70 billion have been looted by FBR without any NAB action in the last 10 years. Amnesty International reported that about Rs. 8500 billion were lost due to corruption in the first 4 years of the last PPP government due to mega corruption in energy and other sectors, earning the name “Raja Rental” to our former Prime Minister.
As I walked holding the banners against corruption, I reminisced that many of our key organisations such as Pakistan Steel, PIA and many others had been destroyed due to corruption while the justice system was held hostage to the corrupt. I could not but help but think of honourable judges who had the courage to stand up and fight but were then slaughtered by those in power— the late Justice Nizam Ahmed along with his son fell victim to such wickedness. Organisations such as NAB too were corrupted by appointment of government cronies as Chairmen, who protected those in power for their own gains and prevented any action against those responsible.
The result of all this has been a fast failing economy. Our budget deficit has reached Rs. 1,864 billion against the estimated Rs. 1,276 billion. In 2014-2015, the external borrowing used to finance the budget deficit was 12.4% of the deficit but in 2015-2016 it increased to 27%, and in 2016-2017 to 29%.The fiscal deficit is about 5.8% of GDP against the target set of 3.8%. Similarly, the current account deficit is now about 4% against the target of 1.5%. The Current Account Deficit in the fiscal year has grown to $ 12.1 billion (4% of GDP) which makes the situation unsustainable..The government needs to take urgent measures to ban all non-essential imports and to freeze other imports to a maximum of $ 45 billion. It also needs to increase exports by providing additional incentives to exporters and by making the manufacturing sector more competitive through a substantial reduction in tariffs for electricity and gas to industry.
Alas “democracy” in Pakistan has become synonymous with “License for Corruption”. A democracy without justice, education or empowerment at the grass roots is nothing but a farce and that is precisely what we have today.
Local body elections were resisted by those in power and it was only after intervention by the Supreme Court and after much foot dragging by the respective

provincial governments that local body elections were held. However power and funds still remain to be transferred to the grass roots, exemplified by the continuous hue and cry from the Mayor of Karachi. It was the Supreme Court again that raised the issue of the lack of clean drinking water in Karachi while the “Water Mafia” supported by corrupt provincial Ministers controls the hydrants and crores are stolen each day, turning Quaid’s city from his dream into a nightmare.
A nation can survive in poverty but it is destined for destruction if there is no justice. Alas this is what Pakistan faces today, unless there is a radical change involving exemplary punishments to the crooks responsible for this mess. Capital Punishment must be introduced immediately for mega corruption, as in China, and corruption cases tried by military courts due to the nexus between terrorism and corruption, as civil courts have been compromised and corrupted. The quality of our Parliamentarians who later form the Cabinet is reflected from the fact that about 250 of our Parliamentarians, including Members of the National and Provincial Assemblies and Senators, had shamelessly forged their degrees to get elected under the previous government. A former Governor of Baluchistan went so far as to endorse their actions by stating “A degree is a degree—what difference does it make if it is forged”.
I dream that Pakistan one day will be a country in which the systems will ensure that only the honest and the competent can rule over us. I dream that justice will be available swiftly and fairly to the rich and poor alike. I dream for the day when my children and my servant’s children will go to the same school and have access to the same health services and the same drinking water. I dream for a new Pakistan, which was imagined by Allama Iqbal and for which Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah worked so hard.
The 4 civil awards that I received, from successive governments, including the highest national award, Nishan-i-Imtiaz, mean nothing unless we can all work together to root out corruption and build a true democratic welfare state. Otherwise hundreds of thousands would have died in vain in 1947.

— The author is former Federal Minister of Science & Technology, former Chairman Higher Education Commission and Chairman of UN Committee for Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP

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