For a Different Democracy — An Appeal (Part 21)


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

The general elections are round the corner, and the results are anyone’s guess. If PML-N wins, then the present policies will continue. Alternatively PTI and PPP along with some other parties may form a coalition government which will be too weak and divided to implement governance reforms directed at ending corruption and implementing a system based on merit. So what should Pakistan do at this critical juncture of its history?
The answer lies in having an interim government which is composed of eminent personalities in their respective fields that can set the future directions of our nation. For this however, the interim government should stay in power for at least 3 years. This would only be possible if the Supreme Court directs the need for such reforms and charges the interim government to introduce them before the next election is held.
Firstly the election process itself needs to be reformed with the introduction of biometric technologies that are now commonly used for CNIC, bank accounts, mobile phones etc. A proportionate system of representation in provincial and national assemblies needs tobe introduced so that the representation in the Assemblies is directly proportional to the number of votes cast in favour of each party, and the present “first past the post wins” system is abandoned. The ossue of the polarization caused due to the domination of Punjab over the other provinces needs to be addressed so that the sense of deprivation and frustration in the smaller provinces can be removed. For this it is necessary to create about 12 provinces in Pakistan with the dividing lines be such that they favour national integration and are not on the basis of ethnicity. There should also be constitutional mechanisms to ensure that power and funds are transferred to the local bodies instead of being largely confined to members of National and Provincial Assemblies. This would ensure socio-economic development across the country in a manner that it is fair, inclusive and equitable. The Election Commission of Pakistan as set up presently with two of its five members being nominated by one political party and two other members being nominated by another political party is a huge joke as a partisan body of this composition can never guarantee free and fair elections. A different Election Commission is needed with its members being appointed by a Judicial Committee constituted by the Supreme Court. The careful vetting of all political candidates must be the first and most important responsibility of the Election Commission. Aspiring candidates for positions in Provincial and National Assembly should be thoroughly vetted by a Committee of ex-Jurists selected by the Supreme Court, since the Election Commission has repeatedly failed in performing this critically important duty diligently in the past. The failure has been of such gigantic proportions that some 250 persons with forged degrees ended up becoming members of the National and Provincial Assemblies and one of them even became our Federal Minister of Education under the previous government. Persons who have had their loans written off, or escaped justice by benefiting from plea bargaining or who are under investigation by NAB should be banned from contesting elections. Moreover qualifications of at least a first class masters degree should be introduced for eligibility to Provincial or national Assembly, as done in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Accompanied with these reforms in the system of elections should also be reforms in our system of democracy. A Presidential system of democracy had been recommended by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah (hand written note is available in the Jinnah Papers in Islamabad). Unfortunately fate did not give him the chance to introduce this in his life time. This will allow top experts in different disciplines to be directly appointed as Federal Ministers by the democratically elected President rather than being elected. The hand written note from Mohammed Ali Jinnah has been reproduced in the book entitled The Jinnah Anthology of Oxford University Press, page 81, edited by Liaquat H. Merchant and Shariful Mujahid (3rd edition published in 2010).
In addition to these basic changes in our Constitution, other changes made by previous governments such as withdrawal of the powers of the President to dissolve a corrupt government need to be re-introduced. The 18th Amendment has weakened the Federation and promoted corruption as the most of additional funds transferred to the provinces have,by and large, ended up as foreign assets of corrupt politicians. The Constitution should be amended, and the 18th Amendment cancelled. However, the level of funds given to the provinces should not be decreased but dispensed by the Federal government in consultation with the provincial government to strengthen colleges and universities and to promote science, technology and innovation so that Pakistan can migrate to a strong knowledge economy. A road map for Pakistan was prepared under my leadership during 2005/2006 and approved by the cabinet in 2007 which gives a sector-wise strategy for development. This 320 page document should be implemented with a sense of urgency. A national education emergency needs to be declared and education at all levels be given top priority.
Organisationssuch as NAB, FIA, FBR, SECP, Police, State Bank, PIA, Pakistan Steel and other key national organisations should be made completely independent of the government and operated by their own governing bodies with the heads of such organisationsbeing appointed after transparent open competitive selection with no say of the government. That will help to address the evils of cronyism and nepotism and result in a more transparent system of governance. Cases of mega corruption should be handled by swift trials through military courts (since corruption is intimately linked with terrorism. There should be no plea bargaining and capital punishment should be introduced for corruption as done by China. For persons with 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.
We need to encourage the private industry to establish world class R & D facilities and incentivise private sector research and development through long term tax holidays, buy-back arrangements for products based on new/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. “Pioneering status” should be granted to high tech industries with suitable long term tax free status to promote manufacturing and exports in high tech fields. Insurance should be given by the government for under-writing risk in new high technology ventures and establish a revolving Innovation fund to support indigenous high technology development in the public and private sector.
This is an appeal from a citizen of Pakistan to the Supreme Court to act before it is too late. The interim government will have a unique opportunity to change the directions of Pakistan so that we can finally embark on the development of a strong knowledge economy. We must not miss this opportunity!

— 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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