It is delivery system, stupid ! | By M Ziauddin


It is delivery system, stupid !

WE are very good at making medium-and long-term plans for building an egalitarian society based on inclusive socio-economic principles.

Even if some of these plans had been only attempts at re-inventing the wheel, one cannot but appreciate the overall direction and inclusiveness of these plans.

The main objective of all these development plans has been to turn Pakistan into a social-welfare state with a booming manufacturing sector, a thriving farmland, exports going up rather steeply and a population enjoying almost 100 per cent literacy rate as well as a comprehensive nationwide health cover.

That none of these stated objectives could be achieved so far is not the fault of the plans. They failed because our delivery system had failed.

And the delivery system failed because those that man this system —the civil service — were never up to it.

Being one of the major instruments of governance, the civil service contributes crucially to the difference between good and bad governance.

The other equally important instruments of governance include the police, the judiciary and the security institution.

To the misfortune of Pakistan, within a few years of independence, all these instruments of governance, for want of strict accountability and a lack of a sense of responsibility, were rendered patently inefficient thus bringing down several notches the overall standard of governance in the country.

Making plans in Islamabad with incoherent and shallow inputs from an inefficient and unaccountable set of instruments of governance had rendered most of these plans out of tune as well in the context of the felt-needs at the delivery end.

And an inefficient civil servant implementing such a plan would surely end up creating more socio-economic and political problems at the grass roots giving rise, in the process, to the kind of political and socio-economic chaos that the country has been witnessing at least since the early 1980s.

According to a former civil servant, the late Saeed Qureshi (Governance Deficit: A case study of Pakistan), Pakistan’s civil service has failed to live up to its role which in the author’s opinion is to implement government’s policies and decisions.

Qureshi further quotes a pertinent passage in his book from the Asia Report of International Crisis Group (No 185 of 16th February, 2010 on Civil Service Reform in Pakistan): “Decades of mismanagement, political manipulation and corruption have rendered Pakistan’s civil service incapable of providing effective governance and basic public services.

Low salaries, insecure tenure, and obsolete accountability mechanisms have spawned widespread corruption and impunity.

Recruitments, postings and promotions are increasingly made on the basis of personal contacts and political affiliation, instead of merit.

Some 30 commissions have been constituted since independence to reform the civil service, but things have only deteriorated.”

So, it is not the plans that we need. What we actually need are efficient and responsible instruments of governance. It is the absence of such instruments that is continuously pushing the country down the pole.

But then, even if we had the best of the civil servants, in the absence of adequate resources it is more likely that even the best of plans would remain just that, plans—unimplemented or implemented by less than half or so. Nobody pays his taxes voluntarily.

It is considered extortion by the taxpayers. It is only the fear of being caught and punished that makes one pay taxes honestly.

Even in the most civilized countries, rich people enlist the services of the best tax lawyers to manipulate the tax laws so as to have their income tax liabilities reduced to the minimum.

Still, the tax laws in these countries have remained strict enough to coerce the taxpayers into paying enough to fund their socio-economic and defence budgets.

In Pakistan every time a new government comes in, no matter which — civilian or military — one invariably hears pledges to broaden the tax base and go after tax dodgers with no holds barred.

But these pledges turn into regrets within a matter of couple of months with the government accepting to live with the ‘facts of life’.

Remember the way Musharraf sent teams of Army personnel to the markets doing roaring business to coerce them into paying their dues? But within no time, not only was this campaign abandoned but all those rich rent-seekers that the-then NAB Chief Lt Gen Amjad had caught and incarcerated were freed and made partners in the loot by the official economic managers.

The first Benazir government had, soon after its arrival, announced its intention to introduce value-added tax for the purpose of documenting the economy.

It was a non-starter from the very word go, because on the one hand the tax collectors were not interested in getting the economy documented for obvious reasons and on the other the big and small businesses went all out to get the reform overturned; so much so that the Paris Club meeting of that year had arranged a special private sector session at which the government of the day was warned not to disrupt the norms of free market!
The problem is that we never ever tried to establish a tax culture in the country.

The income from agriculture is the biggest source of black money in the country. This is ‘no-questions asked’ income.

If one sincerely wants to have the economy documented and catch the tax dodgers, one should first bring taxable income from all sources with no exception (even agriculture) into the tax net.

Next, instead of using the law of ‘living beyond known means’ to blackmail politicians, the government should use the information available with the NADRA about the real incomes of the rich in this country and send them notices to comply with the income tax laws with the clear warning that in case of failure to comply, they would be arrested and punished without fail.

Prime Minister Imran Khan wants to create conditions conducive for the private sector to create wealth.

But then this route to wealth has already caused massive inequality in the world. Richest 62 people are said to be as wealthy as half of world’s population.

Greed is indeed, never good. Nevertheless, it is the state’s responsibility to establish a social-welfare state (Riyasaat-i-Madina) and not that of the private sector.

Therefore, wealth needs to be created in the public sector using policies designed for the purpose and financed with revenues earned through taxing the rich.

— The writer is veteran journalist and a former editor based in Islamabad.

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