Key to Socio-economic Development

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ATTA-UR-RAHMAN, FRS, N.I., H.I., S.I., T.I.

We are now fortu nate to have an Oxford educated Prime Minister who is battling against all odds to get rid of the corrupt mafia that has dominated this country for decades and plundered it at will. Indeed, we are at the threshold of what could be a new and glorious era of socio-economic development. The way forward must be focused in a few key fields, as we must not spread the national development strategy too thin, because of limited national resources. The top priority for this country must be education, science, technology and innovation. Pakistan’s real wealth lies in the 100 million youth below the age of 20. The Prime Minister is committed to unleash this huge creative potential through massive programs in education, science, technology and innovation, and we should now see a huge increase in financial allocations to these sectors in the coming financial year. An important step in this direction is the integration of our education system. This requires the modification of the 18th Amendment so that education becomes a Federal subject. Primary and secondary education can then be brought under one platform through the formation of a Primary & Secondary Education Commission, on the pattern of the Higher Education Commission. The entire school education system should be revamped with one National Examination Board, one national examination, and a centralized national selection process for all teachers across Pakistan. We have been responsible for the fragmentation of our Society by having different systems of education, creating elite schools for the rich and government schools for others. The Madrassa system should also undergo major reforms with the teaching of sciences and technologies. In this connection one also needs to improve college level education by making it mandatory for college teachers to be also active researchers with PhD as a minimum qualification. The programmes in HEC should be realigned and focused on the development of high quality faculty. This can be done through sending at least 10,000 of our brightest students to top universities each year. We have witnessed the deterioration of education standards through mushrooming of universities without adequate attention of availability of faculty. This must be reversed.
The second major area of thrust should be in the field of information technology. The export of billions of dollars of IT exports does not require huge capital intensive and expensive industries to be set up. With relatively little inputs, and with focus on such areas as Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Robotics, Machine Learning, Big Data, Bioinformatics, Quantum Computing and Smart Devices, it can have a huge impact on the country’s socio-economic development. It is expected that there will be a 14 trillion dollar impact of Artificial Intelligence alone during the current decade. Special export Processing Zones need to be set up and the quality of our IT education needs to be improved. Young persons with bright ideas need to be provided business incubation facilities with access to office space, mentoring, legal and financial services so that their talent can be allowed to bloom. Pakistan should prepare itself for the 4th Industrial revolution that is now upon us. By linking NADRA to the FBR and provincial databases, a huge increase in the tax net could be immediately achieved by identifying rich tax dodgers.
The 3rd major initiative needed is the production of low cost energy. If we can produce electricity at Rs. 4 /kWh and supply it to industry at no more that Rs.6 / kWh, then the whole industrial sector can come alive due better competitiveness. This is now possible as solar power plants can now produce electricity at Rs. 4 /kWh. Several 1000 MW plants are being installed in Saudi Arabia and UAE at a rate of about US $ 0. 029 (2.9 cents) /kwh. Similarly, hydroelectric power and wind power can produce electricity cheaply. When I was the Federal Minister of Science in 2000-2002, I had initiated a project to carry out wind mapping of Pakistan through the Pakistan Meteorology Department. It turned out that there is a 50,000 MW capacity in the Kati Bandar-Gharo-Hyderabad triangle plus the coastal areas of Baluchistan. If export industries can be given a 50% rebate in the energy costs, it could boost exports of Pakistan.
The 4th major initiative needs to be in field of modern agriculture. The maximum impact on rural poverty alleviation can come from increased agricultural productivity. Using modern techniques of biotechnology as well as food processing technologies (such as electron beam irradiation prior to exports, as now required by many countries) Pakistan can dramatically increase its exports of mangoes, meat and other products to China, USA and other countries. The single electron beam equipment installed in Karachi alas lies idle because of lack of interest of our Ministries in getting the facility approved from USA, China and other countries. The Prime Minister needs to take urgent action in this connection to increase exports.
CPEC can be a game changer in this connection by joint ventures between Pakistani and Chinese industrialists in manufacture and export of high technology products such as computers, electronics, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology products, minerals, engineering goods, automobiles, aircraft, ships, IT products and other high values items.
To achieve the above transformation basic changes in the system of governance are urgently needed. Quaid-i-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah had realized that the Parliamentary system of democracy would fail in Pakistan because of the strength of the Zamindars who would hijack the system for their own benefits. In July 1947, the Quaid wrote in his own handwriting in his diary that the Presidential system would be more suited for the country. He also observed that the Parliamentary system had worked well nowhere except in England.
This hand written note is reproduced on page 81 of the book by Oxford University Press entitled “The Jinnah Anthology” edited by Liaquat H. Merchant and Sharif al Mujahid. There are 4 major advantages of the Presidential system : 1) The President is the Chief Executive directly elected by the people, that confers on him legitimacy to the power. 2) The Presidency (government) and the Legislature (Parliament) are two completely independent structures. This separation of powers is critical as it allows each structure to keep a check on the other, thereby preventing misuse of power. In the Parliamentary system some overlap of functions can occur as the Chief Executive ( Prime Minister) who heads the government also exercises some control over the Parliament , being the head of the major political party 3) The President can act swiftly and decisively when needed, thereby avoiding the years of haggling and procrastination that goes on in the Parliament. 4) The President is appointed for a fixed tenure and so there is stability, while the Prime Minister can be dismissed at any time.
The future of Pakistan lies in building a strong knowledge economy. Our Prime Minister has already initiated some strong steps in this direction. He needs to be fully supported in his efforts.
—The author is Chairman of UN ESCAP Committee on Science Technology & Innovation, former Federal Minister for Science & Technology, and former Founding Chairman of Higher Education Commission.