Pakistan revival and rebirth | By Tariq Aqil


Pakistan revival and rebirth

THE Pakistani nation is once again at a crossroads. There is a general air of pessimism, almost all Pakistanis are extremely pessimistic, unsure, scared and worried about the future.

All this negativity is obviously due to the current economic crisis, price spiral, unemployment, political uncertainty and a general air of doom and gloom.

The ongoing crisis seems to be endless and the feeling is growing that there is no way that the country will ever come out of the present political and economic crisis.

The common man of Pakistan is now haunted by the severe dearth of leadership, the continuous bitter rivalry and enmity between the major political parties, the frequent use of dirty and abusive language by the political elite and the almost total breakdown of state institutions.

People are once again looking towards the powerful military establishment to come to the rescue of the country and save us from ending up on the dust heap of history.

Let us not forget that this country has faced many trials and tribulations in the past and has managed to come out of all crises with courage, confidence and greater hopes for the future.

The country is facing an economic crunch and at the same time a great dearth of imagination and ideas.

Let us not forget that every cloud has a silver lining and this nation has the capacity to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of doom and gloom and claim its rightful place in the community of civilized and prosperous nations.

What we need is an urgent and immediate action to find the solutions to our economic and political problems and to generate enough money to make these solutions reality.

This is a very difficult and uphill task but certainly not impossible. It can be done with courage, determination and fortitude.

We can list numerous and immediate steps to be taken to get us out of this impasse. There is an immediate need to save energy and limit the import of unnecessary items, especially luxury goods used by the rich elite.

Fuel saving measures to be imposed to minimize the import of oil products that eats away the biggest chunk of our foreign exchange reserves.

It is high time that the rich and powerful are asked to sacrifice something for saving the country.

Government officials can do without the use of official vehicles provided to them at state expense and all free fuel supplies to be banned because at present government officials and political elite are enjoying perks of 60 to 600 litres of petrol per month.

It is not asking for much if all commercial activities are stopped by 6pm every day and all air conditioners are taken away from all government offices, ministries and corporations.

This will result in a massive savings of over 15 billion rupees per year. A four-day work week could be introduced resulting in a massive savings on utility bills.

All vehicles above 1000 CC in use by government and military officials should be impounded immediately.

The mushroom growth of money changers in the country must be controlled and money exchange business to be limited to established commercial banks.

Travellers from Pakistan should not be allowed more than 2000 dollars for travel expenses. Forex transfer should be permitted through banking channels only and curse of hundi and hawala to be completely eliminated.

The national import policy has to be revised and greater emphasis laid on our own indigenous products, for example, the import of Palm oil can be drastically reduced if more use is made of our home grown oils such as corn oil, soya bean oil, sunflower oil, mustard oil, cotton seed oil and this could mean a saving of millions of dollars every year.

Imports of cheap electrical and mechanical gadgets must be banned because we can easily do without these and save a lot of foreign exchange.

Stopping these imports will not only save foreign exchange but also boost the local cottage industry because these instruments can easily be manufactured locally.

Imported coal from abroad can easily be substituted by our local coal from the Thar coalfields that has enough to run all our power plants.

Pakistan imports over 2 million tons of hot rolled steel coil every year. We have both people and technology to manufacture this product locally and save over $150 per ton.

That translates to a saving of $300 million per year on just one product. Shortage of imagination and excess of bureaucracy hold back our progress and prosperity.

There is an immediate need to launch a serious and broad based austerity drive. The bloated federal cabinet of free loaders and pampered political elite is now composed of 77 people when the country could very well do without them.

This unwanted team of people costs the country over 380 million rupees per month. The cabinet need not be more than 20 members.

All perks and privileges in the shape of financial benefits to government officials and elected members to be stopped immediately.

Salaries of government and military officials to be capped and no official to be paid more than 150000 rupees per month and similarly pensions of all civil and military officials to be capped with a maximum limit of Rs.150000.00.

If any austerity has to work all government officials, civil and military, have to play their role.

Any attempts at reducing expenses would remain incomplete unless all government organizations, including the armed forces, are tasked to adopt exceptional austerity measures, cut down ceremonial and non-operational expenses and voluntarily bring at least 10% reduction in their budgets.

Tax collection in the country is absolutely abysmal and shameful. Hardly 1.4 percent of our citizens file their income tax returns and out of these about 33% claim zero tax liability which is hard to believe but true.

The FBR has failed miserably to bring more people into the tax-net and the big and powerful still manage to get away without paying their taxes.

Tax on agriculture, wealth, inherited or gifted property and deemed income from immovable property be immediately executed across the board.

Doubling the taxes on cigarettes, soft drinks, energy drinks and sweetened drinks could easily fetch an extra Rs200 billion.

‘Non-filer’, a uniquely ridiculous concept that promotes a culture of tax avoidance, ought to be completely eliminated.

Purchase of property, car registration, foreign travel, electricity bills beyond Rs10,000 per month, sending money abroad or transactions beyond Rs50,000 ought to be prohibited if an individual is a ‘non-filer’.

—The writer is Professor of History, based in Islamabad.