People’s lack of faith

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Zaheer Bhatti

To borrow the oft rubbed phrase it is no rocket science that the only way a nation can be reckoned with is by becoming economically buoyant through self-reliance and refusing to be dictated and exploited by lending agencies and their sponsors. In order to do so you need to follow a transparent methodology to win the confidence and support of the masses. But with successive Governments leaving the common man to bear the brunt of their apathetic policies and yet claiming their support and strength, one wonders if the leadership in Pakistan is aware or cognizant of required ingredients for achieving the people’s genuine support.
The latest IMF Report about Pakistan does not make good news for the country nor do the ground realities which show the country’s Foreign Exchange Reserves which had risen to around 23 billion a few years ago, nose-diving to 12 billion US Dollars, and its circular debt in the energy sector alone now swelling to 977 billion rupees, unending spree of price hikes and devaluation of its currency, despite colossal borrowings standing at 92 billion US Dollars, adding a whopping 35 billion during the 5-year tenure of the present Government alone.
One often finds the opposition in Pakistan accusing the sitting Government of drowning the nation in an unbearable debt burden and mortgaging the future of coming generations, but doing exactly the same when in power. Borrowing has become a national habit because sitting governments are never held accountable in the manner in which individuals invariably are, who are not only required to first justify their capacity to repay, mortgage a property worth more than the sum sought to be borrowed and commit to a debt retirement schedule. Only in exceptional cases loans are written off and that too with some clout with the lending entity or else you must be ready to face the music; latter being the case with Pakistan whose shaded dealings with donors elude public scrutiny through Parliament.
One major step the Parliamentarians need to take in order to give substance to their oft repeated refrain of supremacy of Parliament, is to bring up the issue in the House and enact legislation by two thirds majority to the effect that any Internal or External borrowings shall be subject to justification why such borrowings were necessitated, where such funds were proposed to be spent, and how and in what span of time these loans would be returned or retired. Such approvals from both Houses of Parliament must be a mandatory part of the annual budget and not allowed to be bulldozed into approval as often witnessed for budgetary proposals.
Had the rulers operated in earnest they could have alongside the NADRA and Census Staff added a Revenue Department Rep to the team and registered and assessed all shops and business offices across the country with trading potential and shopkeepers with minimum merchandise worth 2 million, and the unregistered Real Estate dealers which are at least half a million if not more across the country paying no tax. So far, successive Governments have been taxing only the hapless salaried class deducting at source, and instead of providing relief to them are always seeking to create loopholes for the influential evaders to avoid taxation; yet another tax amnesty scheme in the offing being a glaring example of legalizing money laundering by those siphoning off and stashing wealth abroad.
With no relief or respite in sight, the people whose allegiance the rulers keep claiming but actually continue to exploit for personal ends have no more faith in their Government which is exemplified by the fact that they do not even pay Zakat through official channels and prefer to disburse personally. Raising petroleum prices literally every month when world oil prices were tumbling, governments have been taxing at source due to their failure to raise productivity owing to several disincentives for the industries including expensive oil-based energy instead of far cheaper hydel power resulting in incompatible export pricing and quality at international level, which has sharply impaired foreign exchange exports and national reserves.
Governments besides their illogical tax regimes have mostly relied for domestic funding on seldom talked about millions of citizens investing in National Savings schemes but unfortunately this segment of the Pakistani society whose investments at around 14% dividend in the year 2003 stood at RS 982 billion, is also now on sharp decline owing to radically reduced dividend of 5.75%, which is criminal apathy towards the plight of these millions who rely on the source for subsistence but were now forced to withdraw and risk their savings with property mafias.
Foreign exchange remittances from Overseas Pakistanis are also on the decline due to continually reduced overseas employment of Pakistani manpower in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf touted to be the hub of the Pakistani human resource, but the Government is unable to seek positive indulgence of these Muslim nations to arrest the downward trend. Unmindful of the impending disaster for the future Pakistani generations, governments of the day rather than reduce their non-development spending, continue to dole out heavy packages to personal favourites at all levels as if paying from their own pocket.
Pakistanis by virtue of their abiding faith in the Creator, and despite social inequities at the hands of their rulers, are largely God-fearing and imbued to philanthropy. They readily file in to donate generously whenever called upon for any national cause be it natural disasters such as quakes, floods or famine. On account of Zakat alone, which in Islam is a mandatory disbursement of 2.5% of one’s annual earnings, Pakistanis pay Zakat to the tune of roughly 3.5 to 4 billion US Dollars annually to whosoever they consider deserving. Imagine this amount coming into the Government kitty if it had a transparent mechanism and commanded people’s trust. Would there be any poor left in the country!
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.

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