Pressing need for absolute eccentric reforms

In Business
April 08, 2024

Of late, one reads a lot about the necessity of economic reforms in Pakistan. This has happened because like in the game of musical chairs we are left standing, the music has stopped and we cannot find a chair to sit down. It is a downright shameful situation.

Yet, the usual characters who have been complicit in our abject failure are trying to act – shamefully I may add – to look surprised and act naive. Those who were in any position to address and change the course of economic history are still around, and occupying domains of influence in the power corridor.

They are still full of glamour and – behind the scenes – getting more resistant to meaningful change. And change is what is required at the moment and we do not seem to be delivering. These characters are masters of studying the narrative and trends, and start parroting the agenda in the most palatable manner.

One needs to look at the public and private life choices of these characters and put them through vigorous tests before giving them any space in public life.

The elite capture has been discovered and rediscovered and yet there is no noise from any political party and other powerful stakeholders like the civil services, military or the judiciary to throw them out, or stop patronising them and take away their undue advantages. They are still lurking around openly in each and every aspect of public policy.

So, while democracy – and more democracy – may be touted as a necessity, it is certainly not enough to solve the problem at hand. That brings us to the dreaded responsibility and accountability mantra.

Now, there is no way they can stand in front of a revolutionary committee passing verdicts after summary trial, and there is no way they can stand any kind of fair trial in public for fear of eventually being attacked by the mob.

They are so acutely aware of their sins that they have ensured that we do not even get a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in this country.

The need to look at public and private life choices of public officials is something the evolved societies have learnt to become acutely aware of, and it has been built into their system of checks and balances.

From western democracies to socialist Finland to central command Chinese models all are making their public officials “responsible as well as accountable” for their actions.

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For example, Bill Clinton was dragged because of having a relatively minor improper relationship while being in the White House, and mind you it did not involve killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq War. But it was important to the values held dear to the American society and that is what matters.

And Joe Biden’s son is still being investigated for improper business dealings in Ukraine. A woman Scandinavian prime minister – Sanna Marin – got under scrutiny only for partying with her friends and drinking and dancing exuberantly as it seemed inappropriate to some, or the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, got into trouble for having a party during Covid and then misleading the investigators.

Or even various Chinese ministers – powerful indeed such as the defence and foreign ministers – suddenly disappeared from public eye, and later removed from office after the party found inappropriate behaviour on their part.

The above examples show that public servants and public office-bearers have to have a very high moral standard to abide by and the same has been incorporated into their respective political and legal systems. Pakistan, however, is refusing to learn from any of these societies.

The music has practically stopped, and while we are supposed to be sitting on a chair, the fact of the matter is that we are standing; standing like an ill-reputed person being charged with crimes and/or criminal negligence in a series of charges.

The prosecution has all the support from over 20 IMF programmes we entered willingly, shared data, negotiated the medicine and dosage, signed the reform agenda each time and then continued to fail, repeatedly.

And the kids in our own country are laughing over Tik Tok hearing, “where is the capital of Pakistan?”, and someone answers, “in foreign banks”.

From the grade 4 peon to the grade 22 officer in the secretariat, from the smallest corner grocery shopkeepers to the biggest large-scale manufacturers, and from a student of class 10th to the vice chancellor of universities all of the above and sundry know the themes of our problems in their own way. And yet we are against the required absolute eccentric reforms.

The writer has served as the president of ZTBL and MD of the Bank of Khyber. Currently, he is member Privatisation Commission

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2024.

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