As the nation celebrates 75 years of independence, Pakistani people and businesses continue to strive for freedom from want/fear/nepotism and liberty to compete, to choose, to access economic opportunities, to trade and to a fair deal.
Looking back may not necessarily be a pleasant exercise for informed Pakistanis especially when neighbouring China overcame bigger challenges to reach where it is today over the same period and many others did relatively far better. Sadly, the demands of the current ongoing crises have also been draining and did little to lift spirits this year.
Movers and shakers approached for their input, however, put up a brave face expressing hope. They suggested reforms, continuity, inclusivity and rigorous planning. They argue that with some tweaking in the system, Pakistan has the potential to make up for the lost time and take a leap into the future, provided the nation collectively decides to focus on the future and its demands.
Some leading executives insisted that it’s lame to wait to stumble into success. No one does. To arrive at the future, Pakistan needs to get objective, ditch fiction and invest in planning based on facts, dump the parasitic culture, stick to transparency, leverage technology, and promote and reward hard work. This in their opinion is the only path that could free people from want and let the country earn trust and respect in the comity of nations.
Looking back is an unpleasant exercise but there is hope for the future if reforms are carried out with continuity and rigorous planning
Syed Salim Reza, a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, blamed uncompetitive industry, which flourishes in protection, for the slow growth. He believes the neglect of agriculture has led to progressively greater reliance on imports which is a sad commentary on the quality of government planning and development initiatives. He lamented the capture of investable funds by land and property at the cost of productive capacity growth.
“The hope for the future is in the galvanisation of agriculture capacity, working with China to help intermediate goods production, deepening of industrial capacity, and all the different ways in which IT interventions are adding to internal distribution efficiency and exports,” he said.
Some corporate heads hammered for a consensus of all stakeholders on the key issues to avoid moving in circles at the cost of the public and the business.
Muhammad Aurangzeb, Chairman of the Pakistan Business Council shared his mind: “There is no dearth of policy prescriptions. We all very well know the “what” and “why” part of it. Need of the hour is for all major political parties and economic stakeholders to sit down together and agree on the “how” part of the economic agenda.
“If we are able to do this and then execute it over the next 25 years, there is every reason to believe that we can deliver sustainable and inclusive growth to become a $3 trillion economy (as World Bank report reckoned) by the time we get to be 100 years young in 2047 InshAllah”.
Most experts and businessmen concur that people deserved better. Currently, they felt the stakes are too high to be left to luck. Instead of blindly following narratives available in the market they made a case to see through the manufactured fog and urged people to raise their voices on critical issues to trigger a change in the right direction.
Moin Fudda, Chairman, Board of Directors, Central Depository Company, who sits on multiple other boards lamented the neglect of the natural resource base of the country and holds half-baked policies of nationalisation/privatisation and a weak capital market for the laggard rate of progress.
He was all for active public participation in the national debate on key issues: “Public needs to realise that they empower politicians and corporates. We can influence and question their decisions. We need to use logic over emotions and start questioning the leader we support.”
Some business leaders questioned the capacity of the leadership and blamed it partially for Pakistan’s underperformance. They believed Pakistan needs structural reforms based on long-term plans owned up by the public in all key social and economic sectors. They did not expect much from the current crop of leaders and pinned their hopes on youth.
Majyd Aziz, President, United Nations Global Compact Network Pakistan, was candid. “To expect policymakers to effectively cope with frequent crises is frankly a pie in the sky”.
He called to subdue the dominant archaic mindset through structured land reforms and digitalisation of all sectors and argued to promote local products, skills and processes to enhance exports and reduce dependence on imports. He said investors abhor ad hoc measures and frequent policy U-turns. This needs to stop. “The government policies should be inclusive as favours to special interests promote rent-seeking and corruption.”
He thought despite high talk on “demographic dividend” youth did not get the attention it deserved. “Today’s youth need to be cultured into the innovative digital environment that could bring about financial, social, and progressive change for them and for the nation”.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, August 15th, 2022