LAHORE: There is a need to have a charter of economy in the country but it can be meaningful only if it succeeds a charter of democracy and political stability, says Senator Raza Rabbani.

“A stable democratic polity is the answer to the problems afflicting the country which has all along been plagued by confusion about which form of government it should adopt,” he stressed.

The veteran politician was one of the panellists at a conference on “Evolution of social, political, economic order -- past, present and future of Pakistan and its impact on creation of enabling business environment,” organised by the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) at Faletti’s Hotel on Tuesday.

He said parliament had been systematically eroded in Pakistan which was in search of its moorings. He said the solution lay in dialogue with certain preconditions. “The dialogue has to be multidimensional; it is not between the government and the opposition or among the institutions of the state. In the first phase, it should be among political stakeholders and it should be followed by intra-institutional i.e parliament, executive and judiciary,” he explained.

Such a dialogue, he said, must lead to respect for people’s rights and supremacy of parliament. Then another charter of democracy should be worked out, counselled Rabbani.

He hit out at the state for not recognising linguistic and cultural diversity, suppressing political dissent and pursuing a policy of missing persons.

Dr Aisha Ghaus-Pasha, minister of state for finance and revenue, reflected on the challenges and said she would very much like to get a new perspective. “I will speak as an economist,” she said at the outset. Pakistan, she said, was in the middle of a perfect storm due to elemental fury, international environment and institutional instability. “The fact that Pakistan has gone for the 23rd IMF programme in the last many years is a manifestation of the crisis,” she said.

She said the good news was that the country was out of the woods now with materialisation of the latest IMF agreement. “We need to learn to live within our means and improve exports, tax collection, agriculture and SMEs to be self-reliant,” she said.

Former State Bank of Pakistan governor Dr Ishrat Hussain said it’s unfortunate that the floods’ calamity had dealt a blow to the already tanking economy and it could take much more time to recover than it would have been in normal circumstances. He said Pakistan had maintained a growth rate of six per cent for many years and its institutions were doing well but it lost its direction and was now considered “laggard in south Asia”.

He cited the example of Bangladesh which strengthened itself by valuing human capital and empowering women through employment. He said the Pakistan government, the private sector and civil society should work in tandem to steer the country out of the crisis. This objective could be achieved with a positive and constructive mindset instead of blame game, he said.

In his presentation, former FBR chairman Syed Shabbar Zaidi said the only way forward was acceptance of truth. He said people were in denial and did not want to hear truth. “Let’s be honest... this shop can’t work like this for long. The country is bankrupt,” he categorically said. India, he said, added millions of taxpayers in the last three years.

He said Pakistan was not an investor-friendly country. “People the world over read news of ceasefire agreement between the government and the TTP. Who would like to invest here,” he asked.

Former federal minister Syed Fakhar Imam also enlightened the audience with historical facts and the role of agriculture in the national economy. “This is a country where census counts for little, where there is no spending on human resource and meagre investment on agriculture research,” he said. Climate change was one of the biggest challenges the country faced today but the departments were disconnected, he deplored.

He said countries rose by dint of integrity and hard work and China was a classic example.

Walled City of Lahore Authority Director General Kamran Lashari spoke about bureaucracy and culture. He said there was a lack of vision and leadership. “Inaction is protected and action is challenged,” he summed up the plight of the bureaucracy. He said the real thing was achieving targets.

He bemoaned “cultural chaos” and loss of events such as Basant, theatre festivals, food streets etc. “It seems a barricaded country,” he remarked.

Bank of Punjab CEO Zafar Masud, Justice Shahid Jamil Khan, Netsol Executive Director Ayub Ghauri and Crescent Foundation chairperson Syed Sardar Ali Shah also spoke.

Earlier, LCCI President Mian Nauman Kabir, in his welcome address, spelt out the objective of the conference and also spoke about the versatility of Pakistan’s businesses and their contributions.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2022

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