‘Reforms’ is perhaps one of the most resounding words in Pakistan these days. From drawing rooms to ‘chai-khanas’; from Islamabad to business hubs, this word is ringing bells everywhere -- with most participants passing the bucket to the government.
The government, no doubt, is responsible for providing basic amenities for the populace. But it is increasingly becoming evident, in the words of certain officials, that social contract between the government and the governed is breaking down.
“You don’t pay taxes because you don’t get government facilities, whereas the government can’t provide facilities because there aren’t enough taxes – it becomes a kind of a chicken and egg problem,” the official said, while referring to the vicious cycle.
Understandably, the government should take some confidence building initiatives, perhaps by ensuring improved transparency and lower corruption and then making incremental changes. But at the same time, the role of private sector in bringing about the reforms is equally important.
In a recent development, the State Bank of Pakistan also articulated this notion – though rather quietly and subtly. “This will require support from across the political divide and from other state and civil society institutions to ensure their smooth implementation,” wrote the central bank in its latest monetary policy statement.
This was the first time ever the SBP urged civil society to come forward and lobby for meaningful economic reforms as regards taxation, rationalisation of subsidies, debt management and allocation of resources.
“The civil society needs to be honest about the problems; because while the government or other official bodies may have a problem, the society cannot be exonerated”, the official commented on the role and responsibility of people.
Some civil society institutions, like the Pakistan chapter of Center for International Private Enterprise, are already making headlines with their efforts in this context.
In recent years, the CIPE has helped various associations, like the Pakistan Business Council and Pasha, form a collective business and economic agenda and recommend various reforms. Initiative like the upcoming youth entrepreneurship development in IT sector is another example.
Such endeavours, however, are few and far between -- and not because of civil society’s lack of capacity.
“They have the capacity; some of the outspoken representatives of the civil society held important positions in their times -- though it’s another issue that they didn’t do much when they were at the helm of affairs,” says Adil Gilani, Chairman, Transparency International Pakistan, while pointing to the lack of will in the private sector.
“Even up to 60-70 percent of the NGOs operating in Pakistan are corrupt,” Gilani added. In other words, the private sector could do well to stop, what Hammad Siddiqui, Senior Program Manager of CIPE, calls “the supply side of corruption”.