Charter of Economy is back in the news. This time courtesy the launch of Charter of Economy report by Pakistan Business Council – the business policy advocacy forum of Pakistan’s largest businesses - that seems to have increasing influence in power corridors of Islamabad and at the central bank in Karachi. How should one read PBC’s version of the charter?
There is clearly no disagreement over the need to have political consensus on Pakistan’s economy and society; much has been written about it in this space, and elsewhere as well, such as the recent call by PIDE’s current VC Nadeem ul-Haq for Pakistan’s own version of Magna Carta. Being a business body, PBC’s focus is understandably on GDP, exports, investments, productivity etc. and how NAB in its current form is a bane for private sector. But it also touches upon health and education, albeit with emphasis on skills (for businesses) rather than rights and opportunities.
There can also be little disagreement on some of the specifics that the PBC spells out in its document. For instance, in the case of civil service reforms, there is a need to refine the screening process of applicants to improve the quality of intake; or in the case of regulations there is a need to identify and reduce overlap between local, provincial and federal regulations.
But whilst some of the specifics appear too grand, some aspects are missing from the PBC’s charter. The former includes: “no one goes hungry because of food shortages or inflation” or “all children attend school at least to the age of 18”. As tempting as it sounds to conscience, proposals like these must be well thought out as should have been Article 25-A of the constitution – unless of course one intends charters and constitutions to be merely lip service. The latter includes the various census, surveys, and other official statistics as well the subject of courts, accrual-based accounting and other areas that are politically fictitious and therefore warrant a consensus.
The biggest problem, however, is that the PBC has offered too many specifics for political parties to reach a consensus on. Consensus among political parties or forces of power is usually on broad parameters. This is not only because politicians are not technocrats able to debate, discuss and agree on finer points. But also, because differences in policy action is what politics is about. If one party wants to provide education through subsidy vouchers for private schools, the other through public school reforms, then so be it. Like profit, politics shouldn’t also be construed as a dirty word.
This is precisely why this space has long been making the case for a Charter of Economy that emphasizes on the inputs and procedural affairs to policymaking rather than specific policy actions per se. That said, PBC’s version of the charter sheds light on some critical aspects that should be made a part of minimum framework of agreement on certain key aspects of economy, albeit not without giving equal opportunity to other representatives of economy by taking their recommendations for most commonly agreed specifics that won’t impugn on political freedom. For more, read BR Research’s The Fourteen Points of Charter of Economy May 30, 2017 and Charter of Economy: follow up on the 14 Points June 1, 2017.