The need for Charter of Economy is once again being voiced by businesspeople and politicians alike. Early this week, the business community strongly underscored the need for signing a Charter of Economy (CoE) by all political parties for taking the economy ahead and giving confidence to investors. At a ceremony held on the occasion marking the financial close of four solar projects of 150MW each, one of the sponsors of one of the project is reported to have stated: “If you want this country to get its legitimate position, there is a need to sign a Charter of Economy with the other group (political) for sustained growth and improved economy.” Earlier, a similar demand has been voiced by the leading business chambers of the country.
Also, early this week, while addressing the Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Senate Deputy Chairman, Saleem Mandviwalla, called for drawing up a charter of economy that should be adhered to by all governments, stressing that it was the need of the hour. He stated that economic policies should not be changed according to wishes of political parties as no country could move ahead without a stable economy.
The former finance minister of the PML-N government, Ishaq Dar, probably was the first to float the idea of a charter of economy in his speech in the National Assembly before he went into self-imposed exile. But no initiative was taken to start a debate around this national need. Thereafter, it resurfaced a couple of times on the floor of the National Assembly - the latest, some two years back, by the leader of the opposition of the current assembly, who offered his support to any initiative that seeks to delineate a charter of economy. Both the treasury and the opposition benches repeatedly stressed on the need to develop a consensus among political parties on an economic agenda for the country, but no political party has so far come up with concrete proposals and suggestions to kick-start the discussion on a possible charter of economy.
It is now absolutely clear that the political parties on their own will not be able to come up with any meaningful dialogue on the subject. Nor will the appeal by business communities make a difference. Even the Charter of Democracy (CoD), signed by Nawaz Sharif of PML-N and Benazir Bhutto of PPP on May 14, 2006 in London could not live up to the high standards of democracy in the country for the good of its people. The charter lost its momentum once the regime of General Musharraf ended.
The economy of Pakistan and welfare of its people never constituted collective responsibility for our legislators. In parliament, much of the time is spent on political point scoring, treasury and opposition conflicts and bickering. Legislations in public interest are minimal.
The way forward is that the business community and/or the business chambers of Pakistan, as principal stakeholders, should join hands, take the lead and structure a workable charter of economy while taking on board the political leaderships of treasury and opposition as the secondary stakeholders. The ownership of the charter should rest with the business community to ensure its sustainability.
The main challenge, undoubtedly, is to bring the mainstream political parties on a minimum common agenda and develop consensus on economic policies and direction to ensure continuity. The other challenge is to ensure that the proposed charter does not drift towards protecting the interests of the elite class and business lobbies abetted by legislators - as normally happens. Socioeconomic welfare of all segments of society should be the core of the charter to usher an era of prosperity at all levels.
(The writer is former President of Overseas Investors Chambers of Commerce and Industry)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021