Calls for delineating a ‘charter of economy’ have become a trend in Pakistan. The leaderships of almost all political parties and business chambers have been repeatedly underscoring the need for a ‘charter of economy’.
In early 2019, the then leader of Opposition in National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) while expressing his deep concern over the country’s state of economy, offered his party’s support to the government.
He stated: “The government should keep aside its ego and head towards a charter of the economy,” adding that “the on-going situation should create a sense of responsibility towards the economy and we should realise that it is time to make it our top priority. The government has not chalked out any economic policy or strategy until now. A strong and stable economy is the only way to ensure national security.” In mid of June 2023, Shehbaz Sharif, now as the Prime Minister of Pakistan, again gave a call for a ‘charter of economy’.
He stated: “The country’s economy direly needs reforms which, in turn, could be undertaken in a stable political environment as economic development was intrinsically linked to political stability.
It is here that the ‘charter of economy’ appears to be the only way forward for our political parties to achieve prosperity for our people.” In his budget 2023-24 speech, the prime minister said: “It represents the beginning of the process to fix the economy’s long-term ailments.”
This week, the Lahore Chamber of Commerce & Industry (LCCI) announced a proactive step in addressing Pakistan’s economic challenges by sending an invitation to the heads of all political parties requesting their presence at the LCCI to participate in a comprehensive discussion on the crucial topic of ‘charter of economy, adding that in order to address these concerns, the LCCI has formulated a draft of the charter, which serves as a guiding framework for economic governance.
The announcement stated: “The aim of this charter is to establish a minimum agenda that all political parties can include in their respective manifestos. By doing so, it ensures a level of consistency and continuity in economic policies, regardless of which party forms the government.
‘Charter of economy’ is designed to create a working consensus among political parties on key economic issues. It provides a set of guidelines for policy formulation and implementation, addressing areas such as fiscal management, investment promotion, job creation, trade and commerce, and social welfare.”
Earlier, ‘charter of democracy’ (COD) was the trend. Incidentally, the nation is celebrating this year the 17th anniversary of COD, cited by sponsors as a momentous occasion that marks a significant milestone in Pakistan’s democratic history as Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, came together to sign this historic document in 2006, solidifying their commitment to a shared vision for the country’s future.
Pakistan’s major political parties, PML-N and PPP, marked the 17th anniversary of COD. This framework is aimed at enhancing governance, democracy, human rights, and judicial independence. It advocates constitutional reforms, transparent elections, devolution of power, and national security.
While ‘charter of economy’ is yet to be born, the achievements of COD (charter of economy) in favour of state governance and sanctity of democratic structure of the country can well be judged from the current happenings at our state institutions, who are the custodians of the nation’s democracy.
How far has COD worked in people’s interests? An answer to this question can be found in the report of Pakistan Business Council, which has highlights:
“Pakistan is, by most accounts, the “sick man” of South Asia. Per capita earning of Pakistanis has slipped to the lowest in the sub-continent. Despite an agriculture base, 40% of our children are stunted. The pandemic exposed the critical shortfalls in our healthcare. 44% of children do not attend school regularly.
The majority that do receive mediocre education. Large parts of major cities are slums, lacking basic utilities, including safe drinking water. An estimated 5 million people are unemployed and we struggle to find jobs for the 2 million that reach the age of employment each year. The country has deindustrialized prematurely.
We have lost our share of world exports. The economy is consumption based, reliant on imports even for basic goods. Pakistan suffers from one of the highest electricity tariffs in the world. It also has one of the lowest productivity rates.
Our agriculture is in a poor state. Not only are food shortages leading to an unbearable burden of inflation, unchecked, they threaten food security. Recurring external account crises have compromised the country’s economic autonomy.
Successive governments have failed to broaden the tax base. Existing tax payers carry a disproportionate burden. Billions in tax refunds, rebates and duty drawbacks are owed to exporters and other businesses. For paucity of funds, the state fails to meet its obligations to improve the quality of life of its citizens.”
In articulating the proposed ‘charter of economy’’, the Pakistan Business Council focuses on five major thrusts:
Lift the standard of living of the vast majority of population in the low to middle-income strata;
Fix the state of our agriculture to provide food security and protect people from inflation;
Reverse the premature deindustrialization through a “Make-in-Pakistan” approach to promote jobs, value-added exports and import substitution. Reskill for the future;
Formalize the economy, deregulate, transform the civil service and reform the NAB law.
In the present atmosphere of acrimony bordering at times on animosity and mistrust between rival political parties, where vote politics overrides all other considerations, including national interest, democratic principles and people’s interest, the concept of a ‘charter of economy’ or a ‘charter of democracy’ is merely an illusion and an exercise in futility.
If anything which can work in the present scenario is a ‘character of economy’ whose ownership is in the hands of the business fraternity as the sole stakeholders, whereas, the ‘charter of democracy’ part, which is related to the peoples’ interest, is in the hands of the philanthropists of the country who are performing exceptionally well in education, healthcare and poverty alleviation. The peoples’ hopes rest on them.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023