In a couple of days three unpleasant incidents took place which show that the trend of intolerance in the society is on the rise and the ruling elite seems helpless to this nip this evil in the budwhich may grow into a strong tree if political expediency prevailed as usual. Consecutive incidents of spraying ink on the Foreign Minister Khwaja Asif, in a public meeting in Sailkot, hurling shoes on former Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif at a function in Jamea-e- Naeemia and botched attempt of shoe hurling on Pakistan Therik-i- Insaf Chairman Faisalabad are of great concern. It needs serious consideration and corrective measures to instill the values of moderation and tolerance among the people.
Some ministers from the ruling PML-N is looking at these highly condemnable events through political prism which is not a realistic approach. The root cause of the intolerant legacy must be searched out and moral courage be demonstrated by shunning political expediency to eradicate it. Before the decade of 70s religious polemics and scholastic differences were confined to informed and intellectual debates. But political changes in the region in late 70s sowed a seed of intolerance and monster of extremism raised its head which was unfortunately willingly or unwillingly patronized by the ruling elite. The country became an open field for foreign proxies and fellow Muslims started killing each others in sectarian strife. If the slogans that were raised in the Jamea-e- Naeemia after the hurling of shoe on the former Prime Minster is any guide then digging out a settled issue and wrapping it the Election Bill 2017 was not a right decision, the repercussion of which is haunting the PML-N leadership. Mere condemnation of the trend of intolerance by the leaderships of political parties is not enough. They should put their heads together and reach a consensus how to get rid of it. President Mammon Hussain has correctly analyzed the devastating consequences of the emerging trend of intolerance. He has cautioned if this menace was not curbed then no one will be safe from its harmful effects. It will cause a collective damage and Pakistan’s sacrifices against war on terror will go in vain and its achievements will change into failures.
The civilian leadership has almost locked the National Action Plan in the cupboard solely for political reasons and the announcement of National Narrative, ‘Paigham-e- Pakistan ‘is non-starter and turned out to be mere public relations exercises. The attitude of complacency and political expediency is pushing the country to international isolation. The Paris debacle at the recent FATF meeting, where our staunch allies, Saudi Arabia and China had to abandon us at the last minute, should be an eye-opener for the ruling elite. It is time to come out from the cocoon of expediency, confront the bitter realities headlong and focus on ways and means for their short term and long term solutions.
The abnormally high power tariff and recurring problem of load-shedding and circular debt necessitates the formulation of an optimal energy policy, ensuring 70 inexpensive electricity generations from hydro, wind and solar sources. It was believed that the PML-N government will fulfill its promise of ending the chronic issue of power outages and include a long term power generation policy in the 11th five year plan based on the optimal mix of hydro, wind, solar and thermal power. But the much needed long power generation policy was not formulated and adhoc strategy was pursued with a large component of health hazardous and costly imported coal based thermal power generation by converting the connectivity mega project into mainly an expensive thermal energy project.
Only one mega project of hydropower generation of 1421 megawatt, Tarbela extension will be completed before the closing of current fiscal year. The first power generation unit of 470 megawatt was formally inaugurated by the Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Saturday. Other two units of the same power generation capacity shall be completed within the next few months. A small hydropower project of 108 megawatt has also been made operational in Chittral but the completion of 960 megawatt Neelum Jehlum project has been abnormally delayed although its construction work started in 2006. The implementation of 3600 mega watt Diya Mir hydropower project has been withdrawn from CPEC framework and is almost shelved. The future of another power generation project Dasu of 3000 plus megawatt is hanging in the balance and the government is paying demurrage charges to the Chinese construction companies that moved machinery to the site of the dam. Likewise, 730 megawatt Monda hydropower project is on the waiting list of financing and its construction cost has now jumped from Rs. 60 billion to Rs. 120 billion. The project was going to be launched in 2003. The approval of small hydropower stations with a total generation capacity of 2000 megawatt in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa is yet to be accorded by the federal government although these projects were submitted in 2012. The leaderships of political parties move hand in hand for the protection of their personal and political interest but deliberately stand divided on national interest. Lack of consensus for the construction of Kalabagh dam is a reflection of myopic vision of ethnicity and provincialism.
Because of the cobweb agreements loaded in favor of private thermal power producers there is a perpetual problem of massive circular debt accumulation. These agreements were made in the second tenure of PPP government as a measure of democracy is the best revenge to be slapped on the poor people Pakistan in the form of very expensive electricity tariff. It was because of the ant-national interest clauses in these agreements that Pakistan lost two cases to the private power producers in the international arbitration courts. The first case was lost to Turkish firm Karkey Kardeniz in Rental Power in the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a compensation of $ 800 million had to be paid. In another arbitration setback, the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) in its final award asked Pakistan to pay more than Rs. 14 billion ($ 140 million) to 10 Pakistani Independent Power Producers. Payment of about $ 900 million as compensation is a big jolt for a cash strapped and debt riddled country.
Economic Coordination Committee has approved circular debt settlement plan to clear the dues of Rs. 525 billion. It was decided to immediately pay Rs. 80 billion to private power producers and fuel suppliers aimed at easing their financial constraint. Ironically, the circular debt total liability as of December 2017 include Rs. 312 billion in energy cost and the remaining Rs. 214 billion is on account of capacity charges , liquidity damages and loans mark up. The capacity clause imply that the people have to pay for the electricity which is not produced and not sold to the government and which is not consumed by the consumers. Is not democracy the best revenge in the PPP political jargon? If the entire circular debt liability is not settled then there would be no escape from the load shedding in the upcoming summer season. A two hours electricity load shedding has already been started in cities and the duration of power supply in rural areas is hardly three hours. Hopefully a comprehensive power generation policy will be included in 12th five year plan.
The federal government is still in a defiant and denial mode to address the issues that led to the diplomatic isolation and Financial Action task Force (FATF) decision to put Pakistan back on a watch-list by June this year if it fails to improve its antimony laundering and counter terrorism financing regime. Federal Minister for Interior Minister and planning, Ahsan Iqbal has alleged that the decision of FATF to put Pakistan back on its grey list was taken at the behest of the United States to serve political motives.
The Interior Minister said that grey list sword is now hanging over Pakistan because the country has recently graduated from black to grey and then to white list in few years. He said the European Union has extended Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP) plus after admitting that Islamabad took steps to eliminate terror financing through National Action Plan (NAP).
Pakistan was put on FATF watch list in 2012 and removed from it in 2015 after the launching and successful progress of military operation Zarb-e-Azab against the militants’ sanctuaries in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in 2014. The civilian leadership was reluctant till the last minute of the launching of cleanup operation and was holding talks from the position of weakness with the second tier leadership of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). As a backlash to this operation, the tragedy of Army Public School Peshawar occurred in December 2014 and the political parties had to agree to the formulation of NAP, reservations of religious political parties, MQM and Chairman Senate Raza Rabani not-withstanding. NAP has not been implemented in totality and its important points numbering 3,4,5,7,9,10, 12, 15, 19 and 20 have been shelved by the government for ever because of political expediency. It includes strict action against militant groups; strengthening National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA); choking finances for terrorist organization; curbing reemergence of proscribed organization; seminaries reforms; and revamping and reforming the criminal justice system.
The logic of poetical motives of the United States behind the decision of putting Pakistan back on watch-list does not stand the litmus test as its staunch allies Saudi Arabia China also voted in support of this decision. It was in the recent meeting of FATF that China was made the Vice President of this intergovernmental world body. The foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua has held useful discussions with the White House and State Department officials to rescue the fragile alliance between the United States and Pakistan and to move forward towards restoring peace and stability in Afghanistan. In this backdrop, the frontal attack on the country’s ally is not a sagacious move. Such like unwise and deliberate angling may widen the present cleavage in bilateral relations of Pakistan and the United States. The grey areas in the antimony laundering and counter terrorism financing regime need to be cleared to restore the trust of international community.
This time avoiding stinging repudiation of International Monetary Fund (IMF) warning of correcting macroeconomic imbalances, the Interior Minister claimed the government consciously adopted the aggressive path of growth and investment while aware of negative effects, including rising external financing requirements for a few years. He said slow growth can not be allowed because of two million new job entrants. In fact the current economic growth rate below five 5 percent is expenditure led growth and not the income led one. The closure of 120 textile units have made thousand of workers jobless what to speak of generating employment opportunities for the millions of new entrants in the job market. The internal assessment report of Planning Commission reveals that PML-N government has failed to achieve macroeconomic and social targets set in the 11th Five Year Plan. The rising external financing problem is caused by reckless borrowing and widening current account deficit and not by productive investment activities. CPEC is proving a bane not a boom for the local industries. The representatives of the Chambers of Golden Industrial Triangle, comprising Gugrat, Gugranwala and Sialkot had expressed grave concern about the Chinese controlled Special Economic Zones in the country, fearing closure of local industries resulting in massive unemployment and steep fall in productive capacity of the manufacturing sector. These reservations of the trade bodies were vindicated by Syed Mohyuddin, Chairman State Engineering Corporation (SEC) in his visit to Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday. He urged the entrepreneurs to abandon the second generation technology and adopt the 5th generation technology if they want to succeed in establishing effective joint ventures and partnership in CPEC with their Chinese counterparts. Pakistan’s economy is in a dire need of another IMF bail-out package, bigger than that of 2013, and Ahsan Iqbal should avoid uncalled for critique of the United States as it controls 70 percent voting rights in the international lending agencies.
While addressing the inauguration ceremony of liquefied gas plant at Kark, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi claimed that the PML-N government has put the country on the path of development according to the vision of Nawaz Sharif and added that it is up to the masses that they would give vote to those who are abusing or to those who believe in decent politics. He said that the people would decide in July in general elections and expressed the optimism that the electorate would decide in favor of PML-N.
Economic progress and prosperity mantra has all along been the favorite public relations theme of this mainstream political party but its leadership fails to ameliorate the condition of the masses. In the second tenure of PML-N government the campaign of “Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwaro”did not result in reducing the debt burden. On the contrary, the country reached to the verge of default with dropping of the foreign exchange reserves to the dangerous level of $ 600 million. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed a fine of $ 100 million on Pakistan on account of fudging the figures and economic indicators of the economy. The fine was then paid by the Government of President Musharraf and in the first three year of his government the country got freedom from loans liability of IMF.
In the current tenure the present government acquired $ 45 billion loans including the $ 6.6 billion Extended Fund Facility loan of the IMF. The total foreign debt now stands at $ 90 billion. In August, last year World Bank in its report “South Asia Focus Fall, 2017″highlighted macro economic imbalances of Pakistan’s economy including the alarming current account deficit because of falling exports and surging imports, fast rising debt burden and budget deficit. The IMF in its recent report has painted very gloomy picture of the economy and issued an ominous warning that risks pertaining to Pakistan’s economic and financial outlook have increased and its debt repayment capacity in the mid term and long term has weakened. International Credit Rating Agencies Fitch and Moody have changed the financial outlook of Pakistan from stable to negative. The country has slipped down to 147th position on the World Bank Index of ‘Ease of Doing Business’ because of the extremely unfavorable economic environment which is evident from the stagnation in the textile sector. Pakistan is confronted with diplomatic isolation, even China and Saudi Arabia abandoned it in the FATF meeting and consequently the country has to be put back on the ‘grey list’ if it fails to improve its antimony laundering and counter terrorism regime.
The socio economic indicators do not support the claims of the government. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report reveals that human development index (HDI) is 0.5 percent which is abysmally low. In the current tenure of present government the number of people living below the poverty line has increased and now 60 percent of country’s population lives below the poverty line. In the previous PPP government 40 percent of the total population was living below the poverty line. There is colossal unemployment. The people are not getting clean drinking water, sanitation system is in dilapidated condition and health facilities are unsatisfactory. The dynamics of election depends on the clout of the candidates and support of government machinery in Punjab, Interior Sindh and Baluchistan and not on the economic performance of the political party that has remained in power before general elections.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in its report has issued an ominous warning that risks pertaining to Pakistan’s economic and financial outlook have increased and its mid term and long term debt repayment capacity has weakened urging Islamabad to take immediate corrective measures. IMF released this gloomy report just after the conclusion of its Board of Directors meeting that held the ‘first program monitoring discussion’ with Pakistan held in Islamabad. The report noted with concern the alarming current account deficit which is 4.8 percent of the GDP worth $ 16.6 billion and budget deficit which has reached to 70 percent of the GDP.
The IMF projections over the current account deficit and budget deficit are very gloomy. The international lending agency has also added to the warning of FATF corroborating the stance of this intergovernmental world body and has urged the government in Islamabad to improve its money laundering and counter terrorism financing regime. It has also asked the countries economic managers to devalue the currency although the recent depreciation of Rupee by 4.5 percent against the US dollar and loss of value in exchange with other major currencies has not reflected in enhancing exports and easing pressure on foreign exchange reserves. The foreign currency reserves have dropped to $ 12.1 billion despite the acquisition of $ 500 million Chinese loan and further quest for $ 1 billion. The imports are still surging and the pressure on the foreign currency reserves will intensify. The budget deficit has reached to 70 percent of the GDP but there are no signs that the government will abide by the Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act, 2005. The World Bank pegged a loan of $ 400 million with the condition of enacting more comprehensive legislation, ensuring prudent fiscal and debt management. But the required legislation was not made by the present government which is fond of reckless borrowing irrespective of its consequences for the fragile economy.
The IMF has also emphasized prudent debt management and cautioned against phasing in new external liabilities. Seeking more Chinese loans indicate that government will tread the opposite path by ignoring the IMF sane advice. The multilateral donor agency has urged the government to tackle the rising fiscal risks stemming from the continuous losses in public sector enterprises. The cumulative losses of PIA are Rs. 320 billion and that of Pakistan Steel Mill have reached to Rs. 161 billion. These huge losses incurring government entities need privatization but the government has not succeeded to offload this heavy finical burden on the national exchequer. Another major contributor to the massive fiscal deficit is the piling up of circular debt which recurs because of the financial trap of Independent Power Plants laid against economy of a poor nation in the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto government. An amount of Rs. 480 billion was paid to the Independent Power Producers in 2013 and the circular debt liability has again reached Rs. 922 billion. However the government admits a liability of Rs. 525 billion and the Economic Coordination Committee has approved the payment of Rs. 80 billion.
The government will reject the recent IMF report like the findings of World Bank Report “South Asia Focus Fall 2017″released in August last year.The federal Minister for Interior, Planning and Economic Reforms, Ahsan Iqbal,State Minister for Finance Rana Muhammad Afzal and De facto Finance Minister Miftah Ismael will swing into action, repudiating the IMF report and making once again tall claims of economic gains and imminent prosperity. The incumbent government will leave the heavy baggage of economic and financial mess to the caretaker government. It will never accept the suggestions of international financial organizations to address the current fiscal imbalances.
Despite the periodical stresses and strains in bilateral relations, Pakistan and the United states can not be mutually exclusive in world and regional affairs. The fragile alliance between the two countries survived in the backdrop of President Trump undiplomatic tweet accusing Pakistan of ‘lies’ and ‘deceit’, suspension$ 2 billion security assistance and successful US move of putting it back on FATF grey list.
Foreign secretary Tehmina Janjua, in her weeklong stay in Washington, will hold talks with senior White House and State department officials to rescue the uncertain alliance between the United States and Pakistan in war on terror. The discussion will focus on the current conundrum in bilateral ties and how the two sides could come to a decisive ground on Afghanistan. Foreign secretary visits Washington just days after Lisa Curtis, a senior aide of President Trump, journey to Islamabad in search of common ground in the fight against terrorism and particularly bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.
After the tough posturing of Pakistani leadership in response to the US pressure tactics, Washington swiftly moved towards damage control measures. A senor aid of the US president visited Islamabad in a bid to bring down the rising temperature between the two allies. The conciliatory tone and tenor of US administration continues. The Central Command Chief, General Joseph Votel dispelled the impression that US and Pakistan are on a collision course, saying that they valued military-to-military relations with Pakistan. He told a Congressional Panel that the US has preserved military-to- military relationship with Pakistan and attempted to increase transparency and communication with military leaders. He said that achieving long term stability in Afghanistan and defeating insurgency will be difficult without Pakistan’s support. The US commander pointed out that the military had recently seen some positive indications from Pakistan which led to believe that Islamabad is becoming more responsive to US concerns about alleged militants safe heavens.
US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has released a report which states that Pakistan has made some success in counterinsurgency operation. However the report says that Islamabad is likely to proceed with its counterinsurgency and border management efforts along its western border while sustaining counterterrorism and paramilitary operation throughout the country. In an interview with Voice of America in Kabul, US Acting Secretary of State for South Asia and Central Asia, Alis Wells said that US was not thinking of cutting ties with Pakistan. She also assured Islamabad that US considered Pakistan essential to resolving the Afghan imbroglio.
The statements of the top Commander Joseph Votel and State department officials indicate that US wants the alliance with Pakistan intact. However, the phraseology of preserving military-to military relationship and sustaining counterterrorism and paramilitary operation throughout the country are noteworthy. The civilian leadership has not shown strong determination to carry out an effective clean up operation against the sleeper cells of militants’ outfits in the Southern Punjab and interior Sindh to which an oblique reference is made in DIA report. Ironically, for the leadership of both the main stream political parties the fluid situation of the region is not important. They give more preference to unnecessary confrontation with state institutions which reflect a myopic vision and self serving attitude.
It is worth appreciation that educationists and religious scholars speak about bringing positive change in attitudes with modern education. Speaking at seminar under the auspices English Department of Karak University, Chairman Islamic Ideology Council Professor Dr. Qibla Ayaz said if education did not bring positive change in attitudes then it is merely literacy. He said although Globalization has negatively affected our cultural values but it has some good elements too in the form of knowledge explosion. “We have to pick up the beneficial aspects of Globalization and give importance to valuable heritage of our history, “Professor Qibla Ayaz emphasized. He struck the right note by saying that economically dependent nations can not formulate and run a foreign policy compatible with their national interests.
There is no denying the fact that administration and faculty of a University can perform a credible role in resolving the problems confronting the students and persuade them not to indulge in unhealthy activities but the fact remains that it is the political interference that vitiates the educative environment of the institutions of higher education. The students’ unions affiliated with different political parties promote violence on the campuses. The pitched battles fought twice in one year between the zealots of Islami Jamiate-u- Talba and Pukhtun Students Federation in Punjab University reminds how political interference has polluted the environment in Varsities. The politically connected drugs’ peddlers lure students towards the use of different brands of narcotics. This serious issue addicting students to a drug ‘Crystal Meth’ in schools and Universities echoed on the floor of Khyber Pukjhtunkhwa Assembly.
The mind set built up over the past four decades can not be changed over night. However, meaningful reforms in curricula can be instrumental t bring the desired changes in attitudes if there is a political will and moral spine. But who will introduce and implement these reforms is a million dollar question? Both the elected and non elected governments have failed in the implementation of the needed curricula reforms. The present PTI government has included Arabic as optional subject in schools which is a good beginning. However, learning of foreign languages like French, Deutch, Chinese Russian and Spanish will provide more opportunities of international grooming to students when they pursue Doctoral Programs of study abroad. The real challenge is the implementation of reforms.
The successive governments ruling the country since 1972 ran a foreign policy subservient to the United States which landed the country in the present quagmire. The devastating economic measures of Z.A Bhutto government, particularly, his policy of nationalization of private industrial enterprises and financial institutions increased Pakistan’s dependence on international lending agencies controlled by the United States. The economic policies pursued in the three terms of PPP and PML-N governments have made the country hostage to this sole superpower although a multi polarity has emerged in the realm of international relations. A cash strapped country like Pakistan can not venture to run an independent foreign policy. The visionary academicians and scholars like Professor Dr. Qibla Ayaz are the ray of hope to retrieve the nation particularly the youth from moral and intellectual degeneration.
The circular debt has reached to alarming proportion of Rs. 922 billion till November last year and may further go up to the end of current fiscal year. It is almost double of the amount of circular debt accumulated during the five years rule of previous PPP government. The carry over liability of Rs. 480 billion on this account was paid by the incumbent government in 2013 to persuade the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) to resume power generation activities which they had stopped because of non-payment from the previous government. To hoodwink the public opinion, the ministry of finance has put the figure of circular debt at Rs. 472. 678 billion, conveniently glossing over the amount of Rs. 450 billion separately parked with Power Holding Private Limited (PHPL).
The major factor of massive circular debt accumulation within few years is the adhoc policy of very expensive thermal power generation mainly with diesel and furnace oil-fired by private sector power plants. In the second government of Pakistan People Party, open-ended agreements were made with IPPs, completely compromising the national interest. The clauses of these agreements were loaded in favor of the private power producing companies and against the financial interests of the government and poor people of Pakistan. The claims of production cost are blindly accepted by the government without going for audit to verify their hefty claims. In September, 2017, the World Bank’s International Center for Investment Disputes (ICSID) awarded around $ 800 million compensation to Karkey Karandiniz Elektrik Uretim of Turkey in a Rental Power case. Weeks later in November 2017, the London Court of International Arbitration awarded to pay Rs. 14 billion ( $ 135 million) including mark-up to a group of nine local power producers for breaching contractual obligations. Paying $ 900 million for debt riddled country like Pakistan is a big financial jolt. Naturally, this burden was passed on to electricity consumers. Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had rightly said, “Democracy is the best revenge.”The revenge is taken from the poor people who pay ‘Debt Obligation Surcharge’ in the monthly electricity bills.
The present PML-N government converted the mega connectivity project China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) largely into an expensive thermal power generation project by including 13 coal-based power plants entirely owned by Chinese power producing companies. A revolving fund has to be created in commercial banks to make advance payments for the purchase of expensive thermal power. Had the national interest been held supreme the priority would have been for hydropower and wind power plants generating very cheap electricity. The governments of both the mainstream political parties have been least bothered about the whirlpool of circular debt bringing miseries for the electricity consumers and adversely impacting the economy.
Presently the power mix comprises 70 percent highly expensive thermal and 30 percent cheap hydropower. The ratio needs reversal by adding hydropower which can be achieved by implementing small, medium and big hydro power projects. KP government had submitted small hydropower projects with a total generation capacity of 2100 megawatts in 2012 which need implementation on fast track basis. The remaining work on Nelum-Jhelam and Tarbela extension power projects is expedited. Consensus has to be achieved for the construction of Kalabagh Dam and financers for the construction of Diya Mir Basha Dam have to be searched out. The donaors who have agree to finance Monda and Kurram Tangi Dams may be persuaded to undertake the construction work as per schedule. The terms of agreements made with IPPs need re-negation as per the contractual obligation the government has to make payments to the local power produces whether it purchases power from them or not. Moreover, diesel and furnace oil fired power plants should be converted to gas to bring down the production cost.
It is a matter of great concern for educationists, students and their parents that the ranking of Public Sector Universities in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa has declined over the past seven years. Not a single government University has been able to break into the top 10 institutions in the Higher Education Commission (HEC) list. It is pertinent to mention that University of Peshawar is the oldest institution of higher education in the province. It was ranked at fourth position in the HEC list in 2006 but in the following years it degenerated and now it is not included in the top 10 universities of the country although the incumbent Vice Chancellor Professor Dr. Muhammad Asif Khan has taken a number of measures to enhance the quality of education in this Alma-mater.
The issue of steep fall in the ranking of Public sector Universities was agitated by JUI (F) lawmaker in the Provincial legislature. He asked the Higher Education Minister Mushtaq Ghani about the causes accentuating the decline in the quality of education to which the minster gave a very short answer. Admitting the fact of low quality of higher education in the province, he said the government was planning to establish an independent Provincial Higher Education Commission to oversee the performance of government Universities. The problem is not that simple. In fact the PTI government has applied double standard to the promotion of education and its quality enhancement.
The young and dynamic minster of primary and secondary education Muhammad Atif Khan has drastically transformed the education system by curriculum reforms and ensuring transparency and merit in the selection procedure of teachers by giving greater weight-age to NTS score and academic quantifications. By adopting this procedure the government schools get the best of best teachers. Moreover, the monitors of Independent Monitoring Units keep a close watch on the performance of teachers. On the contrary, in government universities faculty and top administrative positions are filled in by political interference and personal interests of members of Syndicates. Before the enactment of 18th Amendment and devolution of higher education to provinces, HEC had a greater role in the appointment Assistant Professors and merit was fully ensured. Now the political preferences has made the selection criteria topsy-turvy. It is then but natural the quality of higher education will be adversely affected. The ghost of political appointments entrenched by the previous Awami National Party Government is still dominant in the appointments of faculty members in the institutions of higher education.
Currently, 22 Public sector Universities are functional in the province wherein the academic and research facilities are far from satisfactory. The Syndicates wields most of the powers and the position of Vice Chancellors becomes symbolic if he or she is not politically well connected. The Professors in BS-22 are least interested in facilitating the academic and research activities of the students. The poorly equipped science labs are another major factor impacting the quality of higher education. There is acute shortage of equipments and exiting ones are obsolete which are not largely beneficial in the pursuit of advanced knowledge. It is the high-tech instrumentation of science labs in universities and the development of skills of the students to operate state-of-the- art instruments that enhance the quality of education. Significant improvement in quality of education and research publications of both the faculty and students in the high impact factor journals boost the ranking of varsities. This essential ingredient of our education system is neglected.
Instead of broadening the extremely narrow tax base, the government lost over 131000 active taxpayers as only 1.261 million people and companies filed their annual income tax returns. A 10 percent reduction in the tax base during the fifth year of PML-N government underline the need for a serious review of tax and administrative policies that Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has been following. As per the FBR published list of Active Taxpayer for the year 2017 the number of taxpayers has dropped to 1.261 million as compared with 1.391 million in 2016.
Under the Tax Rules of 2002 FBR, publishes new active taxpayers list on March 1. Last week, FBR Income Tax policy Chief made a claim before the Senate Standing Committee on Finance that the number of taxpayers would jump to 1.6 million once active taxpayers list is notified. On the contrary Special Assis5ttant to the Prime Minister on revenues expressed the hope that the figure would increase to 1.4 million. The difference between the claims and result has put a question mark over keeping 22000 personals strong force tax for collection that is even unable to maintain the existing extremely narrow tax base. The Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi declared broadening of tax base as his first priority in his maiden speech delivered at the floor of National Assembly after he was elected as Chief Executive. Likewise, in an interview with Bloomberg, a New York based news agency he said that a plan will be implement with a view to build profiles of potential taxpayers in a renewed bid to broaden the tax base. He said that the plan seeks to plug leakages, encourage correct property valuation, lower individual tax rate and offer tax amnesty on offshore accounts.
The bitter fact is that less than one percent of country’s population of 210 million pay tax. International lending agencies including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have repeatedly shown grave concern over Pakistan’s very low tax-to-GDP ratio of 12 percent which is lowest in the world. In the governments of two main stream political parties, tax evasion and income tax non-filers trend go up. In 2007 2.1 million people and companies filed their income tax returns. At the end of previous PPP government, the number of active taxpayers dropped to 935,776, which gradually increased during 2014-16 to 1.391 million when IMF loan program of Extended Fund facility was going on. In September 2016, the IMF program ended and the trend of not filing income tax return went up. Hence in 2017, 131000 tax payers jumped out of the tax net.
The PML-N government introduced a policy of charging higher tax rate from the non-filers of income tax returns. It imposed 0.6 percent withholding tax on all banking transactions carried out by non-filers. Eventually, it lowered the rate to 0.4 percent after yielding to the pressure exerted by trading community. But the move backfired as transaction through banks’cheques declined and cash transactions flourished. The FBR own statistics shows that out of 48 main withholding taxes, 94 percent withholding tax received was generated only on 10 rational sources like contracts, imports, telephone bills and salaries etcetera. So long as the government does not impose tax on agriculture income, stock exchange brokers’ income and profits and capitals gains tax on accurate valuation of properties, the tax base will remain narrow. Prime Minister’s offer of one-time tax amnesty is a financial NRO for the offshore business which was hitherto ran with money laundering and the tight global fiscal laws has compelled the offshore assets holders to whiten their black money either by just paying peanuts in the form of direct tax or avail merely a certificate from the incumbent about the legitimacy of their ill gotten wealth by not paying even zero tax.