Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why taxes are not a political issue in Pakistan?

Note: I sent this piece of writing to all the newspapers one by one; none bothered to see it or use it, that I am justified to conclude!

Why taxes are not a political issue in Pakistan?
All the politics is about collecting and spending taxes; but unfortunately that reality does not translate into political issues in Pakistan.

What it translates into is power-politics pure and simple! See the arrogant issueless politics of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf; see the pseudo-development politics of Pakistan Muslim League (N); see the outdated Roti-Kapra-Makaan politics of Pakistan Peoples Party (P); see the identity-less politics of Awami National Party; and also see the self-centered religious politics of Jamat-e-Islami, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (F). At the end of the day, all of their politics is about seeking power and state-benefits; or it is politicking on pseudo-issues ranging from anti-Americanism and pro-Palestine rallies to this or that religious or sectarian wrangling.

The political parties of Pakistan never ever take up any issue which directly concerns the ordinary citizens; such as the cruel state-machinery; deplorable conditions of social services; police brutalities; unavailability of prompt justice; protection of life and property, and most importantly taxes. For the last 68 years, these parties are constantly trying to protect “democracy,” which in fact is in danger by the very politics of the same political parties. And this “democracy” has delivered nothing to the people, but the crumbs.

Likewise, no political party minds the imposition of a new tax or an increase in an already existing tax; since they would be following the same practice while in the government. Probably for the same reason, no political party makes an issue of the taxes imposed, taxes increased or unjustified taxation. They may be objecting and debating it, now and then, in the national or provincial assemblies and resorting to a cosmetic walk-out or a boycott; however, they would never make it a political issue and educate their voters. Are they not the representatives of the people, who are required to take care of their interests? Or they are not the true representatives of the people!

For instance, take the case of Withholding Tax (0.3 % and 0.6 %) levied in this year’s budget. It got through the parliament smoothly; the opposition, a very active for that matter, having taken no notice of it. Only the middle-level traders, who are an organized community, and whom this tax affects directly, have come out against it. The other sections of society, which are not organized, such as pensioners, widows, ordinary savers, National Savings’ customers, it seems have no voice. It is in this context that question arises on the legitimacy of the role of the representatives sitting in the parliament. One must ask: Whose interests they are supposed to protect? And, whose interests they are protecting?

Crueler than this Withholding Tax, there is another arbitrary and unjust tax imposed years back on cash withdrawals from banks. Without any justification and starkly against the principles of taxation, it too penalizes those who use banking channels. Ironically, this tax also defies its purpose, i.e. promoting of banking channels and thus formal economy.

Isn’t is surprising and at the same time instructive that no parliamentarian and no politician or no political party took up the case of Withholding Tax on cash withdrawals and spoke against it let alone making it a political issue! Also, no court bothered to take “suo motto” notice of it. The same is happening as far as the Withholding Tax on all the banking instruments is concerned. No political party is ready to make it a political issue. They announced their support for the traders and sympathized with their cause; but that’s part of their power-politics!

As is the case, all the taxes ultimately trickle down to the end-consumers. Is it the reason no political party make them a political issue in which case they are not the true representatives of the people. But for the same reason, all the political parties must make the taxes a political issue in which case they may come to truly represent the people. Are the political parties of Pakistan are ready to play role of the true representatives of the people? Or they are there to vouch for their own special Ashraafi interests? Then the people must not vote them in power!

Friday, October 9, 2015

The 21st point: Overhaul the state

Note: This article was completed on December 31st, 2014, and was originally posted on this Blog in January 2015.

Presently there is happening quite a serious debate on the 20 points envisaged in the National Action Plan. Its thrust is on two points:

i) All these measures should have been in their place since long as a matter of routine, probably from the day first when Pakistan came to exist; and,

ii) Due to the past negligence of the governments, doubts and questions are being raised about the efficacy of these measures.

The argument the present writer aims to make is a bit different; he wants to propose a 21st point to be added to the NAP, which focuses on overhauling the state. Let’s be precise in judging: It’s the state that played havoc with the society of Pakistan, and now it needs to be back to the basics!

First and foremost: The politicians of Pakistan should stop behaving like Haakim and Ashraaf; they are empowered by the vote of people and are bound to act in accordance with the provisions of the constitution; they are the same citizens albeit with certain responsibilities and duties with which strings of accountability are attached.

The citizens of Pakistan while they participated in the Lawyers’ Movement learnt about: Constitutionalism; Rule of Law; Fundamental Rights; Independence of Judiciary: these must materialize into reality. That amounts to minimizing the role of the politicians which they exert on the society and market through various instruments of the state and government; and that will strengthen and enhance the civil society and its role in the life of the citizens.

There are two domains wherein an urgent overhaul is required: Political and Economic. In the political domain, following practical measures are needed:

i) The role of the state be redefined as a protector of the citizens life, property and their freedoms and not as an institution of welfare, and not as a proprietor of Business; 

ii) Constitutionalism should be the only way to run the affairs of the state; 

iii) Top priority be given to the protection of all the citizens’ life, property and their fundamental rights; especially the right to religious freedom be ensured to every citizens whatever his/her faith is; 

iv) Institutions and agencies responsible to dispense justice and extend protection to the citizens, such as Police, Courts, be made autonomous and accountable to the parliament or the provincial assemblies as the case may be; 

v) Civilian authority be retrieved and restored both in letter and spirit; formulation of defense and foreign policies constitutionally rests with the elected government and parliament, these should go back to them; as in accord with the constitution the Army has nothing to do with any other matters save related to its professional duties, it must confine itself to the role assigned by the constitution; also not only the Army but all the intelligence agencies be made accountable to the parliament; 

vi) Any interference in the matters of the state and its institutions whether it comes from the political or military quarters be not heeded to in the least and violators be brought to the book; 

vii) Judiciary be completely made independent financially and in matters of its appointments especially; 

viii) All the institutions of the state, such as Election Commission, National Accountability Bureau, be made autonomous absolutely impervious to any external influence; 

ix) In the matters of Army’s and Bureaucracy’s appointments, posting, transfers, promotions, Prime Minister’s, or any minister’s prerogatives be done away with, and the principle of merit and seniority strictly be followed; 

x) All the legislation regarding the citizens’ right to information be it at the federal or provincial level is a farce; in fact all the information regarding the affairs of the state and government belongs to the citizens; why should they pay and be asking for it; so it be posted on the respective websites for their examination; 

xi) The role of all the elected representatives be confined to the matters of legislation and they should enjoy no other status or powers; no funds, be it for development or for any other purpose, be given to them; 

xii) Foreign visits of state and government officials be drastically curtailed; no visit be allowed without prior budget sanction; 

xiii) It be legislated that only professional politicians could contest and become elected representatives, and no one doing or having any business interests could join politics and government.

In the domain of Pakistan’s economy, following radical reforms need to be introduced: First and foremost: The state must come back to its original protective function and focus on its regulatory and facilitatory role and be doing no business at all. 

i) All the lands gifted/allotted by the British to anyone be taken back and distributed to landless peasants and homeless citizens under a uniform policy; 

ii) All the monetary privileges and tax exemptions be abolished;

iii) All the discretionary powers, discretionary or secret funds be stopped; 

iv) All the state enterprises be privatized be they incur profit or loss; 

v) As growth is a function of citizens’ entrepreneurial efforts, and state or government creates not a single penny of wealth, this be adopted as a guiding principle while formulating any economic policies; 

vi) As in its role of a taxman, the state by heavily taxing can hamper the economic growth, so it must commit itself to the principle of lower and flat rate taxes; 

vii) As a regulator, the state should commit itself to the principle of regulation for facilitation, not for control; 

viii) All the restrictions on domestic or international trade be lifted; it’s for the producers/traders to see and decide where to export to and where to import from; 

ix) In the spirit of a slim, smart and strong state, unnecessary ministries, departments, etc. be downsized or done away with altogether; 

x) As the state machinery, i.e. departments of the state which collect tax or render various services, such as permissions, licenses, has become an enemy of the people, a complete overhaul of it is long due; with an iron hand it be made citizen-friendly; 

xi) All the accounts of the state be posted on the respective websites and even a single penny be accounted for, i.e. political and economic parasitism must come to an end.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

What’s the game, politically speaking?

Note: I completed this article on December 9, 2014, and wrote: "(Government) ought not to be afraid of martial law the prospects of which are zero presently, rather minus." Now merely 9 months later the prospects of martial law have grown formidably positive; so what's the game, politically speaking, let's try to see:

What's the game, politically speaking?

In democracy, only a majority party is allowed to rule, and it may turn out to be a tyranny; no smaller party alone can lay a claim to that privilege. That’s the advantage of democracy one can cite while arguing with its enemies. Pakistan and other countries like it are an exception. In such countries, parties of every size can unleash a rule of tyranny under the banner of populism. Thus all the gatherings and processions of every size which such parties hold are quoted as a referendum against the government. Both Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) have been quite vocal in delegitimizing the government after each Jalsaa of theirs; thus PTI’s Faisalabad “lockdown” of December 8 in their wisdom has already unseated the government.

That’s because in countries like Pakistan the states have transformed themselves into Jelly States. Years back, a Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal (1898-1987) denoted them as Soft States; he meant to say: They have rules and laws and various agencies to implement them but they do not do so, and that makes them Soft. He termed them as ridden ‘by deficiencies in legislation and, in particular, law observance and enforcement, a widespread disobedience by public officials and, often, their collusion with powerful persons and groups ... whose conduct they should regulate.’ Since then that quality of Softness of states has further deteriorated; it appears that quality has now acquired the characteristics of Jelly, a shapeless thing which fits in with any shape under any type of pressure. That’s how Pakistani state looks like now!

On the one hand a group of just a few hundred or thousand men armed with sticks can paralyze the Pakistani state; that has already happened this August in Islamabad; that happened in Faisalabad too, and is destined to happen in other cities; and on the other hand, though the present government is all determined to try a military general for allegedly committing High Treason but is facing formidable hurdles at every step; all that testifies that the Pakistani state is but helpless in establishing its writ in every domain. Here it doesn’t matter whether it has got the will to establish its writ or not, because there is no way to know but through its own efforts which it may put in establishing its writ and with the help of which it may be ascertained that it is intent upon establishing its writ.

Let’s pick out three areas to see are there any efforts being made on the part of the state to establish its writ. First is Taliban, who openly challenge the state and want to capture it through an armed struggle. The state completely failed on this count; for many years it let thousands of innocent citizens to be killed by these fanatic warriors and remained mired in its own policy of appeasing them and their supporter groups and parties. Now there is an operation going on, whose range and scope is still not clear. The second area relates to politics. A number of religious and political groups and parties openly challenge the state just like Taliban; they rather blatantly indulge in unlawful rhetoric and behavior so often that makes one wonders are they above the law of the land. Not only are parties like PAT and PTI part of this club of privileged politicians, there are a number of groups and parties which use religion to further their political aims and objectives and though their social base may not be more than a few thousand supporters but they and their leaders work like mafias using arms and fascistic ploys and whenever they want they paralyze the whole cities, and the state seems totally helpless!

As has already been mentioned the third area is where the present government, which is at the moment in command of the state of Pakistan, is trying its hardest to bring a usurper general to book; that the Pakistan Muslim League (N)’s government is doing that in the face of fatal odds is no secret now. And the do-and-die and destabilizing politics of PTI needs to be explained in that context also.
In view of the above, one lesson, which every political analyst and politician be he in the government or outside of it needs to learn, is that political actions are not judged by the intentions of their actors, i.e. political parties and leaders, but by their impact and consequences. That’s the first and in a sense last tool of any political analysis; because in its absence no political action may be understood in terms of its impact. As for the intentions of anybody, one can never be sure of; and of course, when a murder occurs, it’s a murder only, though the circumstances are taken into account which prompted that murder; however, the fact of that murder is never disputed, which is a consequence of the circumstances. For instance there may develop a consensus what impact the PAT and PTI politics during this August-October and PTI’s present politics is having on various things including the state and its writ, but never on their intentions.

Unfortunately, from those who are at the helm of affairs of the state and the politicians to those who form the circles of opinion and political following no one is serious in taking into consideration how the present politics of PTI is weakening not only the writ of the state but state itself. Hence, it is this third area of politics where the present government which manifests the state of Pakistan at the moment must establish its writ. It ought not to be afraid of martial law the prospects of which are zero presently, rather minus. It ought to bring the state of Pakistan into the shape which the provisions of its constitution endow it with. It ought not to allow the society of Pakistan slide into a chaos which may result in a civil war. It’s time the state of Pakistan must act to establish its writ in the political domain where it is required to be established first!