Published Date: Feb 27, 2018
It is an unfortunate reality that economic manifestos declared by political parties in Pakistan are neither prepared through consensus within the respective parties, nor are followed or tracked by the citizens at large in so far as the basis of their voting decisions are concerned. The manifestos usually find its way to the dustbin.
That was an honest admission by representatives of major political parties present at the roundtable organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) and Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). The two bodies are making an effort to present a draft economic agenda to mainstream political parties, to solicit feedback and possible agreement on key economic reforms desired for a conducive business climate in Pakistan.
Making economic manifestos count is an endeavour that has been on the agenda of Pakistan’s third sector for some time. But has it worked? One of the earliest efforts in recent memory was by the Islamabad-based think tank Prime Institute that came forward with a government scorecard that tracked the PML-N’s performance against its own stated economic reforms agenda as mentioned in its 2013 manifesto.
To the best of our knowledge, those scorecard reports never became a prime time or lead subject on mainstream electronic and print media. But it did ruffle a few feathers in the government secretariat. We do know that a few ministries were really put off for being made accountable, whereas a few others complained that they were ranked poorly despite what they thought was good performance.
While this column contends that manifesto tracking reports was a good experiment, the jury is still out there in so far as its impact is concerned. Perhaps an impact assessment of that project would help clear the way forward.
But even if the outcome of that assessment is that making economic manifestos count is an uphill task in light of the reality that manifesto-based politics do not happen in Pakistan, the third sector community should not be deterred from making an effort towards this important political development process. We must keep on living, no matter how many skies have fallen.
In light of this, Friday’s moot by the SDPI and CIPE on helping political parties draft economic manifesto is a welcome development. Titled, Draft Economic Agenda 2018, the document includes reform measures on agriculture and food security, manufacturing and industrial exports, investment promotion, energy sector reforms, provincial tax reforms, women entrepreneurship, and social enterprise.
While there is little room for disagreement with that economic agenda for 2018 elections, it does needs to include at least the following components.
First, a segment on financial aspects including SME Finance, house finance, debt market and other related affairs. Second, addendums that declare manifestos for each provincial government considering that provinces now have the responsibility for a host of affairs including water, environment, agriculture, housing, labour, and vocational training.
The agenda also ought to include measures to improve documentation and statistical bases, from mapping say economic footprint of Association of Persons and partnerships and formalization of economy, to having cost of living indices, provincial GDPs, and so forth. (See also: The black box of provincial economies, March 31, 2017)
Lastly, it should also include declarations towards effective implementation of the Right to Information laws and other instruments of transparency and accountability, including inter alia accrual based accounting, and PSEs annual reports.