ISLAMABAD: Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms Ahsan Iqbal has said that the government during the past two and half years saved Rs 560 billion by ensuring transparency in execution of public sector projects.
Speaking at the 18th Sustainable Development Conference, organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Tuesday, Ahsan said that due to effective policies of the government, economic indicators and security situation of the country had improved.
He said the government had given Vision 2025 for sustainable development, adding that under this long-term development plan, efforts were being made to put the country in the list of twenty five top performing countries over the next ten years.
The minister said that a collective vision of South Asia should be launched to fight the common enemy i.e. poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and terrorism. This could only be achieved through regional cooperation and integration, he added.
Ahsan further said that the government was working in close collaboration with the provincial governments in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). About regional cooperation, he said, China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) would bear fruits for all the partner neighbouring countries.
Speaking on the occasion, SDPI Board of Governors Chairman and former ambassador Shafqat Kakakhel said that the agenda of sustainable development in South Asia could only be achieved through economic cooperation and regional integration.
He said that the future of our planet was going to be defined by our own actions hence our actions should be defined in a more innovative and inclusive manner.
SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said that the theme of the conference was initially selected to echo the SAARC agenda of securing peace and prosperity both at national and regional levels.
He further said that peace could not be maintained by the use of force hence cooperation was the key to achieve lasting peace and prosperity in the region.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, senior fellow at Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Bangladesh, said that South Asia needed to build a trust fund to cope with trade, investment and human vulnerabilities.
He also proposed to devise regional monitoring mechanisms to give necessary technical advice to the region. He said both the soft and hard options should also be considered by SAARC. “A combination of knowledge, emotion, action, and commitment towards the desired goals is the key to success of the regional integration and cooperation,” he added.
He said that cross-border and internal conflicts remained the biggest threat to human development, and some critical data for development and policymaking at regional level was still lacking.
Bhattacharya said that South Asia was a region with fastest progress though hundreds of millions of people here were locked in extreme poverty.
Speaking at a panel on ‘Role of Media in Regional Cooperation’, former Information Minister Nisar A Memon said that in order to ensure regional cooperation, there was a need to strengthen SAARC leadership. “Media can play a role in bringing peace and prosperity to the region,” he added.
Rinzin Wangchuk, a journalist from Bhutan, said that media could play its role in ensuring peace among communities. Noor-ul-Kabir, Editor of The Daily News Age, Bangladesh, said common narratives all over the region could also allow media to play a positive role.
At a panel on the ‘Role of Women Entrepreneurs in Sustainable Development of South Asia’, Hiramani Ghimire, Executive Director of South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics & Environment (SAWTEE), Nepal, said that women represented 27 percent of the labour force in South Asia, so they could no longer be ignored.
He said raising capital was difficult for women-owned firms due to challenges in striking a work-life balance. According to the 2012 GEM, the fear of failure was the top concern of women who launched start-up. Female labour was often associated with low-productivity and female-owned businesses often had lower profitability, he added.
Yumiko Yamamoto from United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Bangkok, said women enterprises and small medium enterprises did not directly engage in trade. “Women also have limited mobility that creates difficulties in access to information,” she added.
Pramila Acharya Rijal, Chairperson of SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC), Nepal said with over 51 percent women population in South Asia, women could play a key role in innovative economic development in the region, yet women still owned less than 10 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in South Asia.
At the panel on ‘Competition Reforms and Sustainable Development’, PTI MNA Asad Umar said that there was widespread cartelization of industry. “An industry will only be competitive if volumes can be maintained which is only possible if prices are kept down. But, prohibitive duties prevent this from happening, in turn, killing demand and preventing a true market economy structure which encourages competition,” he added.
He asserted that the right to make money came with responsibility and so companies could have “inhuman working conditions, destroy the environment in pursuit of making money, create monopolies, and produce items which do not comply with quality and health standards.”
SDPI Research Associate Muhammad Adnan said that there was a consensus that competition markets were good for growth efficiency and productivity in the real sector of the economy. However, in several sectors we see in Pakistan that governments owned corporate entities ended up competing with the private sector, he added.
Nadeem Iqbal, Executive Coordinator of The Network for Consumer Protection, said that law laid down the rules for competitive rivalry and was a set of directives that constraint the strategies available to firms.
Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary-General of Consumer Unity and Trust Society (CUTS) International, India, said that reforms had the power to influence the nature and composition of markets.
Aneel Salman, In-Charge Business Programme, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad, said that Google, Youtube, Facebook, and Skype were typical examples for Internet firms which dominated their relevant markets and left only limited space for a relatively small competitive fringe.
Speaking at a session on ‘Macroeconomic Stability and Sustainable Growth: Perspectives from South Asia’, Saqib Sherani, former Economic Advisor, highlighted the failures of the programmes running on aid taken from IMF due to an absence of major reforms.
He said that current IMF programs were unlikely to trigger sustainable growth because these were pro-cyclical in nature and not structural.
Anjum Asad Ameen, additional secretary, said that aid effectiveness was the key to economic success, and that the government was responsible for making IMF funded programmes effective.
Dr Syed Akmal Hussain suggested the removal of physical constraints to growth by providing adequate physical infrastructure such as electricity, gas, transportation and communications.
Dr Shahid Ahmed, Jamia Millia New Delhi, said that economies of south Asia were in disequilibrium due to continuous inflationary pressure. He said that macroeconomic stability was important for upcoming SDGs in terms of poverty reduction and other socio-economic conditions. Micheal Dauderstädt, a freelance writer and commentator belonging to Germany, shared his experiences on monetization of the economy.
At a session on ‘Intra-regional Investment and Supply Chains in South Asia’, Dr Miftah Ismail, Special Assistant to the PM on Investment, said economic barriers to trade and regional integration must be resolved.