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Basma Siddiqu

The Express Tribune

Published Date: Dec 12, 2014

Sustainable development ‘Pakistan needs a policy shift to meet targets’

ISLAMABAD: With the deadline approaching closer and Pakistan virtually
far from achieving its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), speakers at a
conference emphasized the need for revisiting policies of
liberalisation. They said focus should be on social sector development
strengthening of local government system, and a policy shift to
development goals.

The experts from South Asian region were speaking at the 17th
sustainable development conference that concluded here on Thursday with a
vow to play a better role in building regional cooperation between
Central and South Asian states. The three-day conference, ‘Pathways to
sustainable development’ was organised by the Sustainable Policy
Institute (SDPI).

“Pakistan has no option but to follow the path of inclusive growth
and sustainable development,” former finance minister Dr Hafiz Pasha
said in his keynote speech at the H.U Beg memorial plenary session.

Presenting a bleak picture of the current scenario, he said “Food
inflation and the escalating prices of flour that has risen by 50 per
cent in real terms over the last few years, are the issues which need
immediate attention of the government,” Pasha said.

According to Pasha, unemployment has reached to 12 per cent and three
million people are entering the poverty bracket every year. The real
household income of the top 20 per cent has gone up by 40 per cent,
whereas the income of those belonging to the lowest 20 per cent, have
only risen by six per cent, Pasha said.

“The top one per cent holds 20 per cent of the country’s land,” Pasha maintained.

Criticising the biased and skewed banking system, he said lending
facilities have worsened, and currently 86 per cent of the credit goes
to one per cent of the big borrowers. Censuring the tax system, he said
now only 700,000 people are filing tax returns, whereas a few years back
the figure was one million. The total amount of tax exemptions is Rs900
billion.

He also questioned the PSDP allocations saying “this year only 30 per
cent of the budget was allocated for water and energy whereas the
budget for highways has been doubled. “We can live without highways, but
cannot make progress without electricity,” he said.

Although prices of wheat, sugar and electricity have decreased in the world, in Pakistan they are going up.

For the improvement in the sorry state of affairs, he suggested
holding of local government elections, abolition of SROs, increase in
PSDP allocations for water and energy and encouragement of small and
medium enterprises.

Minister for Commerce and Industry Khurram Dastgir, however, said
that despite some difficulties, South Asia with democracies in place is
entering into a new era of development and prosperity.

Addressing the participants as chief guest, he stated that Pakistan’s
economy could be strengthened by connecting it with other Central Asian
states through trade, electricity grids and roads.

“Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project”,
he insisted, “will connect the regional countries and help build
cooperation in various fields”.

He further said that South Asia was the least integrated region. “Due
to the lack of connectivity and proper infrastructure the region has
been unable to work to its full potential,” he said citing the European
model which integrated smaller economies in large economies.

“Pakistan liberalised trade with India,” he said and expressed the
hope of “working on economic cooperation once the political environment
becomes conducive”.

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Moreover, he stated that the government was developing three land
ports — Chaman, Wagah border and Turnham — which would open  further
doors of cooperation between Pakistan and its neighbours.

Dr Rashed Mahmud Titmur of the Dhaka University said that
non-engagement and non-alliance at regional level couldn’t prove to be
beneficial for all the countries and now it’s time to move towards
regional cooperation. He added that 50 per cent labour is underutilised
in South Asia.

“Policies like liberalisation and privatisation have also failed in
the region therefore, all the countries need to revisit them,” he said.

SDPI Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri said that as we have
graduated from MDGs to SDGs, independent researchers and academia must
rise up to the challenge and give policy advice to national, regional
and global governance forums. The move towards SDGs should envision a
more responsible role of a democratic state, he added.

Dr Sania Nishtar said that MDGs were developed for the aid system
with clear time-bound targets. On the other hand, SDGs are not developed
for the aid system and this will require countries to come-up with
strategies to achieve those goals by themselves, she maintained.

Dr Tariq Banuri, a professor at Utha University in USA was awarded
the SDPI’s Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition for his efforts.

On the occasion, SDPI launched the Pakistan Data Portal a joint
project with Alif Ailaan. The data portal is an online tool for the
sharing and dissemination of all data on education in Pakistan.

Source : http://tribune.com.pk/story/805579/sustainable-development-pakistan-needs-a-policy-shift-to-meet-targets/