Charter of economy – 02 May 2023

FOR many, a charter of economy is the panacea for our huge problems that now spell doom. But this view wrongly assumes that strong governance capacity already exists to implement it and that our economic problems can be solved separately from the security, political, social and external ones. So deep is our malaise and so meshed are its causes that we need a much wider charter of governance on all problems.

The 2006 Charter of Democracy that inspires talks of a charter on the economy made sense under an autocracy. With the lattergone,the naturalnext stepis a charter of governance. The 2006 charter was on constitutional changes and democratic power transfers that a mere accord between the two parties, while kept, could largely deliver. However, huge managerial and technical capacities are needed to implement a charter of governance beyond mere parties` accord. Our huge issues urgently need new able hands, and our delicate polity can`t afford undemocratic paths like technocratic rule to infusegoodgovernance.

Thus, the mandatory core of this charter is for major parties to accept that while their vote-getting family (PPP and PMLN) or person (PTI) are key to their electoral success, they all govern very poorly.

Since better parties will emerge slowly, the urgent solutions we need can only come from these three abysmal (PTI most so) parties. So, they must adopt the Congress model where party heads only run the parties and appoint able cabinets whom they fully support politically to adopt tough policies. Otherwise, a charter will be a paper exercise. The Congress model best weds political feasibility and merit. Rajiv Gandhi`s death forced the Gandhis. Impending national doom must force our major parties.

By agreeing to infuse merit in cabinets, parties can hugely increase the range of issues they can resolve. But before going to economic issues, one must focus on non-economic matters that impede our economic prowess. All parties must agree to reform the bureaucracy, police and judiciary to enhance governance capacity and revamp our Constitution given the many gaps that the current political crisis has shown, eg, on concurrent polls nationally, electoral laws, judicial overreach and assembly floor crossing laws.

They must also reaffirm the salience of the current devolved parliamentary system and deepen it to local governance but eschew useless ideas like presidentialism, recentralisation etc.

All parties must agree to end Pindi`s role in politics and foreign policy in linewith the establishment`s stated intent.

But since intent can change quickly, capacities should be cut by dismantling the establishment`s political cell. Oddly, there is no talk of that yet, raising questions about intent. The bar on militant groups must be enhanced. Educational reforms must be done to cut extremism and produce critical thinkers who can run a dynamic economy. Parties must also agree to end Taliban militancy via force and the Baloch one via talks.

They should pursue peace with India and balanced ties with the West, China and the Gulf.

Instead of specific economic issues usually included in a charter of economy such asuppingexports and taxes,parties must first agree on an overall development vision. Given our potential and constraints, that vision must be poor-led progress to replace an elite-led one. The state must make huge social and eco-nomic investments in the poor (with a key focus on women and minorities) not as a welfare tool but a development policy to ignitefair and environmentally friendly national progress through expanding incomes and purchasing powers and hence the national market size and GDP.

This will also help improve equity and the quality of democracy and check population growth.

With this vision in place, one can finally talk about specific economic issues such as increasing exports and taxes, trade tariffs, state enterprise and energy sector reforms etc. But even these must support the poor-focused progress vision. The focus on increasing exports must be on small businesses, and in taxes on direct progressive taxes that burden the rich. So, the charter of economy that many put their exclusive faith in as a panacea is only one part of the charter of governance we urgently need.

Party leaders must rise to the occasion and put nationalinterest above personal interest to adopt this charter as we now stand on the edge of a deep cliff. But all societal stakeholders will have to apply huge political pressure on our parties to adopt this charter of governance as it runs against their grain. If the next regime after polls is status quo too, it may push us into irreversible, terminal decline.• Twitter: @NiazMurtaza2

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