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Technocrats Crises in PTI Government:
Problems & Solutions
Omer Zaheer Meer
CFA (USA), CPFA (UK), FCCA (UK), ACA (ICAEW – UK), AMLE (UK)
The economy of Pakistan is in a quagmire with many naysayers painting a doomsday scenario. They’d like you to believe that rock bottom has been hit and there’s no way out. But that’s not true. The change promised by Prime Minister Imran Khan is very much deliverable. His famous and often quoted claim of a 100% increase in taxation revenues is practical and achievable. The solutions are there, out-of-box solutions which “Status Quo” advisors & bureaucrats would never be able to conceive and/or want to implement. Read on to know more about it.
The fortune and the misfortune:
PM Imran Khan is very lucky as he has a repute of being extremely honest, hardworking and well-meaning. Even his political opponents admit this in private and try to criticize him by attacking his currently deputed team(s). It is a strange predicament for the reasons outlined below.
PTI is also very fortunate political party as it has accumulated the finest of talented Pakistanis including lot of able and proven technocrats. These are the same people who used to stay away from even casting their votes let alone getting indulged in politics. But to his credit, PM Imran Khan changed their way of thinking and made them believe in change. To appreciate the magnitude of this blessing, just realize this that even Zulifqar Ali Bhutto or our great Quaid e Azam did not have as many talented people at their disposal. They had to make do with whatever was available. Our father of the nation himself termed the people he had in his team as mostly “khote sikke”.
There is however a problem. There is no bridge between the PM and the talented people in PTI with the same fire in their hearts as him and the same faith in his vision and leadership as he do.
During its opposition years, the PTI established a shadow cabinet by the name of “National Policy Council”. It had different teams, each headed by a top technocrat to work on the challenges for specific key ministries
Nearer the Church, farther from God:
While, PM Imran Khan is working tirelessly to make things happen and for this looking everywhere to bring in people with technical expertise, for some unknown reasons, the same is overlooked within his party. The insiders within PTI circles confide that the appointments being made are largely based on groupings sans any merits with people having no technical expertise been nominated on highly technical positions in contradiction to the PM’s own vision.
Non-technocrat political workers can and should be accommodated in thousands of non-technical positions. The technical positions however should be left for the technical members of PTI for these positions not only demand highly specialized skill sets but will also determine the outcome and legacy of PM Imran Khan’s government.
There should be a mechanism to identify and link the technocrats within PTI with the leadership in a non-partisan manner. Perhaps, some neutral technocrat within PTI would be best suited for this endeavor to avoid groupings and factions impacting the process.
The three keys to success:
There are three key requisites for success in achieving the PM’s dream of reforms. Normally the discussions about reforms and particularly the keenly discussed topic of reforming the revenue authorities and infrastructure, focuses on competency of key personnel, which is certainly important. What’s missing though, are couple of other equally vital bits. They’re:
- party affiliation so there is belief in the vision of the PM and
- out of box thinking of a doer
The Enigmatic Resemblance:
There’s an uncanny resemblance between the untapped Pakistan with all the gifts of the nature, be it gold, copper, oil, coal, e.t.c. or the unexplored potential of tourism and PTI as a political party filled with all these untapped gifted professionals waiting to be utilized for the good of the country. This resemblance is enigmatic.
Like the symbols, the cures of the diseases are also similar. PTI, just like Pakistan, needs to explore its untapped resources of great minds of technocrats within.
The Reworked Bhutto Solution:
Despite all his ills and issues, Bhutto is normally billed as a genius; some even call him an evil genius for that matter. Irrespective of which side of the divide you are, one thing is for sure that the man knew politics and ground realities of South Asia.
Isn’t it astounding that almost four decades after his demise, he’s still alive in the hearts of millions despite all that unruly and disastrous stuff that has been done in his name, more so in Sindh than elsewhere? What is the magic about him then? Well there are a few. We’ll be discussing briefly the one concerning the topic at hand.
Bhutto famously appointed PPP workers at all key positions claiming that as people voted for his party to implement the agenda, only those loyal to that agenda can help achieve that. He questioned the loyalty and “merits” of the bureaucracy, e.t.c. He did go overboard to the extreme of appointing people solely on the basis of this criterion, leading to often incompetent or illiterate persons on key positions. Still, lessons derived from this can be used to put in motion the “reworked Bhutto solution”.
The solutions should simply involve using a mechanism to identify top quality technocrats within PTI and appointing them at key positions to implement PM Imran Khan’s vision. Care must be taken to ensure that technical competence, relevant experience, out of box thinking, knowledge of the local workings and a proven track record are there. It is vital that the processes be built and run by able technocrats within PTI and not those bound to oblige their groups sans merit.
FBR’s new Chairman:
Just this week, the new Chairman of FBR was announced and notified amid much hue and cry. Mr. Zaidi, a respected Chartered Accountant having no known previous affiliation with PTI and an ex Cabinet Member of the Caretaker Sindh Government setup primarily nominated by the PPP, was the choice. This speaks volume about the problem we’ve been discussing.
The idea was that someone “neutral” and “competent” from the private sector must be tried, having already tried both customs and income tax group officials as well as bureaucrats from other segments, without anyone delivering the “success” and “reforms” desired. However it resulted in two major issues.
The first problem stems from the manner in which this was executed. It’s hard to imagine how nobody was able to point out the famous “Ali Arshad Hakeem” case and take the then incumbent Chairman FBR as well as the board members into confidence before the announcement.
PM Imran Khan, being his bold and confident self, did the best possible to salvage a dire situation.
More importantly, this perfectly showcases the issue of being “nearer the church, farther from God”. The appointment practically meant that PTI felt it did not have anyone of a caliber matching Mr. Zaidi let alone be better. With all due regards to Mr. Zaidi, that is not the case and this is why PTI needs to get its house in order.
PTI National Policy Council Revenue Team:
During its opposition years, PTI established as shadow cabinet by the name of “National Policy Council”. It had different teams, each headed by a top technocrat to work on the challenges for specific key ministries. I was honored to Chair the “Revenue Team”.
As Chairman of this team, I should disclose that PTI had a full fledge Revenue team working on reforms agenda which continuously and successfully assisted the leadership for several years including during the tough period of being in opposition. The work involved besides other areas, identifying both the major issues and their solutions concerning our taxation framework. Some of the proposals were even shared with other countries in a similar state of affairs as Pakistan at Global forums and these were hugely appreciated. This untapped treasure of PTI should be utilized and implemented. The details of such proposals shall be shared in my future write-ups so keep watching this space.
Omer Zaheer Meer is a leading economist and tax expert who holds five top professional finance, investment and accountancy qualifications including anti-money laundering specialization along-with substantial experience and represents Pakistan on Global Tax Forum. His profile can be accessed at: https://omerzaheermeer.wordpress.com/about