Wednesday / Aug 22 2018

Newspaper : The News

A new beginning has been made in Pakistan and exciting days lie ahead. A national task force for socio-economic development, chaired by a top scientist or engineer of the country with the prime minister himself as its co-chairman, should be set up at the PM’s Secretariat. The task force should meet once every month.

Experienced government officials such as Dr Akram Sheikh and Abdullah Yousuf should be brought into the task force so that they can advise it on the fastest way to move forward. This task force should have a number of powerful committees under it in critical fields such as energy, agriculture, industries, IT, biotechnology, engineering, taxation, higher education, science and technology, telecommunication, primary/secondary education, justice system, innovation/entrepreneurship etc.

To launch the programme on a war footing, the sector-wise 320-page road map, titled ‘Technology Based Industrial Vision and Strategy for Socio-Economic Development of Pakistan’, prepared under my leadership during 2004-2007 and approved by the cabinet on August 30, 2007, should be taken up for immediate implementation.

The document was prepared after vast consultations with several thousand stakeholders involving the private-sector, subject specialists, provincial and federal ministries and our diaspora abroad. It clearly identifies key projects in each of the 13 important sectors, along with costs, benefits and mechanisms of their implementation. It can give the new government a flying start on actually implementing urgent programmes instead of losing the next two or three years on formulating new policies.

The prime minister should also understand that to win a cricket match requires having the best batsmen, bowlers, a wicket-keeper and fielders. The same applies to the team of his ministers. They need to be top technocrats and experts in their respective fields. One cannot win a cricket match with a football team.

The performance of each minister should be assessed by the above task force every three months, and the ministers/secretaries who are unable to bring about radical changes on-ground in their respective sectors should be ruthlessly replaced by more competent people. Emphasis must be on top performance. The Planning Commission should hold the Central Development Working Party’s (CDWP) meetings twice a week and not once in months, as has been the previous norm.

One of the biggest challenges facing the government is of funding. Billions of dollars can be recovered from our past leaders if they are caught and given the severest of punishments. Key institutions such as FBR, SECP, State Bank, NAB, FIA etc, should be completely reorganised so that they are manned by eminent professionals of integrity and can produce huge financial benefits. This should be accompanied by ‘sting operations’ in all government departments to catch and punish the crooks.

The third step should be to computerise all land records accompanied with the government fixing proper rates for land/property transfers so that the taxes are collected in a reasonable manner. At present, sale transactions of properties are at less than one-third of the official price, even in DHA, thereby reducing tax collection and fostering a vigorous ‘black economy’.

To control mega corruption, which is closely linked to terrorism, cases should be tried in military courts and exemplary punishments should be awarded. Mega-corruption can be controlled, as was done in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Iran and many other countries. A ‘whistle-blowing’ policy should be approved so that the person reporting corruption in government ministries or departments benefits by receiving a reward amounting to 20 percent of the recovered funds.

The confidential complaints from ‘whistle-blowers’ should be made to a special ‘anti-corruption cell’ in the PM’s Secretariat. A large amount of funds are lost due to massive trans-border smuggling. Proper control of this through an independent group of honest ‘national guards’ can help plug these losses.

China is an excellent example of how the Spark Plan in agriculture boosted rural economies, resulting in massive poverty alleviation. This requires abundant access to water, both for agriculture and energy. We should build dams and supply electricity to industries at a very low cost. The cost of production of electricity by solar energy, hydroelectric power or wind energy can now be as low as Rs4.00 per kilowatt-hour.

Therefore, we should build our own solar panels, hydroelectricity generators and wind mills and begin supplying energy to our industries at less than Rs8.00 per kilowatt-hour, less than half the current rates. This alone can give a huge boost to our industry and exports.

Another priority should be our youth. China focused on developing its human resources in key areas. It started sending hundreds of thousands of students abroad to top universities for training, and sent over 580,000 students abroad last year. This has become the single most important engine for its economic growth, as about 450,000 students are returning from abroad after receiving top-class training. They are being clustered into centres of excellence and are contributing to the development of a robust knowledge economy. I started a similar programme as chairman HEC, but it fizzled out over the last 10 years.

We should also set up industrial states under the CPEC initiative focused largely on high-technology products in partnership with China’s private-sector with 15-year tax holiday and insurance cover for loss of production due to terrorist acts.

The fields wherein such industrial production should be done are electronics, mineral processing, biotechnology products and nanotechnology materials, including graphene-based products, robotics, electric vehicles, energy storage systems, hydroelectric generators, wind mills, solar panels, household appliances and other such value-added items. These products should largely be for export purposes.

This can easily bring in more than $500 billion worth of investment within the next five years and give a huge boost to our industry and exports. To control the current account deficit, imports should be reduced by 40 percent by banning the import of all non-essential items and luxury goods including cars, cigarettes, packed foods, clothing, shoes etc. This will boost the local industry.

Information technology can serve as another massive area of growth as it can generate employment for our youth. The IT sector impacts almost every sector, including agriculture, industrial processes, defence, medicine and law among others. IBM is using its ‘Watson’ computer already as a service to citizens needing medical and legal advice. Artificial intelligence will change the fabric of our society. With 100 million people below the age of 20, we should prepare our youth for this Fourth Industrial Revolution that is upon us.

Nadra’s operations should be networked so that all purchases of properties, airline tickets and commercial goods are done through the CNIC and fed to the central national database with automatic assessment of profile of each individual. All commercial activities done using a CNIC should be monitored and recorded. This can also lead to a huge source of additional revenue. There is much to be done. Let us all join forces to make this a truly great nation.

The writer is the former chairman of the HEC, and president of the Network of Academies of Science of OICCountries (NASIC).