THE government is in a celebratory mood. And why not? After all, Pakistan has gained 28 places to rise to the rank of 108 on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index 2020 in addition to securing a slot among the top 10 nations with the most improved business climate. The improvement in the EODBI ranking is the biggest upward jump in the country’s history and a major achievement which led the prime minister to take to Twitter to declare “another of our manifesto commitments fulfilled”. The bank said the “rise is significant and made possible by collective and coordinated actions of federal government and provincial governments of Punjab and Sindh over the past year”. The country has been rewarded for improving business regulations.
The regulatory reforms implemented under the accelerated reform agenda have made starting a business easier, simplified the approval process for obtaining a construction permit and ensured regular building quality inspections. They have also introduced online payment modules for value-added taxes and corporate income taxes, besides reducing the number of taxes and levies from 47 to 34. It is also easier and faster now to get an electricity connection and register property, and so on. The ‘ease of doing business’ reforms are expected to facilitate small and medium enterprises, and the higher EODBI ranking is likely to help improve the country’s image.
However, while the reforms look great on paper and the government has been praised by global lenders, there are still areas of concern, such as the enforcement of contracts where Pakistan needs to work harder to make progress and further improve its position. The ground reality is that the reforms ‘enacted’ so far remain confined to official files only. The government, for example, may have made it easier on paper for firms to get an electricity connection, but investors, especially small- and medium-sized companies, continue to face the same old bureaucratic red tape when they apply for a connection. They still cannot get electricity without paying a substantial price to the authorities to avoid delays. Moreover, while promoting an environment to facilitate business is crucial to reducing the time required for setting up a venture and cutting costs, this alone cannot convince an investor — local or foreign — to start pouring money into the country. If the EODBI ranking were the only or the most important factor in attracting investment, Bangladesh with its rank of 168 on the index would not have seen global brands racing towards it. There are several other factors, such as political stability, rule of law, international country perception, etc, that hugely affect investment choices. These factors influence the investors’ decision more than the EODBI ranking of a country, even if the latter is on the top of their ‘check list’. The government must do all it can to address the shortcomings and remove the hurdles.
Nawaz Sharif’s health
SOME official responses to the illness and treatment of Mian Nawaz Sharif can easily earn the PTI setup pride of place among the most blundering governments.
The news about the dangerous fall in the blood platelet levels of the thrice-former prime minister was received with a lot of concern generally, except by those who decided to use it as an opportunity to make personal comments about the patient. There was the usual reference to his eating habits and the privileges certain prisoners enjoyed whereas the rest were left to suffer in their cells. Corruption and conviction were also mentioned as a volley of taunts was heaped on an unwell Mr Sharif whose condition required urgent diagnosis and treatment.
The worst possible attitude on show was reserved for prime ministerial adviser Firdous Ashiq Awan, who herself holds a medical degree. True to form, just as the bulletins of Mr Sharif’s health reported the dangerous drop in his platelets, she made a crude attempt at sarcasm, perhaps not realising that her government was courting a potential disaster by being so dismissive about the former prime minister’s illness and casual about his treatment.
In fact, it took the entire government a long time and a few repeats of Mr Sharif’s blood tests to understand the kind of mess it had created for itself through its arrogance and lack of sympathy. It is all very well to talk about equality and privileges but this was not the occasion for it.
It is said that it was on the orders of the top leadership that the message was conveyed that Mr Sharif was to be provided with the best possible care. Mr Sharif’s detained daughter Maryam Nawaz, whose earlier attempt to meet her father in hospital was frustrated, was finally allowed to pay him a visit.
The question regarding his ‘mystery’ illness was cleared when he was diagnosed as suffering from an auto-immune condition called idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura which is said to be a treatable condition; the former prime minister was expected to show an improvement over the next few days.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has finally persuaded himself to send a get-well-soon message to Mr Sharif. However, the manner in which his medical condition was used to settle scores by some of Mr Sharif’s opponents has left a gaping wound which may continue to cause pain and anguish for a long time to come.
THE fact that our lawmakers — many of whom have served in high government positions — have to own weapons worth millions of rupees for their ‘protection’, speaks volumes for the state of security for the common man. According to a report in this newspaper on Thursday, a total of 89 provincial and national members, and 10 senators, have declared in their assets filed for the year 2018 their ownership of multiple prohibited and non-prohibited weapons that include G-3 battle rifles, submachine guns and Kalashnikovs. These legislators are people who have power and privilege at their disposal. Yet, instead of working to regulate the flow of arms and improving the state of security in the country, they take advantage of their position to obtain weapons for themselves. Where social realities are concerned, this reveals the disparity between the common man and the powerful elite. It also shows the mistrust that these legislators have for the very state machinery/system of which they are a part.
As per a report by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, there were around 44m legal and illegal civilian-owned weapons in Pakistan by the end of 2017, the number being the fourth highest in the world. Furthermore, the ownership of military-owned guns stood at 2.3m while weapons owned by law-enforcement agencies numbered a paltry 944,000. The total value of declared arms imports in the country, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, was around Rs6m for the year 2018 — about Rs10m less than the value declared by former president Asif Ali Zardari for the ownership of various types of unspecified weapons. It is an open secret that the process and regulations surrounding gun licensing have many loopholes that have, on several occasions, been exploited by terrorists and anti-state actors. It is, hence, deeply unfortunate that the abuse of power by federal and provincial lawmakers in terms of the responsible use and declaration of weapons sets such a bad precedent for both the public and those intending harm.