Friday, October 31, 2014
Procrastination galore The Supreme Court (SC) it seems, has finally run out of patience with the politicians and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), and rightly so. A three-member bench headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Nasirul Mulk resumed hearing of the case of non-appointment of a regular Chief Election Commissioner (CEC). Showing that it was not amused by the endless procrastination of the politicians, the SC rejected the plea of Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah to be given another three months to settle in consultation with Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif the vexed issue of appointing a consensus CEC. The last regular CEC, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim had resigned in July last year, after which acting CECs drawn from the SC have been filling in. Currently, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali of the SC is serving in that capacity. Rejecting the arguments of Khursheed Shah’s counsel Aitzaz Ahsan that the uncertainty in and outside parliament over the last two months required further and meaningful consultations across the board for the appointment of a regular CEC, the SC imposed a fresh deadline of November 13 to complete the task. The SC said it would withdraw Justice Jamali after that date. Aitzaz also argued that the process of electoral reform that has (haltingly) been started could imply a change in the method of consultation for the post of CEC. The court struck that argument down too by asserting that any constitutional amendment that flowed from the electoral reforms process (itself an open-ended endeavour) would be dealt with as and when it arose and that the appointment be made under the current constitutional provisions. The CJP reminded the petitioner that the post had been lying vacant since August 13, 2013 and that it was a constitutional obligation, further delay in which could not be allowed. On inquiry by the court, the Attorney General deposed that he had no instructions from the government on the matter but that all would be done according to the orders of the SC. This vague reply incensed Khursheed Shah, who complained later that he had moved the petition in consultation with the government but the latter had failed to support him before the court. Now Khursheed Shah is insisting that the PM send him a short list of three names in order to meet the SC’s deadline. In similar vein, the same bench rejected the ECP’s plea for being allowed nine months for the purpose of delimitation and preparations for the Local Bodies (LB) elections in Punjab and Sindh. The SC ordered the ECP to submit a comprehensive report on delimitation and provincial legislation regarding the LB polls by December 1. Whereas previously the LB elections had to be held by the provincial governments, now after the 18th Amendment, the ECP was charged with the task. However, before it could take up the matter, legislation was required by the provincial Assemblies to transfer these powers to the ECP. Procrastination in this regard on the part of the Punjab and Sindh governments finally brought down on their heads the wrath of the SC and they hurriedly resorted to issuing Ordinances for the purpose, which have since been endorsed by the respective provincial Assemblies. The way therefore now lies clear for the ECP to buckle down to the job. For it to then ask the court for nine months to complete the task yet again must have aroused a level of ire on the bench that can only be imagined. It is a reflection perhaps of the paralysis that decision making by the government of PM Nawaz Sharif has fallen into in recent months that urgent matters such as the SC-ordered appointment of a regular CEC still awaits. Similarly, the humming and hawing by the ECP with regard to LB polls defies explanation. It is a sad comment on the state of affairs that it takes the SC to crack the whip on these matters before the immovable object of political vested interest and administrative inertia is compelled to yield before an irresistible force.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Politics and investment In line with his oft-repeated message since coming to power last year, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, while addressing the International Investment Conference in Islamabad on Monday, reiterated his message of economic development. Dismissing the ‘threat’ posed by the Imran Khan/Tahirul Qadri sit-ins, the PM told the media that the latter’s sit-in had ended and the former’s too would eventually meet the same fate. He argued that the country needed peace (on the domestic political front) and stability to fulfil the government’s agenda of pulling the country out of the economic doldrums it was labouring in. He promised a massive infusion of capital into the country’s economy to set the stage for overcoming poverty, unemployment and terrorism. Earlier, addressing the conference, he pointed to the success of Pakistan’s Eurobond of $ 2 billion, the strengthening of the rupee (which has since seen some slippage, not the least because of the uncertainty produced by the political stand-off with the authors of the sit-ins), and promoted Pakistan as an investment destination of choice. In particular he mentioned the scope for investment in the power sector, whose distribution network the government intended to privatise to make the sector even more attractive to investors. He said Pakistan had fallen behind the changing global economic development trends but his government was now catching up to align Pakistan with the current global economic climate. Pakistan offered projects based on co-production, joint ventures and joint marketing arrangements with local partners. The country’s taxation regime was the lowest in the region, he emphasised, and tax concessions and exemptions were available for specific businesses. In addition, the government offered exclusive economic zones, infrastructure subsidies and research and development support. Pakistan was open to 100 percent foreign equity and imposed no limit on repatriation of profits. The Board of Investment operated a one-window system to facilitate investors. The PM also touched on the losses incurred by the country because of the disruption caused by the sit-ins, including the regrettable cancellation of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit. The potential loss of the $ 32 billion investment the Chinese president was coming armed with will however be made up during PM Nawaz Sharif ‘s scheduled visit to China next month. There is little doubt that the high tide of the sit-ins has passed and the government has survived what had begun to look like a perfect storm. However, it would be a mistake to sink back into complacency and the government’s lacklustre performance before these events. On the political front, the government needs to embark on some initiatives to regain the ground lost during the prolonged standoff. Even if Imran Khan is adamant to stay in his ‘tent’ until the PM resigns (of which there are no signs), Qadri having scooted off to foreign shores, the government should utilise the hiatus to itself implement its declared intent to set in motion the electoral reforms needed, whose importance and shape has been thrown up in sharp relief by the sit-ins, even if they did not succeed in their maximalist demands. The electoral process has to be rendered transparent and credible to avoid this kind of controversy in future elections. Only a credible electoral process can help the still shaky democratic system to consolidate itself and set Pakistan on the path of development and modernisation. Since these objectives chime with the PM’s own and oft repeated vision of where he wants to take the country, let him provide the means to settle the political furore of recent days and clear the decks thereby for Pakistan being in a stronger position to become the investment destination of choice and trading partner to the world that Nawaz Sharif would dearly love. Of course after sorting out the political front, the government must focus on the problems of the energy sector and other bottlenecks that make doing business in Pakistan difficult. Investors will only be drawn to the country if they see political stability (and therefore policy consistency and continuity) and are sure of the provision of energy and other infrastructural and input needs. Meanwhile Imran Khan may feel that a little ‘derangement’ (madness) may be necessary to bring about change, but objective observers will be compelled to wonder whether the ‘little derangement’ he advocates has not by now taken a turn for the worse towards political insanity.