Major political parties of the country on Friday gathered on a platform and agreed on a roadmap presented by the Pakistan Business Council (PBC), a recently formed group of large enterprises, for the revival of crippling economy by addressing key economic and social issues. The roadmap was presented at a rare brainstorming session organised by the PBC at a local hotel. Five key issues discussed in detail were energy, regional trade, social protection, macroeconomic stability and education. The council recommended trade with India, levying of tax on agricultural income, establishment of a ministry of energy and a national energy authority, imposition of property tax in major cities, more food subsidy for the poorest and revamping of the madressah education system. Almost all major political parties of the country participated in the event, including the ruling Pakistan People�s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-N, PML-Q, Muttahida Qaumi Movement and Awami National Party. �All political parties have a consensus that the time has come when they should sit together by burying their differences for revival of the economy,� PBC chairman Asad Umar told Dawn. He said he did not find any differences among the parties on the issues discussed. �We have presented our recommendations to President Asif Ali Zardari who assured us that he will forward them to the government for implementation,� he said. Mr Umar said the government was supportive to the PBC�s efforts for addressing key economic and social issues confronting the country and ensuring consistency in economic policies. The participants agreed to set up working groups soon to address the five major issues. The groups will comprise leaders from all major parties and people from the private sector. Leaders of the parties agreed to a recommendation that the government should increase the tax base by putting under the tax net all segments of the society which were not paying taxes or evading them. They were of the view that it was the need of the hour that all political and other forces should come forward and play an effective role for the revival of the country�s economy. �There should be consistency in the economic policies of the country irrespective of the fact that who comes into power,� PPP information secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira said. Other prominent figures who attended the session were: Sherry Rehman and Raja Pervez Ashraf of the PPP, Ashan Iqbal, Khurram Dastagir, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Zahid Hamid of PML-N, Dilawar Abbas and Haroon Ahktar of Q-League, Ahmed Ali, and Farooq Sattar of MQM and Haji Adeel of ANP. Besides Mr Umar, the PBC was represented by Kamran Y. Mirza, Jehangir Tareen, Abdul Razak Dawood, Ali S. Habib, Hussain Dawood, Iqbal Lakhani, Zakir Mehmood, Dr Asad Sayeed, Dr Ijaz Nabi, Dr Ishrat Hussain, Farooq Rehmatullah and Shams Kassim Lakha. After a lengthy session, PBC�s office-bearers called on the president and presented their recommendations prepared on the basis of the discussion. President Zardari reiterated that the business community and leading entrepreneurs of the country had to come forward to create consensus among all parties on economic challenges faced by the country and ensure that economic policies remained unchanged even after changes in governments. President�s spokesman Farhatullah Babar quoted him as saying: �The government firmly believes in taking all stakeholders on board to tackle the critical economic issues because it is a collective responsibility of all to work together and join hands to overcome the challenges of the current economic situation and to put the economy back on track.� The government, he said, would continue to pursue its economic reform agenda despite difficulties and challenges. The president called upon the businessmen to make consortiums of leading entrepreneurs to enter into public-private partnership to run various state enterprises with management control. He reiterated his call for maximum involvement of the private sector and adoption of public-private partnership models in every mega development project to take maximum advantage of it. TRADE WITH INDIA: The council recommended that India should be given the most favoured nation (MFN) status to enhance regional trade. �The immediate implication of this is to allow trade with India based on the usual negative list (prohibiting trade in explosives, goods that pose risk to the environment and health etc.) rather than a positive list. �The MFN status to India must be accompanied by setting up a bilateral commission to address the issues that are closely tied up with India and Pakistan having a normal economic relationship that results in sustained benefits.� It said the commission should use the World Trade Organisation�s framework for addressing non-tariff barriers and then bring them into the strategic regional trade policy framework. The council emphasised the need for developing institutional capacity (national tariff commission) to address non-tariff barriers and anti-dumping complaints with a view to promoting trade rather than hindering it. It said the maximum benefit from a more liberal trade regime with India would come from land routes that minimised response time to market forces. As many land routes as possible should be opened on the old road and railway networks all along the border from Kashmir to the Arabian Sea. Travel (visa, air/road/railway transport) must be facilitated to promote competitive trade in goods and services that benefits small and medium firms, to tap into the large pool of Indian skilled workers, gain access to Indian farm and other technologies and encourage cross-border tourism. ENERGY: The council recommended that the government should set up a ministry of energy within which a national energy authority should comprise eminent private and public sector professionals. It recommended integrated energy planning and steps to generate additional power from exiting capacity � 2,500MW by life extension (to be implemented within 6-12 months), prioritisation of gas allocation with immediate effect for 4,000MW generation using high efficiency captive power plants, ensuring of CNG price parity with petrol to release 200 million cubic feet daily (MMcfd) which is equivalent to 1,000MW of power and conversion of all gas area and water heating to solar passive PVC heaters to yield at least a further 200MMcfd. Thar coal should be used by 2016, LNG should be obtained in 18 months and the country should plan to increase hydel and wind power to 50 per cent of electricity generation within the next decade. FISCAL MEASURES: The council claimed that the government could generate an additional Rs300-400 billion in revenue within the present tax regime through better coverage and enforcement. It recommended that taxation measures should focus on documentation and broadening the base for direct taxes.It said the provincial governments had the necessary legislation in place to tax income on agriculture. �The threshold level exemption limit should be reinforced, the collection machinery, compliance and enforcement measures strengthened. Urban immoveable property tax in major cities be imposed.� SOCIAL PROTECTION: The document said spending on social protection was a subsidy but the government had failed to maximise the benefit for the poor. Due to volatility in international food prices and inability of the administration to insulate domestic prices, a targeted food subsidy needs to be introduced soon. �An employment programme of 100 days for unskilled workers must be initiated in a phased manner, a health insurance scheme for the poorest population chosen through poverty scorecard should be launched and a targeted nutritional programme for children is needed to address growth stunting among the young population.� EDUCATION: The PBC recommended a revamped madressah education curriculum, pedagogies and assessment and examination practice in a way that they would promote critical activity and technical skills in students. Their curriculum should move away from narrow approach to Islamic education and should encompass a broader framework of religious education which promotes tolerance, respect and appreciation for diversity of pluralism. The council recommended replication of the madressah reforms carried out in Indonesia and east African countries.
By: Dawn News