Pakistan collects far less tax (as a percentage of GDP) than most countries. So far the PML(N) government has not been able to significantly increase the tax ratio. (Chart: Dawn)
The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML (N)) government is completing its second year in power on May 11, 2015. It is astonishing to observe that the accountability process for democratically elected government has improved significantly.
Under a CIPE grant, the first such public accountability process was initiated by Policy Research Institute for Market Economy (PRIME), an independent think tank based in Islamabad. PRIME started a simple exercise by taking concrete promises from PMLN’s economic platform and, through a scientifically designed scoring process, monitoring the government’s performance under three key sections: Economic Revival, Energy Security, and Social Protection. These sections were further divided into 82 sub-categories.
The report is widely accepted as an unbiased measure of the government’s performance. The report received significant coverage in local media, both print and television. PRIME Executive Director Ali Salman suggests that “IMF Staff Mission assessment of Pakistan’s economic situation and reforms have many agreements with PRIME’s Tracking Report.”
The accountability process has recently moved to the next level, as the government’s Standing Committee on Finance publically accused the PML (N) government of making decisions on taxation measures in isolation, without taking the Standing Committee in confidence.
CIPE and Atlas Corps welcomed the latest class of Think Tank LINKS Fellows at the end of January. This year’s class comes from a wide range of backgrounds – from South Asia, the Middle East, and Sub-Saharan Africa – to Washington, DC for six months to partake in a leadership development program. All of the fellows will serve at renowned think tanks in Washington, DC, and shadow researchers and experts to learn best practices of successful think tanks in the U.S.
We’re excited to introduce our latest Think Tank LINKS fellows to everyone!
Sri Lankan election officials carry ballot boxes under police guard. (Photo: VOA News)
While it is hard to identify all of the issues that drove Sri Lankans during the country’s recent – and for many observers, surprising – elections, a cry for change was evident. Voters had clearly grown tired of corruption, cronyism, and authoritarianism, and there have been widespread calls for investigations into a range of alleged human rights abuses.
On January 8, in an unexpected turn of events, 15 million Sri Lankans, representing a 75 percent voter turnout, went to the polls and ousted incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa in favor of Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former Health Minister who shocked many by declaring his intent to run for office. Rajapaksa, who was South Asia’s longest-serving political head of state, in office since 2005, had turned increasingly authoritarian. He called these elections two years early, seeking a third term. It seems unlikely that he anticipated the defection of Sirisena and a number of other parliamentarians.
A Burmese man checks his mobile phone.(Photo: Flickr)
Since 2011, Burma has slowly been transitioning into a fledgling democracy from a reclusive military dictatorship. Some positive steps have taken place – multi-party elections have been held and more than 3,000 political prisoners have been freed. Yet as the U.S. deputy national security adviser stated recently, “[p]arts of the reform effort have stalled, parts have moved forward and parts, we’ve seen, have even moved backward, so it’s a mixed picture.”
The biggest test for Burma’s democratic transition is the upcoming general elections taking place in November. For citizens to make informed decisions and to hold future leaders accountable, they must be empowered with knowledge. The potential political leaders also must be educated about how to govern, as well as find ways to communicate and engage with their constituents. And technology, more specifically mobile phones, will have a large role to play for both groups.
In early November, the World Bank published its annual “Doing Business Report,” which assesses government regulations that support or constrain business activity across 189 countries. This year, Afghanistan again ranked near the bottom, down one spot from last year, in the 183rd position. The full report on Afghanistan can be found here.
There is no disputing that Afghanistan is a difficult place to do business, yet as has been noted in the past on the CIPE blog, there are inherent limitations to what the Doing Business rankings measure. We frequently point out that these indicators reflect the “laws on the books,” or the formal economic environment, but do not address the so-called implementation gap between those laws and practice. There have been cases in which countries introduce reforms specifically to move up the rankings, but surveys of entrepreneurs reveal that business continues “as usual,” as these new laws do not work in reality, either because of a lack of political will or low public administration capacity. In addition, political stability and democratic legitimacy are not captured in the Doing Business rankings. Egypt was a “top reformer” prior to 2010, but the events in Tahrir Square were to a great extent fueled by economic woes.
In order to get a more comprehensive view of a country’s economic environment, it is useful to consider public opinion and understand attitudes towards state institutions and processes. In the case of Afghanistan, the Asia Foundation’s annual Survey of the Afghan People is one such tool. This year’s report is especially meaningful given the country’s post-election mood, and its implications for public confidence in the country’s economic environment.
A recent World Bank report suggests that the country will not meet the Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education by 2015. The report ranks Pakistan 113th out of 120 countries in the “Education for All Index.” With seven million out-of-school kids, the challenge is snowballing with each passing year.
Afghanistan’s image in the news media is often shaped by negative stories focused on security and political challenges. What is often not highlighted are a number of successes, achieved over the past several years, in shaping the country’s economic policy and democratic governance. These reforms have improved the business enabling environment and made a positive difference in the lives of small business owners whose livelihoods depend on a predictable and efficient regulatory environment.