Pakistan’s overall tax-to-GDP ratio has been hovering around 10 per cent for the past decade, which is approximately five per cent lower than the average of comparable economies. Despite a large tax base available in all provinces, they collectively contribute only seven per cent in overall revenues.
Federal revenues are low, and government coffers are emptied by debt servicing, high defense spending, and power subsidies, resulting in government institutions without adequate budgets to operate. Without tax reform, Pakistan’s civilian government and its ability to govern remains weak and ineffective. Moreover, Pakistan remains on the brink financial crisis.
Since the passage of a constitutional amendment in 2010 aimed at rolling back the excessive power the central government had built up over years of military rule, the provincial administrations have been entrusted with greater revenue mobilization responsibilities. The amendment was intended to bring education, health, and other basic government services closer to the people and help develop areas that were historically ignored by Islamabad, and was viewed as an important first step in a series of reforms to create a responsive and accountable democratic Pakistan.
However, empowering provinces without the proper mechanisms in place for implementation, and conflict resolution, and without strengthening revenue raising capability at the provincial level, has resulted in greater duplication of bureaucratic structures and processes at central and provincial levels, leading to more wasteful spending and higher budget deficits. Moreover, government services that are now to be provided by the provincial governments are often not provided at all, as provincial governments themselves appear confused or reluctant to take on service delivery and financial responsibilities.
Pakistan today has a large, vibrant and diverse media. Our media by and large enjoys freedom of expression. Barring a few “sensitive” topics that come under the rubric of “national interest,” “national security,” etc., Pakistani news media churns out content that can be heavily critical of the ruling party, leaders, and establishment.
Then what is wrong with Pakistani media? Why are some civil society organizations – including Uks Research Center – critical of how the media delivers news? In my opinion, it is the gender blindness, bias, or insensitivity that has been bothering us, and it seems that this will continue unless the decision-makers in the media make a conscious effort to reverse the tide.
Women entrepreneurs celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week in Pakistan.
How far has Pakistan come? And how much further is there to go? This month, we mark the 10th anniversary of CIPE’s office in Pakistan by asking these questions.
At the time that CIPE opened its Karachi office, then-President Pervez Musharraf had installed a technocratic government and had liberalized the media, setting the scene for change in Pakistan. CIPE recognized the opportunity for deep change, and made a commitment to supporting that reform process through a major new program working with the business community, civil society and media. CIPE sought to open space for the private sector and civil society to have a greater say in policymaking, and to hold the government accountable for its promises.
Women across South Asia face myriad challenges when it comes to participating in the economy — especially as business owners. Women’s business organizations can help their members learn from each other, overcome barriers, and push for changes to laws and regulations that work against women entrepreneurs.
This August, CIPE held its eighth in an ongoing series of capacity building and networking workshops in Kathmandu, Nepal for its South Asia regional network of women’s business associations. Since its inception, the participants of this network, which includes organizations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and India, have been enthusiastic and engaged in learning from both CIPE and their peers.
This year, building on the results of previous projects that aimed to strengthen the internal capacity of these organizations, CIPE has focused on building the advocacy skills of the participants, in order for women entrepreneurs’ voices to be heard in the policymaking process.
Afghanistan, being a landlocked country, depends on its trading route with neighboring Pakistan to get its exports to world markets. However, these two countries have an unstable political relationship.
Due to increase in political instability between the two countries in the last couple of months, Pakistan’s top foreign policy adviser Sartaj Aziz paid a visit to Afghanistan in order to reduce the ongoing friction between the two countries.
The foreign affairs adviser to the prime minister visited the Afghan capital Kabul on September 4 for a regional economic conference and also held meetings with the president, foreign minister and national security adviser.
In his statement on state television about his meeting with Ghani, he said, “The main thing that the both side agreed upon was to restore trust, end the blame game against each other and create a positive atmosphere.”
The World Economic Forum lists a weakening judiciary as one of the issues holding back economic reform in Pakistan. (Photo: Pakistan Today)
In Pakistan, the process of economic reforms has been painfully slow – a fact underlined by stalled or slipping progress on several international indices. On the World Bank’s 2015 Doing Business, Pakistan fell from 107th out of 185 countries to 128th. The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index brought Pakistan down to 129th in 2014-15 from 124th in 2012-13. And the Fraser’s Institute report kept Pakistan at 124th out of 167 countries — the same spot it earned in 2013.
The World Economic Forum published its Global Competitiveness report this week, showing similarly weak progress. Three large South Asia Countries were ranked – India at 55th, Bangladesh at 107th and Pakistan at 126th. As compared to the last report, India jumped 16 places, Bangladesh by 5 and Pakistan slipped by one.
Shamama Arbab, Vice President of the Peshawar Women’s Chamber of Commerce (PWCCI) in Pakistan, is both a director of her own business and a tireless advocate for economic inclusion for women in Pakistan. Peshawar is a city where it is often difficult for women to even leave the home alone, so launching and growing a business can seem like a journey too dangerous to consider. Yet given her own success, she strives to provide similar opportunities to other women. She is focused on fostering women’s economic, social and political inclusion, addressing inequality, building an ecosystem in which women entrepreneurs are empowered, and where women can contribute to the country.
Across South Asia, there are women like Arbab who are both inspirational and transformational. They are changing their countries from the inside out by changing the role that women play as citizens. With this blog series, “Exploring the Connections Between Women’s Economic Empowerment and Democracy,” based on a panel at a March 2015 National Endowment for Democracy conference in Delhi, CIPE is highlighting the work of several such women leaders of chambers of commerce and business associations in the region. Having broken through various glass ceilings themselves, these women are now sharing their success by building institutions and mechanisms to support women across the economy, from all walks of life.
The CIPE Development Blog provides coverage of the Center for International Private Enterprise and its partner network at work -- highlighting successes, drawing out lessons from failure, and exploring the broader issues of political and economic development. For more information visit CIPE.org.