On the eve of Budget 2002-03

While the budget for the year 2002-2003 is on the anvil, much rhetorical statement is being made and emphasis is being made on the fact that no new taxes are going to be levied. This has been the gimmickal statement of successive Finance Ministers in the past also, while presenting the budget. The national budget has been and should be a secret and a sacred document and in some cases the leak of the budget has led to the fall of the government in power. It is unfortunate that we inherited the viceregal system and practices, and did not care to inherit the budgetary system with its secrecy and sanctity. Our financial wizards have been successful in the pre-partition South Asia and Saudi Arabia but they have not been able to inculcate the same spirit, same devotion although having the same knowledge and due honesty. Where does the fault lie? Where the shoe pinches?

It is not enough as is being rhetorically assured by the power that be, that there is not going to be any new taxes. The nation is not that naéve to swallow this sugar coated pill, a new tax here and a new tax there is not the problem, it is the quantum of money that the consumer has to spend to feed himself and his children. Much emphasis is being laid on the fact that the prices of sugar, atta and daal (pulses) has not gone up, this is not the only thing that the poor man consumes, even the rich people are also benefited by it, they also eat the same chappati, which fills the belly of the hungry nation, now when the budget is on the anvil the price of patrol has been raised by about 10 %. Do not the poor people also use the public transport? The reason for this enhancement of patrol prices is explained to be the rise in international price of patrol, the nation has to take it with a pinch of salt, the patrol price also includes excise duty and sales tax etc., which surely is not linked with international prices of patrol, the same is the position with all utility bills, which is being paid even by the people living below the poverty line. Is this enhancement in patrol prices not going to enhance the quantum of the budget and thus affect the common man, could not this enhancement be delayed by a couple of month and be effective from 1st of July. Any civilized country will take it as a leak in the budget. We have made mess of the secrecy and the sacredness of the budget and now they are afraid of the budget and call it Maula Budget, and start manipulating ways and means out to avoid impact of budget on their own living, it is true that no country can survive if there nationals do not pay taxes.

The reason for all the ills and curses afflicting Pakistan lies only in one fact and that is corruption and mis-governance. Why it is that the government is not able to meet the target of revenue collections, it is a fact known from top to bottom of the government hierarchy that most of the taxes go to the private coffers of the tax collectors. Late Dr. Mehboobul Haq a former finance minister of Pakistan is reported to have said in eighties that there is a leakage of Rs. 40 Billion in government revenues per year and now that leakage is estimated to be around Rs. 400 Billion or so, that being so, where lies the sanctity of our budget. The framers of budget should not only devote their energy in manipulating the jugglery of figures but also address themselves to the task of eliminating the parallel black economy, create circumstances and situation where people do not have to go to parallel systems.

When Tansu Ciller was the Prime Minister in Turkey, her husband was reported to have taken some business advantage of his wife’s position. Tansu Ciller’s husband had to migrate to United States of America bag and baggage alongwith his business. CBR is on record to have changed SRO’s to suit the business interest of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif no action whatsoever has been taken against the beneficiaries or the facilitators in CBR. Such functionaries with record and reputation of being the sycophants and acting as personal employees of person in power must go.

Pakistan raises about 3 to 4 Billion dollars in foreign remittance, most of which is through Hawala (transfer by a word on telephone) just holding seminars and making laws to declare Hawala illegal will not solve the problem. Our financial wizards in the State Bank of Pakistan should create a system, which is more attractive for the remitter abroad and receiver in Pakistan. So far no finance minister has addressed himself to this problem.

While preparing the budget, functionaries involved should ensure the following rules of conduct:

1. That there should be absolute and impeccable secrecy of the budget. 2. That the government should not raise the price of commodities in order to raise the quantum of the budget. 3. Adopt measures to enhance the GDP growth, our present growth rate which is about 3.5 % is the lowest in last two decades. 4. Eliminate budget deficit on war footings and make it transparent for the nation. 5. Reveal the names of bank defaulters and the quantum of loans and the recovery that has been made for the confidence building of the nation in budgets.

Pakistan is in trouble and every one high and low, rich and poor, Shia or Sunni, Muslim or non-Muslim must unite to save Pakistan, which is the target of international terrorism and the need of the hour is unity, faith and discipline, which we must show to the world as Pakistanis, who dies if Pakistan lives, and who lives if Pakistan dies.

Why it is that the government has to revise time and again the revenue targets, is it the inefficiency of the government or is it the inefficiency of the collectors, the nation would be very much interested to know this abject failure.

There has been too much talk about interest free banking or in other words Islamic banking, so far no practical step has been taken towards that end and we are still in square one inspite of the instructions from the competent court of law. It is time now that the entire economic and financial policy of the government should be revamped. The General has promised to the nation that there will be no outstanding IMF loan after 2004. He is known to live up to his words and promises and would be able to live up to it? Time for cosmetic changes and sugar coated pills are over, the nation still remembers with pride the first budget of the government of Pakistan, presented by the first Finance Minister Mr. Ghulam Mohammed, that was a surplus budget.

The nation expects an austerity budget. To withdraw the facility of dialing 14 free of charge to find time and 17 for inquiring a telephone number, is not austerity, it is only hardship to the common man, who also on the top of the telephone bill pays Sales Tax and Withholding Tax. The subscribers do not know as to what is this payment for but they have to pay on pain of disconnection of their telephone. The austerity should start from top, our ministers, consultants, contract employees in management group and secretaries to government should not be travelling in first class or business class of airlines. The facility of cars should be provided only for official work and not for personal and family use of minister, bureaucrats and elite’s. Education and health should be made within the reach of the common man, despite the preponderance of the mashroom growth of educational institution on commercial lines, Karachi and Lahore’s clandestine rate list is menacing from Rs. 25,000/- to Rs. 75,000/- for admission in nursery schools and more than two Lac as donation for admission in higher education. The admission fees and monthly fee of technical university’s runs in six figures, which probably even the members of the government, cannot pay in normal circumstances. Let us provide the common man for a change this time with a living package in order to provide two square meals to his dependent and be able to provide education to his children as well. The nation will come forward to restore the sanctity of budget and vigilance over the revenue leakage to march towards a welfare economy.