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View Points

Judicialisation of rights

Published in The News International on July 25, 2009: The Petroleum Development Levy (Amendment) Ordinance, 2009, which offset the Supreme Court’s suspension of the imposition of the carbon surcharge was challenged on the basis of the Constitution’s Articles 2A, 4, 5, 8, 9, 25, 37, 38(d), 77 and 89. The resulting difference of opinion between the three pillars of the state—the executive, the judiciary and the legislature—raises some important issues to be resolved; both with reference to their respective constitutional domains as well as the matter of human rights and their legal enforcement. Many of us perceive human rights as belonging to the narrow domain of civil liberties, political rights, freedom of expression and equality before law. But there is much more in the remit of Rights than there is in these areas. The definition of Rights embodies economic and social rights and the right to life and education; several international treaties and human rights instruments, enacted after 1966 have attempted to further expand this definition. The recent advent of judicial activism in Pakistan in general, and adoption of a progressive interpretation of...

The IDP-governance link

Published in The News International on July 16, 2009: There is hardly any problem in the country, which cannot be tracked back to challenges and weaknesses at the level of governance—the crisis of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) is certainly no exception. Both the technocratic and political aspects of governance, inclusive of policy directions at various levels, to the dynamics and pitfalls of the public management process, have deeply impacted the IDP crisis—right from the manner in which it evolved to the style in which it was managed. Now that the IDPs are reported to be on their way back to being settled in their home communities, it is opportune to analyze impediments to the relief operations. A careful review will draw attention to most as being linked with limitations at the level of governance. These insights would be valuable not just in relation to disaster preparedness for the future, but would also be critical for rehabilitating the IDPs, and shifting the mode of assistance from humanitarian to development, which is the next imminent step. First, a humanitarian crisis was clearly...

Budget 2009-10 and the health sector

Published in The News International on July 06, 2009: The health sector was marked by six policy highlights in the expansionary fiscal policy of the government in the federal budget for 2009/10. These policy dimensions center on the following: scale up of the existing budget; pronouncement of a health insurance scheme; enhanced allocations for the two key national public health programs; a dedicated allocation for an action plan for emergency diseases; changes in tariffs for some essential medicines and increase in the excise tax with regard to tobacco. This comment briefly touches upon the context of each fiscal policy decision. First, there are many caveats to the aggregate increase in allocation, which by itself is a positive step. The writer has raised the questions of quality of expenditure, the issue of the allocation-disbursement-expenditure disconnect and the tendency to scale back initial allocations towards the end of the year in view of fiscal deficit constraints, as potential impediments in this regard, in these columns on June 23rd 2009. In the budget of 2009/10, reliance on foreign assistance to finance much of the...

Equity, social justice and the social sector

Published in The News International on June 22, 2009: The Finance Bill 2009, which gives effect to the financial proposals of the federal government for a year, is the government's key instrument of fiscal policy and in many ways, a reflection of its policy stance to achieve stated endpoints in many state domains. Within that remit, the purpose of this comment is to bring to the fore some considerations relevant to equity, social justice and the social sector, with a view to generating a debate on the subject, within the context of the forthcoming parliamentary sessions that will now convene to deliberate on the Finance Bill. Three points are being articulated in this connection. First, it is important to recognise the value of budgetary empirics; within that ambit, a paradox is evident straight away. Last year, we had the largest-ever cuts in public-sector development expenditure (PSDP). This year we have the largest-ever PSDP allocations. From the information in the public domain, it can be deciphered that last year's PSDP scale-back, though partly the result of unforeseen crises could also be attributed...

The forthcoming budget and the public-private mantra

Published in The News International on June 11, 2009: The government has decided to increase spending in the development sector in the coming year as is evidenced by the expansionary fiscal policy adopted in the forthcoming budget for the year 2009-10. Approval of the highest ever Public Sector Development Program by the National Economic Council comes at a time when many fiscal space constraints are evident—decline in revenues, competing priorities particularly in the wake of the ongoing security situation and efforts to curtail the fiscal deficit in order to keep it within stipulated limits. The rationale for the approach has fueled a debate amongst subject experts—a positive development indeed given the potential within constructive and substantive technical dialogue to shape policy decisions in national interest. The purpose of this comment is not to dwell on that debate but to draw attention to a related issue of strengthening the public-private interface as a policy option to assist the government in achieving the development objectives envisaged in the budget. Two areas appear important in this regard. The first area is infrastructure development. In...

Institutionalizing Accountability?

The Holders of Public Offices (Accountability) Act 2009, which currently exists as a Bill and is to be introduced in the National Assembly, will perhaps be one of the most vital instruments of governance in Pakistan, over the coming years; its connotations and covenants defining responsibility for decisions and actions. Given its importance, the relative lack of informed and constructive debate on the subject in civil society, political and analytical circles is indicative of a deep-seated phenomena in the country's societal political culture—we tend to engage in trivialities of governance and remonstrate when the manifestations of poor governance are apparent, but when it comes to substantive structural issues, there is somehow limited proactive engagement to shape governance norms. This comment underscores the importance of seven points in relation to the proposed statue with the hope that the nation will pay greater attention to this subject. First, it must be recognized that accountability as an aspect of governance is central to problems in the public and private worlds. As a result of limited accountability, poor governance, mismanagement, inefficiencies and malpractices have become...

A Marshall Plan?

Published in The News International onApril 28, 2009: The donor's conference in Tokyo and the meeting convened by the Friends of Democratic Pakistan on its sidelines concluded on April 17 with a 5.28 Billion US$ pledge in economic assistance to Pakistan, congressional approvals permitting. A number of references have been made to this forthcoming package of assistance as being analogous to the post Second World War Marshall Plan, particularly in Pakistan, with the expectation that the outcomes will be likewise. It is important to understand that comparable impact is unlikely for a number of reasons. First, the Marshall Plan was planned and implemented at a time when the United States had emerged as one of the greatest powers in the aftermath of the Second World War. At that time, the United States was affluent enough to play a key role in assisting with the rebuilding and reconstruction of Western Europe. The situation today is not comparable, as a result of the constraints imposed by the global financial crisis. Secondly, the Cold War notwithstanding, Marshall aid was delivered in a post war era,...

The White Paper and the question of aid effectiveness

Published in The News International on April 11, 2009: The White House has recently released a White Paper on U.S. policy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, articulating a number of geo-political and development imperatives for the region. This comment will focus only on the dimension related to development assistance within the contemporary realm of aid effectiveness. The US policy paper outlines a strategy centered on stepping up economic support to Pakistan; the importance of this has also been reiterated by President Obama's three-pronged call for increasing development assistance for the country in his speech on March 27, 2009 and is evidenced by support signaled for the bipartisan Kerry-Lugar Bill and the Cantwell-Hollen-Hoekstra Bills and endorsement of support for Pakistan to the 'Friends of Pakistan' who are scheduled to meet in Japan later this month. The policy statement has made some bold and honest admissions. For one, it has recognized that aid has remained "Ill-organized and significantly under-resourced in some areas a large portion of development assistance ends up being spent on international consultants and overhead, and virtually no impact assessments have...

The fight against spurious drugs

Published in The News International on February 14, 2009: The issue of spurious drugs has been in the spotlight for some time now beginning with the suo moto action by the Supreme Court in 2007 and the subsequent regulatory actions by the then government to the more recent creation of a sub-committee of the Senate's Standing Committee on Interior. The problem has elicited strong reactions by several governments—severe but fleeting and short-lived. The idea here is neither to analyze individual decisions nor to delve into their motivation but to explain that the presence of spurious drugs in the market is a manifestation of erosion of capacity to regulate and govern. Just as fever indicates systemic infection and changing temperatures herald climate change, the presence of spurious drugs signal the presence of deep-seated issues relating to oversight. The energy crises, episodic shortages of essential commodities such as sugar and wheat are also likewise a reflection either of absence of accountability of decision making or exploitation of regulatory prerogatives and ensuing graft at several levels—each of these is a core issue of governance...

Restructuring and reforming NAB

Published in The News International on January 27, 2009: The government is on its way to revamping the country's accountability infrastructure and statutes. It is evident from a review of news postings in early January, that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) will be replaced with an Independent Accountability Commission (IAC) with the antecedent repealing of the current National Accountability Ordinance, 1999 (NAO) and promulgation of the Holder of Public Offices Act, 2009 (HPOA). It is important to ensure that this is not just a switch of acronyms but a substantive institutional restructuring and realignment of statutes as a step towards fostering accountability and transparency within the country—a core attribute of good governance. The news items in early January surprisingly generated very low level of interest from stakeholders in the political and governance arenas and the civil society, all of whom appear to hold institutional strengthening esteemed in rhetoric. It must be recognized however, that unless we actively and substantively engage in shaping institutional norms and structures, rhetorical commitments cannot come to fruition. It is therefore with a view to initiating...

The Global Financial downturn—imperatives for the health sector.

Nishtar S. Pablos-Mendez A. The Global Financial downturn—imperatives for the health sector. Lancet 2009;373:124. Download Attached file #...