Struggling for competitiveness

It is the job of a statesman to go beyond what is politically possible but to expand the realm of possibility itself.

Editorial September 06, 2014

This week witnessed the release of yet another report outlining why the Pakistani economy is one of the least competitive in the world. This time around, it was the Global Competitiveness Report, issued by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It makes for dismal reading. Indeed, the rankings are so bad that it is actually easier to count Pakistan’s ranking from the bottom rather than the top. But the bad news does not stop there. On virtually every measure of economic vitality, Pakistan is not only one of the worst performers in the world, but is actually doing worse than its own performance in previous years. Not only are we lagging behind the rest of the planet, we seem to be hell bent on going backwards.

That virtually nobody in Islamabad takes governance seriously is by now abundantly clear. For all the attempts of the Nawaz Administration to create a more empowered Planning Commission, there is still no clear strategy for the country’s economic direction. Vision 2025, the government’s much publicised plan for revitalising the economy, is nothing more than a wish list and a series of empty platitudes. It does not actually constitute an action plan. To be sure, the government does frequently initiate development projects every now and then. And some of them are indeed very good ideas, like the Lahore-Karachi motorway or the corridor that will run from Chitral to Gwadar. But there is no consideration for how all of these projects — and the countless others that get started and then abandoned — would work together. Everyone is minding their own little piece, nobody is minding the whole.

Meanwhile, the country continues to drift along, neglected by leaders who are too small-minded or incompetent to take care of even the little things that are not necessarily hard to do. The WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report lists many items such as law and order, education, and healthcare that are long term projects that will take several decades to fix. But what about the simple things like reducing bureaucracy? Surely the government can try to undertake simple reforms like removing unnecessary paperwork requirements for entrepreneurs seeking to do business? Or are we so beyond hope of competence that we cannot even accomplish small tasks?

The truth is that, in order for Pakistanis to take global competitiveness seriously, we need to gain both a sense of proportion for the scale of the problem, as well as the drive to move out of our aid-dependent malaise. For example, there is virtually nobody in Islamabad who believes, or has seriously tried, to create a balanced budget that does not rely on any foreign assistance whatsoever. This is not an easy task, to be sure, but at the very least, can the government try to create a plan to make that happen? We would like to think that the answer is yes, but we realise that in all likelihood, the government has other things on its mind.

Meanwhile, Pakistani businesses continue to struggle to provide for themselves the kind of basic infrastructure needs that their competitors in other parts of the world get from their government. There is truth in the argument that it feels ludicrous to pay taxes and then have the government provide few of the essential services one needs to succeed (though we reject the idea that this is a good excuse to avoid taxes).

Some would argue that it is difficult to make the case for the kind of long-term reforms that are necessary to create a highly competitive economy. We would argue that it is a lack of talent on the part of our politicians that they are not able to make that case to the Pakistani people. It is the job of a statesman to go beyond just what is politically possible but to expand the realm of possibility itself. On that count, every single Pakistani leader since independence, including all the dictators and democrats, have been sorely lacking.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2014.

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Hari Om | 8 years ago | Reply

Fret not ET. Competitiveness index is a Christian, Hindu and Jewish plot instigated by US, India and Israel to malign Islam and Pakistan by giving weightage to Non-Islamic variables rather than halal Islamic variables like being an Islamic Republic, being the Sole Islamic Nuclear Weapon Power, being the Citadel of Islam, being the most voluble protestor of alleged acts of Muslim persecution in the Non-Muslim majority countries of the world barring China and being the most silent country when Muslim persecutes Muslims in Muslim majority countries except when it comes to punishing those who supported Pakistani directed genocide in Bangladesh. When halal Muslim variables are used by WEF, it will be seen that Pakistan leaves India, Israel and US in the dust.

Toticalling | 8 years ago | Reply

One of the reasons for lack of economic progress is that other issues are given more importance by so many. WE can see that by lack of comments here. Another is that governments are never given the chance of continuity and they spend more energies on survival. That must change. Hardly anybody talks of population control. Unless there is check on population growth, all the efforts will be of no use. Even Bangla dish has lower growth than Pakistan.So there are many challenges and voting for those who give priorities to growth is one. But most are carried away with talk of going back to 7th century attitudes. That will hardly move the country forward towards 21st century. On positive side, a recent survey shows that whereas over 40% of Indian population lives below acceptable levels, the number is far less in Pakistan. ca. 23%. That is a positive news.

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