Literati and economists are not the most obvious of bed-fellows, but at the Ninth Karachi LitFest, one of the fastest-growing literature festivals in the world, a session on the Social-Economic and Governance Priorities for Pakistan did not seem out of place.
The room was packed at Karachi’s Luxury Beachfront Hotel on 10 February as authors, booklovers and members of the cultural elite crowded to listen to three writers with a more economic expertise discuss a topic initiated by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES): What kind of economic policy can match the vision for a good, socially just society?
The speakers were three renowned Pakistani economists, two published by FES and one by Oxford University Press. In Pakistan as elsewhere, the search is on for a system of economic and political governance that ensures socially inclusive, financially sustainable and ecologically dynamic growth.
First up was Pakistan’s former finance minister Hafiz Pasha presenting his book Growth and Inequality, Vol. I and addressing the crucial question of “how to get out of the low-growth, high-inequality trap”. His analysis: The education system needs additional resources plus a reorientation towards vocational training; the manufacturing sector needs to be strengthened; and one of the most inefficient tax systems in the world needs a complete overhaul.
Sakib Sherani, former advisor to the Planning Commision and well known newspaper columnist presented his case for Institutional Reform in Pakistan – The Missing Piece of the Development Puzzle, and he delivered the statistics: In the education sector Pakistan is second-last of 173 countries on the Human Development Index; its productivity growth amounts to a quarter of that of India and one seventh of China’s.
“Pakistan’s elite—5-6 Million of us—we are not paying our taxes,” he told the room. “We are too comfortable with current situation and part of the problem”. Quite a courageous statement at a literature festival where representatives of this very elite were indulging themselves in three days of new novels and old poetry.
Vaqar Ahmed, Deputy Director of the Social Development and Policy Institute (link in English), a FES partner at the event, added from his own research detailed in Pakistan’s Agenda for Economic Reforms (link to Oxford UP).
With companies paying 56 different taxes collected by 15 institutions, he argued, the manufacturing sector could not grow enough to provide sufficient jobs for Pakistan’s youth bulge demographic.
″No inclusive growth in Pakistan until elites are prepared to share their wealth through reforms and fairer tax system.″
Behind all those statistics, one basic theme emerged: State capture by the country’s elite is the main reason for the country’s economic malaise.
In other words, there will be no inclusive growth—and no socially just society—in Pakistan until those elites are prepared to share their wealth through furthering institutional reforms and the implementation of a fairer and more effective tax system. And that was and is, as many in the audience agreed, purely a question of political will.
The aim of the session had been to present key reforms proposed by recent FES-supported research on future socio-economic priorities and to feed them into the wider social-political discourse, and more immediately, into political parties’ election manifestos for the 2018 elections.
Founded in 2010 with 5,000 fans of literature visiting the three-day event at the Beach Luxury Hotel the Karachi, the LitFest saw its attendance rise to 200,000 art lovers and engaged citizens last year, when FES Pakistan organized the first panel on the “Economy of Tomorrow” at the festival.###
For more information on the work by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Pakistan visit the country office website and contact the office staff.you can follow the FES Pakistan office activities on Facebook and Twitter @FES_PAK.
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