Towards transparency -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Towards transparency

The decision of the government to obtain a good housekeeping “seal” from Transparency International Pakistan for the auction for 3rd Generation Spectrum (3G) Licences is a clear indication that Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf seeks to restore his image that stood tarnished during his ministership.

We are glad that the PM has agreed to the wise counsel of Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh to sign an integrity pact with TIP – not just to put to rest rumours of any wrongdoing but also to encourage quality participation in the auction of both national and international import. After all, one of the key elements of forex inflows to keep the budgetary borrowings within estimates is the forex receipts from this 3G auction.

The then Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, had the same opportunity to do so. In mid-November 2009, he ordered formation of a committee led by the then Finance Minister, Shaukat Tarin, with secretaries of cabinet, establishment, finance, planning and development, production, interior, health and information technology as members, to review all governance issues raised in the media and those in the TI Corruption Index 2009 report in consultation with Syed Adil Gilani, the then TI chairman in Pakistan. A series of meetings was held with TIP team and recommendations on governance as well as anti-corruption suggestions were made by TIP.

Unfortunately, however, before the TIP recommendations could be adopted Tarin quit the government and PM Gilani put a halt to parleys since he had other plans. He is said to have also poisoned the mind of President Asif Ali Zardari against TIP. And, since then the PPP stalwarts have become critical of TIP surveys – though previously their Shaheed leader Benazir Bhutto had nothing but praise for the TIP’s integrity and credibility. The views of politicians change on sensitive issues with their positions. As the loyal opposition, they want an independent media to boldly hold the government of the day accountable. However, the same personalities become critical of the same media when they themselves are in power. The same is the case of TIP. All political parties signed the anti-corruption pact with TIP when General Musharraf was in power. However, the same parties (which were signatories to the anti-corruption pact floated by TIP) are now critical of the methodology of Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International now that they are in power.

It was Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz who encouraged Transparency International to become active in Pakistan. Aziz, as finance minister, helped create; Pakistan Procurement Regulatory Authority and PPRA Rules were made on his watch. The aim was two-fold: one, to have transparent bidding process for procurement of goods and services paid with taxpayer’s money. Second, to reduce discretionary power in the hands of buyers. And, third, rules were framed for tenders and auctions to be conducted – free from negotiation. All kinds of provisions for government to government purchases or emergency purchases or for purchase of proprietary items are catered in the PPRA rules.

Unfortunately, however, the authority (PPRA) instead of being an independent oversight institution – functioning as regulator – for acquisition of goods and services and involving taxpayers funds – was made an arm of the Ministry of Finance. Secretary Finance was made Chairman of the PPRA Board. The Board can recommend exemption from PPRA Rules to the Prime Minister. Here lies the weakness and a clear clash of interests: The Board needs to be autonomous with members having fixed tenures, non-removable and with full financing autonomy. And relaxation from PPRA rules must be the sole prerogative of the Federal Cabinet. Provinces of Sindh and Punjab have created provincial PPRAs. KP and Balochistan are still contemplating doing so.

Fish rots from the head. If PM and CMs want to run clean governments then they need to surrender their discretionary powers in relation to land, hiring, promotion and postings in the government departments and PSEs. The biggest source of corruption lies in these critical areas. There is that much a technocrat like Dr Hafeez Sheikh can do to protect and preserve his reputation. A lot needs to be done to reduce corruption. For example, urban development should be conceived, planned and executed through Master Plans. Such plans need to be computerised/digitised clearly and made accessible to public. This will limit the unbridled freedom of Administration, in relation to award of ‘sweet heart’ deals at the whims of the executives.

Establishment Division, at every tie of governance should be abolished. All appointments as well as promotions within the governmental divisions as well as in Public Sector Bodies need to be merit-based. Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 needs to be revised – deleting all exemptions other than those involving national security. Good governance, inter alia, involves promoting the rule of law, tolerance towards minority and opposition groups, and transparent economic and political processes.

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