Keeping in view the current economic scenario there is a need to do something on war footing and encouragingly enough there seems to be a ray of hope when we see that the most creditable part of the 100 days plan of the prime minister Imran Khan is of course to build a Council of Business Leaders (CBL) which he would like to chair himself so that effective and practicable measures can be taken to improve the conditions of doing business in Pakistan, attract investment, encourage participation of overseas Pakistanis and boost exports — vital components to revitalize the economy.
There is no denying of the fact that the greatest positive change in revitalizing the economy can come from the active participation and meaningful contribution of the business community. The goal to create 10 million jobs in five years and build five million housing units for the middle and lower income group in five years through private sector is not possible without the support and efforts of the business community of the country. No doubt today the time is ripe for the next government to develop a better understanding between government, the policymakers and the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), the apex body representing country’s trade, industry and service sectors and derive benefit by sharing each other knowledge and expertise.
Economists believe that the level of confidence between the business community and the government is a unique barometer of economic activity. The future course of investment in any country largely depends on what its businessmen think is going to happen tomorrow and the stock exchange also behave accordingly. Therefore, it is important for the government to win the confidence of the business community for close ties between business and government are necessary to keep the wheels of economy moving. Strong economies need strong businesses and strong trade, and that requires an economic policy prepared by sharing the inputs from FPCCI and of course with the contribution from the leading economist of the country. In fact, institutes like IBA and LUMS can also be associated with the policymaking task. Academia and the research and development wing of the FPCCI together can help the policymakers a lot in churning out a realistic economic policies and the fiscal budget.
Though the relationship between business community and government is somewhat complex, it’s never-ending and always evolving. As such formation of the CBL where business leaders and concerned government officials will sit together regularly under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister to discuss various economic issues will ultimately help in finding unanimous solution for an economic problem. It is an established fact that a large amount of problem solving takes place in group settings. Meetings and informal discussions are often used to air different ideas and points of view to help solve problems for which the participants have either shared responsibility or a contribution to make. So there is an urgent need to take full advantage of CBL. The Council should also have a number of economists as members to update it about the trends in other developing countries so that it is in a position to take decisions keeping in view the latest trends.
If we believe in ages old saying ‘give the devil its due’, we may revisit the economic growth in Pakistan during the rule of Ayub Khan which seems pretty much stellar, and on Jan 18, 1965, the New York Times wrote that “Pakistan may be on its way towards an economic milestone that so far has been reached by only one other populous country, the United States”, a view which was endorsed by the Times from London a year later, stating that “the survival and development of Pakistan is one of the most remarkable examples of state and nation-building in the post-War period”.
Being a soldier he was fully aware of the fact that he was not an expert economist so he needed help and guidance from experts and therefore, sought the help of the Harvard Advisory group (HAG) (later Harvard Institute for International Development) into Pakistan. This group actually designed the economic policy during the Ayub era. They developed the Planning Commission of Pakistan and the Pakistan Institute of Development economics which did indeed house some of our most eminent economists in the fifties and sixties. The HAG advisors arranged to develop some economists including the great Mehbubul Haq, for the role that they had designed for them. They took back to Harvard several economists from these institutions to study for various degrees. They also arranged for several others to go to other prestigious places such as Princeton, Yale etc.
Imran Khan being a sportsman may also from a group of economists from his own Namal University and other institutes like IBA and LUMS. This Advisory Group will keep on advising the CBL on various economic issues. The Advisory Group with its knowledge and expertise can definitely make the proposed Council of Business Leaders more useful and effective. There is no dearth of credible economists in Pakistan so all what required is to derive benefit from their knowledge and expertise.
(The writer is a freelance contributor on economic issues).