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A matter of EHSAAS

Four pillars (addressing elite capture, safety nets for marginalized segments of the society, jobs and livelihoods as well as human capital development) one hundred and fifteen anti-poverty actions aiming to transform Pakistan from a national security state to a welfare state is a welcoming get-up-and-go. The broad social welfare programme is for the jobless, laborer’s, for poor farmers, students, women and elderly citizens. Moreover, the programme is also aimed to reduce inequality, invest in people and uplift lagging districts. The hunch to poverty reduction in the country is seen as a policy priority after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s launch of the policy statement on EHSAAS programme backed by allocation of Rs. 80 billion in the budget 2019-20.

Prime Minister Imran Khan is looking at the constitution change to make provision of food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief a state responsibility. Turning it into reality demands integrated efforts and commitment from all the stakeholders both involved directly or indirectly irrespective of their own vested interests. It’s time to call on the government to prioritize free public services over privatization and demand the rich and the ruling elite to pay their due share to fund such a huge poverty reduction initiative.

Can the premier be able to succeed in achieving the goal of poverty reduction while the bureaucracy, being the implementer, seems reluctant to move ahead on such program owing to certain reasons including the fast track actions against bureaucrats by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB)? How the program’s objective can be achieved when the public service delivery is done on the basis of interest of some influential groups instead of making it a need-basedaction? How different will be the new setup for social protection and poverty alleviation than the existing one? Can we afford this ambitious poverty alleviation programme given the circumstances that ruling elite is not ready to pay their fair share in the form of taxes to raise revenue portions? Will our judicial system be strong enough to protect the fundamental rights of common citizens especially when the matter is against the ruling elites? The answer is an obvious ‘No’.

How the basic human rights of common citizens can meet up in a country where justice is always delayed and it is hardly possible for the poor to get justice with the incumbent police and judicial systems? How the outcome of governance can be made more equitable, inclusive, sustainable and efficient if there is no representation of the poor in governance and decision-making regarding service delivery? The influence of our political, economic and social elite is so strong that require the political decentralization in its true sense.

 

More important to mention is that, it is not the right to health and other basic necessity of life that is not recognized as fundamental human rights in our Constitution rather the real matter is that our state capacity is not up to the mark to deliver such services. Our system has been hibernated by our ruling elites both elected and public servants by those who wish to lead Pakistan but have no kindness to care for downtrodden segments of the society. Why we need more than a dozen of international organizations to carry out all the good works in a developing country like Pakistan. Why our own people lack such enthusiasm to fill the widening gap among various segments of society. The answer is because our ruling elite have the vested interest, and they don’t want to contribute adequately to the resource’s mobilization in terms of taxes.

Reducing inequality is a policy choice. Denmark came top in reducing inequality via policies of progressive taxation, equal labor market and protection of women in the workplace. In Thailand, progressive taxation is funding free quality health care for all.South Korea drastically increased (by 16.4%) the minimum wage,levied taxes on the country’s biggest companies and the highest earners and increased welfare spending to reduce inequality and introduced provision for a universal child support grant.

A deliberate move in totality is required in the very direction not to just acquire yet another burden on the tax payers money. We should either make stronger our formal state institutions or should establish grassroot social reorganization. The citizens would be able to monitor and sanction the officials in case their performance is poor in offices when common men and designators belong to the same groups and organizations having approach to the cost and benefit analysis of the policy background & implementation.

We need to transform our politics to focus on kindness, empathy and well-being. Developing a living standard framework and embedding a well-being component in the budget with an adequate resource availability will help improve inter-generational well-being. We need to ensure that societal well-being is given an equal importance while taking measures to improve economy. We need to address the issues deep rooted in our political system that are becoming proxies for a distrust in institutions.

The vicious circle of the ruling elite in this country has trapped almost every nook and cranny; and there is no such hope persists to see the dream actualized. The country is seriously lacking a true leadership which can implement the policy. The current policy implementation and earlier similar efforts from different regimes in the country do not reflect that they were ever followed with such a zest and zeal. However, let the time speak for itself.

The writer Wajid Ali is a research associate at sustainable development policy institute Islamabad. He can be reached at wajid@sdpi.org

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