Pakistan’s Parliamentary Body starts probe into Public Debt

(By Abdul Khaliq)
On 27 July 2012 the ruling PPP and opposition PML-N in Pakistan’s National Assembly, were principally agreed to audit the public debt of the country. National Assembly Speaker Dr. Fehmida Mirza approved the formation of the 12-member committee after a motion unanimously passed by the National Assembly[1]. Syed Kurshid Shah, a member of the treasury benches, moved the motion, while the senior member of the opposition, Ahson Iqbal seconded the move. It was a pleasant surprise to many of us in Pakistan. CADTM-Pakistan welcomes this step; however, we have some reservations as well on the formation of this committee with regard to its nature, composition and mandate.

it is a National Assembly Special committee formed on the order of the Speaker, in response to a motion (not resolution).Though government and media terming it as Parliamentary committee, but in fact it is NOT, as there is no representation from Senate (Upper House) in this special committee. Whereas CADTM-Pakistan has been demanding a Parliamentary Debt Audit Commission, set up by the Presidential Decree with Constitutional cover to probe domestic and foreign debt since 1947.

Although 12-member committee has representation of all political parties in the National Assembly, however, no debt expert is included in the committee. Whereas CADTM-Pakistan demands that the members of the commission should comprise parliamentarians from both Houses (National Assembly and Senate) as well as local and international experts on Debt and Economic issues.

The powers and mandate of the special committee is also limited. The committee can hold inquiry into foreign and domestic debt, secured by the state since 1985. So the mandate of the committee does not go back to 1947, when Pakistan came into being. The committee can only hold inquiry into foreign and domestic loans taken during the last 27 years by different governments and regimes. So it excludes much-needed probe into the loans secured by three dictators’ Gen. Ayub Khan (1959-1969), Gen. Yehya Khan (1969-1971) and Gen. Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988).

Though original mover of the motion, PPP’s Kurshid Shah proposed to start inquiry from 1960 to include the periods of all the four dictators, however PML-Ns’ Ahsan Iqbal called for the probe to begin from 1985, when a civilian cabinet took office under the then military president General Ziaul Haq. After brief debate, the house adopted the motion, which eventually came as a joint motion moved by Mr Ahson Iqbal.

So the newly formed committee named as Special Parliamentary Committee on Foreign and Domestic Loans is to probe into five areas; a) which government had taken b) how much loans, c) from which donor, d) why the loans were taken and e) where the loans were spent during the last 27 years. The mandate of the committee thus includes identifying the name of the donor, size of the loan and name of the government that secured the loan. Thus mandate of the probe is still limited and needs to be expanded with regard to the period and evaluation of illegality/ illegitimacy and Odiousness.

However, despite the above-mentioned limitations, CADTM-Pakistan sees it as good beginning and we hope things will further move towards debt audit commission. Pertinent to mention is that in 2010, soon after super floods, CADTM-Pakistan actively participated in the civil society anti-debt campaign in collaboration with Oxfam Novib to cancel Pakistan foreign debt, which helped form debt as mainstream political issue. Since then the issue of debt has refused to die.

Under the banner of this broad-based civil society campaign “Pakistan Debt Cancellation Campaign” (PDCC), the civil society had also demanded to form a debt audit commission in Pakistan. Since then CADTM-Pakistan has been in touch with members of National Assembly belonging to different political parties and feeding them with relevant material on Pakistan Debt. A recent booklet “IFIs and Debt Politics – Pleading Pakistan’s Case” was provided to over 100 parliamentarians through post.

Though the pace of the Special Committee is slow, but good thing it is holding its. During the last two months the committee has been able to hold one meeting and elected Ms. Shehnaz Wazir Ali as its chairperson, who has directed the ministry of Economic Affairs division to submit the relevant data in categorical form. The 12-member committee includes Begum Shehnaz Wazir Ali (Chairperson) Defense Minister Syed Naveed Qamar, Mian Abdul Sattar, Ahsan Iqbal, Rana Tanveer Hussain, Asia Nasir, Hamidyar Hiraj, Abdul Rasheed Gondel and Jameela Gilani.

Pertinent to mention is volume of Pakistan’s total public debt has swelled to $126 billion as of Sept 2012. Political observers are of the opinion that politicians are not much interested in the issue of debt. The PPP government is playing game to opposition otherwise it would not go recklessly borrowing from IMF and other creditors during the last 4 years. The PML-N opposition, on the other hand, also least interested in curtailing the ever-increasing foreign loans. It is only interested in probing foreign loans obtained during the tenure of Gen. Musharraf (their arch rival).

However, political observers expect that the findings of the committee would be interesting and could provide some “ammunition” to political parties for attack any wrongdoings found in ever-burgeoning domestic and foreign debts.


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