Category Archives: Media Coverage

Women need a greater political role

With another by-election not featuring any woman candidate and a growing gap between registered male and female voters, there is a need to bring women into the political mainstream.

The call was made by the Centre for Peace and Development (CPDI), an independent not-for-profit civil society organisation working on issues of development and peace, on the eve of National Women’s Day.

CPDI noted that since 1983, seven governments have come and gone but there has been no substantial change in the status of women — apart from one that Pakistan got a woman prime minister.

Even as National Women’s Day is observed, a by-election in NA-154 Lodhran-I — where ten candidates are competing for the seat — none of them is a woman.

Pakistan fourth worst country for women: study

Moreover, it pointed out that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had unveiled that there were 97.02 million registered voters in Pakistan, of which 54.4 million were men while 42.2 million were women with a gap of over 12 million, a situation which the CPDI termed as perturbing.

Moreover, CPDI’s election observation reports reveal that despite the long struggle of women for political empowerment, their participation in the political process remains well below average.

The most recent example of this was the by-election in PP-20 Chakwal-I where CPDI observed low women voter turnout with 14 women voters on average casting their vote in an hour at sampled female polling booth as compared to 20 men at the male booths in the same time.

‘Employers should respect womens’ rights’ 

“ECP’s effort to mobilise women voters and the provisions of section 12 (C) of Elections Act 2017 have not paid off yet. The stakeholders need to take corrective measures to mainstream women in political life,” CPDI said.

Raja Shoaib Akbar, a senior programme manager at CPDI said that even though women in Pakistan have entered politics, thanks to the quota of reserved seats, the female population and a major segment of society remain alienated from active political participation, a limitation of true representation needs which needs to be taken seriously.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2018.

‘73pc polling stations in NA-154 lack accessibility’

LAHORE: Accessibility audit of NA-154 polling stations showed distressing statistics as it appeared that 73 percent of the sampled polling stations didn’t meet the essential accessibility criteria.

This implies that persons with disabilities, elderly and the sick will not be able to make it to 73 percent of the polling stations on February 12, 2018 by-election in Lodhran-I.

The report was issued by Pakistan Alliance for Inclusive Elections (PAIE) to share findings of Accessibility Audit of polling stations in NA-154. The exercise is conducted before election day to gauge the opportunities available for persons with disabilities to access polling stations on voting day. A trained team of observers visited polling stations that were selected by a scientifically drawn sample.

According to a press release issued here Friday, the team started assessing the approach to the polling station building; statistics reveal that 17 percent polling stations do not have a firm and obstacle-free passage leading to the building. The 25 percent buildings do not provide a level access to the entrance of polling station and out of these, 92 percent buildings do not possess a ramp to facilitate wheelchair users in entering the polling stations. Observers also witnessed that in 23 percent cases protruding objects were reported outside the polling stations, causing obstacle on the way.

Entrance gates of all sampled polling stations are wider than minimum standard of 32 inches, but as witnessed by credible and experienced auditors of PAIE, usually the smaller gates remain open on election day instead of these larger gates. The larger gates are intentionally closed for legitimate reasons i.e. security and to avoid overcrowding in the polling stations. But the smaller gates possess multiple problems; first, the lesser opening width than minimum standard of 32 inches; second, the iron bar at lower edge of the metal gates that is always thicker than maximum door threshold standard of 6mm, third, the lower edge bar of the gates is generally two to three inches higher than ground causing another obstacle. All these points make it difficult for special persons and the elderly to enter polling stations thus making it inaccessible. If staff does not open larger gates for them on election day then 100 percent polling stations naturally become inaccessible for them. The ECP should make the polling stations precisely more accessible and should be mindful of these minute hurdles. The survey further revealed that the interior building and outer entrance of 65 percent polling stations were not on same level and only 10 percent ramps were reported in set sample size, no other facilities existed to facilitate the movement of special persons.

The study signified that even if the special persons and the elderly cross the main gate of the building 65 percent polling station buildings will still pose challenge and they will have to cross stairs to reach the polling area.

Availability of the light being one of the significant conditions of accessibility criteria, it was reported that only 17 percent of the polling stations possess exterior lighting arrangement, leaving 83 percent sampled polling station entrance unlit at the time of low visibility.

CPDI Calls for Increased Political Participation of Women in Pakistan

Islamabad: At the occasion of National Women’s Day on 12th of February Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) has called for increased political participation of women in Pakistan.

Since February 12, 1983, seven governments have been at the helm of affairs but no substantial change could be brought to the status of women. This year, National Women’s Day coincides with the by-election in NA 154 Lodhran-I, where lamentably none of ten candidates is the woman. Further, according to Election Commission of Pakistan, the total number of registered voters in Pakistan has reached to 97.02 million including 54.4 male and 42.2 female voters. CPDI maintains that situation is perturbing as the gap between the number of male and female voters has crossed 12 million.

Stats of CPDI’s election observation reports reveal that despite the long struggle of women for empowerment, their participation in political process remains below average till date. The most recent example is the by-election in PP20 Chakwal-I where CPDI observed low women voter turnout; on average, 14 women voters cast their vote in an hour, on a sampled female polling booth as compared to 20 men on the male booth. ECP’s effort to mobilize women voters and the provisions of section 12 (C) of Elections Act 2017 has not yet paid off. Stakeholders need to take corrective measures to mainstream women in political life.

Raja Shoaib Akbar, Senior program manager at CPDI said that even though women in Pakistan have entered politics, thanks to the quota of reserved seats but still female population of major segments of our society remain alienated from active political participation, a limitation of true representation needs to be taken seriously.

CPDI believes that Socio-cultural and economic barriers restrict women’s participation in the political system. It appears that women are usually faced with similar challenges and barriers i.e. sex segregation, illiteracy, and lack of awareness of their political rights. Moreover, the dominance of patriarchal mindset is deep rooted in our society so it is prevalent in political parties as well. It is about time that political parties proactively contribute to the political inclusion of women. All political parties should adhere to the provisions of new Election Act 2017 by increasing female party membership as suggested in section 203, ensure women nomination on 5% general seats as stated in section 206 and take steps to increase their registration as voters and candidates so that women can enter the mainstream political process. The Election Commission of Pakistan should also constructively engage with the parties to ensure implementation of women related provisions of the Elections Act.

Peshawar LG reps want funds released

PESHAWAR: Elected representatives and nazims of various village and neighbourhood councils of the provincial metropolis have expressed concern over the delay in release of developmental funds for the last seven months.

Speaking at a joint press conference at Peshawar Press Club on Monday, nazims and councillors said that the developmental funds for 2017-18 had not been paid for the past seven months without any reason. They said it had badly affected the routine work of cleanliness, water supply, sports activities, plantation, sanitation, and other activities.

All Nazimeen Organizing Committee Peshawar president Amanullah Khan said that undue delay in release of the uplift funds had led to suspension of the ongoing plans of clean drinking water and disposal of solid waste, which had caused unrest among the elected representatives and general public as well. “We are unable to face our voters as they always ask us for supplying water, continue the cleanliness work but all these activities are impossible to be carried out in the prevailing situation when the required funds are not available,” he argued.

He presented a charter of demands, which included provision of Class-IV employees, Nadra software to all villages, neighbourhood councils and 100 per cent enhancement in honoraria of the nazims. Similarly, he also demanded that they should be allowed to work on the departmental quotations and opposed the 10 per cent cut from nazims’ funds by Water and Sanitation Services Peshawar.

The making of shadow budget

Pakistani political parties have been preparing shadow budgets since 2012-13, but in isolation and without yielding fruitful results. What do they need to change to make this exercise meaningful?

The making of shadow budget
The preparation of shadow budgets by opposition parties, think tanks and civil society organisations has become a norm in the developed world over the last quarter of a century. These alternative budgets offer analysis and perspective on what the government budget should contain in terms of spending and revenue generation. In short, a shadow budget offers an alternative vision to deal with the macroeconomic challenges faced by a country, province, state, district or city.

Ideally, a shadow budget should follow the format of the government budget and extend beyond a wish list; proper costing of all the proposed measures is the foremost prerequisite. For example, presenting a shadow budget that proposes tax cuts or new development schemes without identifying the sources of additional revenue shall be an exercise in futility. Lately, the focus of civil society organisations has shifted to sectoral shadow budgets (health, education, agriculture, etc.) in line with their areas of expertise because preparing a shadow federal budget requires efforts that may extend beyond their mandate.

The MQM has been advocating the imposition of agriculture tax and withdrawal of agricultural subsidies since its first shadow budget while the PPP and PTI both agree that farmers should be given more incentives.

It may come as a surprise, but shadow budgets are not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) pioneered the trend in the country by presenting shadow federal budget 2012-13.To its credit, the MQM has issued a shadow federal budget before the presentation of the federal budget ever since, though political rivals are quick to point out that the party solicits the services of experts for the purpose.

Following in the MQM’s footsteps, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) presented shadow federal budget 2015-16; however, it discontinued the practice in subsequent years probably because, in the words of its opposition leader in Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmood-ur-Rasheed, “It is useless to work on shadow budget since it is never implemented.” The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) joined the bandwagon when it presented federal shadow budget 2017-18. Moreover, the MQM and PTI presented shadow Sindh budget 2015-16, while the former also presented shadow Sindh budget 2016-17.

An analysis of the shadow budgets presented by these political parties shows that, despite some disagreements, they have more or less the same solution to offer to meet Pakistan’s burgeoning macroeconomic challenges: broadening the tax base, reforming the Federal Board of Revenue and plugging the loopholes in tax collection. The PPP envisages that the government can raise as much as Rs300 billion a year through widening the tax base. The MQM’s estimate, in comparison, is liberal since it is in the region of Rs750 billion a year. On the other hand, the PTI estimates the untapped income tax potential to be just Rs100 billion.

Interestingly, while the MQM and PTI agree that general sales tax (GST) should be reduced from the current 17 per cent to 9 per cent and 12.5 per cent, respectively, the PPP does not even mention GST in its shadow budget. Though both the MQM and PTI have identified additional sources of revenue to cater to the resulting shortfall, their planning can at best be called ambitious. Probably the experience of being in power in the Centre has helped the PPP adopt a more realistic approach and not resort to populist measures.

The MQM has been advocating the imposition of agriculture tax and withdrawal of agricultural subsidies since its first shadow budget (the party estimates in its latest shadow federal budget that the revenue potential under this head is to the tune of Rs173 billion); while the PPP and PTI both agree that farmers should be given more incentives, apparently not to displease their rural voters. Similarly, while the MQM has proposed to reduce the defence budget in all six of its shadow federal budgets, the PTI proposed increasing the same in its only shadow federal budget.

Despite decent homework, the shadow budgets presented by the MQM are populist in nature to say the least. In its first shadow budget, the party proposed that the prices of essential food items be considerably reduced (flour by 50 per cent, yellow lentils by 30 per cent, mutton by 20 per cent, etc.), but without telling how this would be made possible. In its latest shadow budget (2017-18), the MQM has revised some of these figures (for example, now it proposes reduction in the prices of flour by 25 per cent) but still not made it clear how it plans to achieve this target.

Almost along same lines, the PTI’s shadow federal budget 2015-16 is removed from reality and seems like handiwork of some ivory tower economist. In comparison, the PPP’s shadow federal budget 2017-18 — despite being suggestions-based rather than employing the format of the federal budget — is more grounded in reality and does not evoke false hopes among the masses.

Along with political parties, Pakistani civil society organisations and donor agencies are also taking increasing interest in shadow budgets. With Oxfam’s support, Indus Consortium and Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives are preparing Layyah district’s shadow budget for 2018-19. “Since 2014, Oxfam International is engaged in “Even It Up”, a global campaign aimed at shifting the terms of debate around inequality. In Pakistan, we are closely watching out fiscal spaces, including revenue raising and spending on education, health and social protection,” says Asim Jaffry, the manager of Finance for Development Project, a component of Even It Up campaign.

Jaffry adds that the desire to hook up “our work in Pakistan with the Even It Up campaign leverages us to work on shadow budget,” so that evidence could be generated from the district to provincial level to sensitise the policymakers and legislators. He believes that civil society organisations should form an alliance and chip in their resources to prepare shadow budgets because of the lack of capacity at all levels, from strategic to tactical.

Based on the international experience of shadow budgeting, a few suggestions for Pakistani political parties and civil society organisations to make their shadow budgets more meaningful are as follows:

All opposition parties should jointly prepare a single shadow budget, as well as commit to implement the same whenever elected to power. They should also involve civil society organisations, policy institutes and electorate in the process.

Actual budgetary figures of the last fiscal year should be used as baseline not estimates or revised estimates, because the latter are normally off-the-mark.

The available resource envelope should be kept in sight to avoid going overboard while making recommendations.

The shadow budget should be presented at least two weeks ahead of the budget to give the government a chance to adopt its suggestions.

The work on shadow budgets should start much in advance than it usually does. Ideally, the government’s budget calendar should be followed.

Sectoral experts in education, health, climate change, social protection, etc. should be involved for coming up with realistic cost estimates and setting achievable targets.

The shadow budgets should also identify focus within sectors such as education and health.


“Our only hope lies in increasing exports and tax-to-GDP ratio”

The News on Sunday spoke to Senate Committee on Finance, Revenue, Economics Affairs and Narcotics Chairperson Saleem Mandviwalla, who is also the architect of the PPP’s shadow federal budget 2017-18, to solicit his view on the efficacy of the exercise and the party’s future plans. Excerpts follow:

The News on Sunday: What has been the government, civil society and media’s response to the PPP’s shadow federal budget 2017-18?

Saleem Mandviwalla: Shadow budgets do not evoke much response from the government or civil society. Even the media did not give our shadow budget adequate coverage because of limited viewer interest in the topic.

TNS: The PPP’s shadow budget 2017-18 envisaged 4 million new tax filers over the next five years. Was this a realistic figure?

SM: Pakistan’s major problem is tax-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio. We have a population of 210 million and direct taxpayers hardly number two to three per cent, thus there is a huge potential in this area. In the PPP’s last term (2008-13), we generated 3 million potential taxpayers who travelled by air and owned property, but still did not pay a single rupee in direct taxes. The PPP brought a tax amendment bill in 2013, but we could not pass it because of the opposition of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). If we come to power after elections next year, we will again introduce this bill in the parliament. Our main target is to bring tax-to-GDP ratio to 15 per cent. We believe that tools are available to the government to achieve the target of 4 million new taxpayers over the next five years, but political will and proper administration are required.

TNS: Does the PPP plan to prepare shadow federal budget 2018-19? If yes, when would the process start and how the views of citizens and experts would be solicited?

SM: Yes, we will try to prepare shadow federal budget for the next fiscal year and the process will start in February or March. We would welcome suggestions and inputs from all experts and citizens, though our only hope lies in increasing exports and tax-to-GDP ratio. Personally, I do not see much hope in other areas since I look at the budget practically, unlike others who go for cosmetic ideas and suggestions.

TNS: Will the PPP identify alternative sources of revenue to cater to the policy recommendations in its shadow federal budget 2018-19?

SM: We would love to find alternative sources of revenue. By not increasing taxes, the PML-N government has destroyed the economy and put an additional burden of more than Rs900 billion on it during the past four-and-a-half years. We are open to ideas from everyone but we also want to see how feasible are these ideas. We do not want to come up with a wish list like other political parties do in their shadow budgets and manifestos.

1.7m workers in Punjab deprived of pension, old age grants

ISLAMABAD: More than 1.7 million workers in Punjab are deprived of their pension and old age grant as they don’t have social security coverage, data obtained through the Punjab RTI Law reveals.

The official data received from Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI) under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013 reveals that seven out of 20 regions in Punjab have more than 2.6 million workers registered with it. However, out of 2.6 million, more than 1.7 million workers don’t have social security.

According to the PESSI data, the lowest percentage of workers having their social security coverage are from Lahore (Gulberg Region). Out of the total 78,479 workers registered with PESSI in this region, only 7,107 (9 percent) have their social security covered, whereas the remaining 71,372 registered workers have no social security. There are five regions in Lahore and three of them have not provided data of the workers registered with them.

The second lowest percentage of workers having social security coverage are from Bahawalpur region. As per the official data of Bahawalpur region, only 4,939 (19.44 percent) out of 25,398 workers have their social security covered.

Similarly, in Sheikhupura region, total 36,255 workers are registered with PEasSSI, however, only 13,576 have their social security and the remaining 22,679 workers have no social security coverage. The data received from Gujrat region shows that 8,337 (45.56 percent) of the total 18,295 have social security, whereas the remaining 9,958 workers are working without social security coverage.

On April 24, 2017, a citizen Raza Ali filed an RTI request in all 20 regions of Punjab regarding provision of certified information about total number of workers in the province and total number of workers having coverage of social security. However, after passage of almost nine months, only seven regions have provided the required information, whereas the remaining 13 regions are yet to provide the information.

In accordance with the constitutional provision of Article 38, the government started a

social insurance scheme in Pakistan for the private sector employees. Under this scheme, four types of benefits are provided to the workers which include old-age pension (or reduced pension), survivors’ pension, invalidity pension and old-age grant (if an employee is not eligible for pension).

The Govt of Pakistan had promulgated the Employees’ Old-age Pensions Ordinance in 1972. However, this was never implemented. Later on, in 1976, this was substituted with an act of Parliament, called Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Act, 1976. This social insurance system was started to achieve the objective of Article 38 (c) of the Constitution.

The Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Act is applicable on all firms (industrial or commercial, including banks) where five or more workers, whether contractual or regular, are employed or were employed during past 12 months. The laws remain applicable even if the number of persons employed is subsequently reduced to less than five. The business with less than five employees can get their employees registered with EOBI on voluntary basis.

The top management of Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI) said they have issued show cause notices to the employers and directed them to issue their workers social security cards. The management further responded that a campaign have been launched time to time for speedy processing of social security cards of the secured workers. Similarly, mobile teams are sent to various big establishments for processing of SS cards of workers. According to the PESSI management challan U/S 66 have been lodged against the employers of the units who failed to procure the social security cards in respect of their workers.

CPDI urges Sindh govt to set up consumer courts

KARACHI: The Sindh Government has so far failed to meet its legal obligation regarding the establishment of consumer courts in the province, said Amer Ejaz, Executive Director, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI)

According to a press release, he said that the residents of Sindh have no legal forum to resort to if any enterprise violates their rights as a consumer.

Urging the Sindh government to establish the consumer courts at the earliest, Ejaz said once the consumer courts are established in all the districts of the province, they would punish shopkeepers involved in specific violation with regard to the prices, quality and quantity, leading to a relatively friendlier environment for the consumers.

He stated that the Sindh Consumer Protection Act, 2014 was enacted as a law in February 2015, but the government has failed to establish the consumers’ courts, while on the other hand, the other provinces have already established consumer courts that are now dealing with consumer problems according to the law of the land.

The CPDI executive director further said that the consumer courts could protect the citizens from fraud, eradicate corruption and help in creating a consumer-friendly environment in the province.

The government, he added, was supposed to establish district and sessions courts in all districts of the province to solve the problems of the consumers as per the Sindh Consumer Protection Act.

General consumer issues can be directly taken to the consumer courts, which can summon the vendors.

The consumers will only have to write an application to the court; they will not need to hire an advocate to plead their case, he added.

Under the food authority, commissioner of every division in Sindh will depute deputy commissioners who will further check prices, quality of general items; if something is found defective or expired, they would impose fine on the vendor and send the cases to the consumers’ court.

CPDI urges Sindh govt to set up consumer courts

Call for introducing RTI law in AJK

MUZAFFARABAD:  While most provinces and regions of Pakistan have enacted right to information laws, Azad Jammu and Kashmir is among the few regions which have yet to introduce such a law.

In this regard, the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) conducted the first-ever introductory session on the need and significance of the right to information (RTI) laws for government officials and media of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).

While presiding over the session, Secretary Information Mansoor Qadir Dar appreciated the initiative to enhance the capacity of officials and journalists. 

He added that there was no standard operating procedure in AJK for a citizen to get information from government departments. However, he urged all to work together to devise a legislation on RTI in AJK.

AJK Law Department Section officer Muhammad Nawaz stated that their department has drafted a bill on RTI which has been pending before the Parliament for years but has not received any attention from lawmakers.

During the session, participants were briefed about their constitutional right to know what the government was doing while the importance of enacting an RTI law in AJK was crucial for ensuring the transparent working of government departments.

AJK DGPR Raja Azhar Iqbal proposed holding a series of sessions to get the RTI legislation off the ground.

“Like other regions of Pakistan, AJK should also enact RTI law to promote a culture of public participation in government affairs. The government of AJK should prioritise the legislation on RTI to protect citizen’s fundamental right to know,” stressed CPDI Executive Director Amer Ejaz.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 20th, 2017.