Will RTC deliver? Daily Dawn

Will RTC deliver?

Daily Dawn  10-02-2011

THE round table conference called by President Zardari could serve a useful purpose provided it is not lost in political inanities and the agenda is focused on the country’s grim economic situation. What seriousness of intent could achieve is reflected in the substantial progress that talks between the PPP and the PML-N have made. The agenda from the very word go was the economy, and the two sides held what appeared to be well-structured talks on macroeconomic issues and fiscal discipline. While much remains to be done, and dirty politics often raise their menacing heads, the government and the major opposition party have continued to hold negotiations in a positive spirit to deve-lop consensus on a strategy for meeting the colossal economic challenges the nation faces. Will the participants in the RTC be guided by this spirit?

Larger conferences with political agendas serve to accentuate differences rather than reinforce unity of purpose and develop a programme of action in the larger national interest. As experience shows, RTCs have seldom recorded progress in concrete terms and more often than not have served as platforms for politicians to reiterate known positions and make propaganda capital out of the get-together. The overall economic and political situation being what it is, the last thing this overly politicised nation needs is another bout of futile political point-scoring. As the Pakistan Business Council has pointed out, the economy faces problems which are “perennial and complex”. Briefly, these include the grave energy crisis, the reformed general sales tax, higher revenue generation, cuts in expenditure at the federal and provincial levels, smaller cabinets, loan recovery, the white elephants which most state-owned corporations have become, IMF conditionalities and a feared hike in oil prices. These issues should be tackled by experts in a non-partisan spirit to find short- and long-term solutions in a way that gives a genuine boost to the economy and is acceptable to the people.

The RTC called by the president would be meaningful if the government shows its seriousness by outlining the objectives of the conference and party heads are accompanied by professionals of high calibre who can come up with effective solutions to the economic problems ravaging post-flood Pakistan. Unfortunately, our political parties do not bother to develop specialised panels combining expertise with party philosophy. While, contrary to what many experts believe, Pakistan is not yet in the throes of an economic meltdown, there is no doubt that it is facing a grave financial crisis. National consensus is needed for a durable solution and the RTC provides an excellent opportunity to forge one.