There is a consensus of opinion among social scientists and economic experts that sustainable development goals cannot be achieved without significantly improving social and human capital indicators. Some of the key initiatives that need to be taken in this context include encouraging investment, public-private partnership, infrastructure development, large-scale manufacturing, enhancing exports and ensuring energy and food security.
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure and knowledge economy are pivotal to this model. Institutional reforms are also necessary for good governance and effective implementation of the chosen economic framework.
A long-term development plan should project a vision as well as a mission to achieve the goals, such as where Pakistan would be in the next 20 years or 30 years. According to some experts, the Chinese economic model of Deng Xiaoping and the Singaporean economic model of Lee Kuan Yew are best suited for the purpose. The inclusive growth model should, above all, aim at containing undirected population growth. Pakistan’s demographic projections are horrible and need to be addressed at the earliest to ensure efficient future planning and development.
At the same time, more importance should be given to social and human capital development by placing greater emphasis on women empowerment and sustainable economic development. Currently, Pakistan has a 60 per cent literacy rate by spending only 2.5 percent of its GDP on the education sector, while primary and public health figures are also dismal. The human development indicators are at their lowest ebb and Pakistan stands at 154 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). Moreover, there are over 60 million children, who are currently out of school and need immediate government intervention.
The National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) is the only arm of the federal government that has a presence in almost all districts of Pakistan and provides support to human development. But the organisation is underperforming due to budgetary constraints. The need of the hour is to pump more money into the education sector for overall improvement in human capital.
Women empowerment and gender parity are also essential to achieving sustainable development goals. Out of the total population in Pakistan, 51 percent comprises women. But gender inequality is alarmingly wide and needs to be narrowed as women can play a very vital role in the uplift of the country. A literate mother means a literate and educated family. Even otherwise, women’s participation is a must for economic development, because no country can progress and prosper if 51 per cent of its productive workforce is forced to sit at home.
The goal of achieving a 100 percent literacy rate in Pakistan must be achieved at the earliest. More emphasis should be placed on literacy, coupled with technical and vocational training programmes to make education more productive. Pursuing it vigorously along with creating literacy programmes for out-of-school children can help achieve a higher literacy rate. The National Vocational and Technical Training Commission (NAVTTC) and Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) should be strengthened by providing them with more financial support to impart technical training to people.
At the same time, we need to redouble our efforts to promote the concept of industrial zones and industrial clusters for employing technically-trained manpower in the industry. Export promotion and import substitution can be carried out in the economic zones in order to strengthen economic development.
Needless to say, tax exemptions and tax holidays are necessary ingredients for investment and infrastructure development. A balanced monetary policy and lower discount rate provide incentives to domestic investors to invest more in businesses. A new fiscal policy framework should be developed to attract more businesses while protecting revenues of the state in the form of taxes, which will provide a strong base for GDP growth.
Another area that needs our immediate attention is the modernisation of the communication and transport infrastructure. Regional connectivity through modern infrastructure development, especially information and communication technology, is necessary for smooth and rapid development. It is the era of knowledge economy and value addition is its hallmark. There is a paradigm shift in modern development models owing to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolution.
The ways and means of wealth creation are in a transformation phase. Modern-day cryptocurrency and its acceptability is an indicator of a new revolution, highlighting knowledge economy, whereby a whole new kind of economic activity has now become available to us. The Internet and artificial intelligence have revolutionised the world by using micro-electronics, robotics and telecommunications. Pakistan needs to focus more on ICT infrastructure development for its growth model for modern-day businesses.
Energy and food security is another area which needs to be addressed on a priority basis. Water shortages are more frequent now. Pakistan is importing oil along with LNG and building dams for its energy requirements but it needs a long-term policy framework for its energy requirements and energy security. More oil and gas exploration concessions should be granted to investors, as Pakistan gets most of its foreign direct investment (FDI) in this sector. The Oil and Gas Development Company Limited (OGDCL) has been active in the sector but Pakistan’s needs are fulfilled through imports on which a large chunk of our foreign exchange reserves is spent.
As for food security, we must remember that Pakistan is basically an agrarian society and agriculture is our main source of employment and provides food security for the nation. The government is already under criticism for importing wheat and sugar this year despite Pakistan’s status as an agriculture-based country. Clearly, there is a dire need for long-term planning to ensure food security for the common people. Food inflation is already on the rise and people are suffering badly. In this respect, various chambers of commerce in the country have submitted proposals to attract investment in the sector. The government will do well to incorporate the proposals in its future economic policies.