LAHORE - President Asif Ali Zardari is scheduled to address a joint session of parliament on Saturday (March 17), a constitutional formality with which will start fifth and the last parliamentary year of the present bicameral legislature.
Some analysts are of the view that instead of just performing an annual ritual and making tall claims about the government’s performance, the president should take the nation into confidence about the actual situation the country is facing at present and is likely to confront in the weeks and months ahead.
Unbridled price-hike, painful power outages and gas loadshedding, unprecedented corruption, near-bankruptcy of all major state institutions like PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills, Wapda, Railways, closure of most of the industrial units because of the energy crisis, growing foreign and domestic loans, unrest in Balochistan, provocative drone attacks in tribal areas despite Parliament’s resolutions against them, failure of the government to implement the Supreme Court verdicts and simultaneous insistence that it has immeasurable respect for the apex court are some of the issues the president should address.
He should also explain why national institutions which were working well before the PPP took over stand ruined after four years of the democratic (mis)rule. This phenomenon is more painful because during this period foreign debts of more than $20 billion were taken by the government. Before the induction of the present setup, the country owed $40 billion in foreign loans.
In spite of taking huge foreign loans if the national economy has gone down over the past four years, it means money was not used where it should have been. Otherwise, the institutions which were once the symbol of national pride should not have been facing the kind of situation they are facing at present. There are no signs that they will survive for long unless some urgent measures are taken for their resurrection.
The president should also let the nation know where the money was (mis)spent.
Interestingly, no corruption case has been instituted against any top man in these institutions. This shows that the relevant authorities have received no complaint of any embezzlement.
This state of affairs brings the president under a greater obligation to articulate what had gone wrong where.
The president may argue in his speech that his government was the one which gave National Finance Commission Award, province’s status to Gilgit-Baltistan, gave a special package for Balochistan and approached Interpol for the arrest of Gen Pervez Musharraf.
He may also say that it was the PPP-led coalition that made several amendments to the Constitution, as a result of which provinces got greater autonomy and Parliament more powers. He can also rightly claim that all vital powers of the president have been taken away, reducing him to a figurehead.
No one can refute these claims. But the question is that all these measures have failed to solve people’s problems. In fact, huge depreciation of rupee because of the wrong policies of the government has added to the miseries of the common man. Per capita happiness, which was already very low, has come down to zero.
Those sitting in top offices save themselves from the impact of inflation through various measures. The legislators, for example, periodically revise their salaries and benefits.
The president, the prime minister, the governors and chief ministers come up with fabulous supplementary budgets at the end of every fiscal year, clearly meaning that budgetary allocations made for them were not sufficient – or the holders of these offices indulged in extravagance.
As for the constitutional amendments, it means nothing to the ordinary mortal. The transfer of powers from one office to the other has not made it easier for a daily wager to earn his livelihood. The amendments should be celebrated by those who are their beneficiaries. They are a message of hope for those who stand a chance to succeed the present setup as a result of fresh elections. For others, they mean nothing.
Address to the joint session of Parliament will be a good opportunity for the president to explain to the nation why he is not willing to give up his constitutional immunity and prove his innocence about the ownership of the money in Swiss accounts. He should also announce that as the head of the ruling party he is ordering the prime minister to write a letter to the Swiss authorities.
It is to be seen whether on March 17 the president performs just a ritual or takes the nation into confidence.