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As the nation enters election season, the search of a consensus candidate for the post of caretaker Prime Minister has become intensified. Amongst various names being tabled, one is that of Dr Ishrat Husain, the former Governor of State Bank, a seasoned and respected technocrat, who after having an illustrious career as the Governor of State Bank, decided not to leave the country for a lucrative offer(s), instead continued his passion for a national service to devote his time to education sector by becoming the Dean of legendary Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. His tenure at the State Bank was not only hailed internationally as he was declared one of the best governors of the central banks world-wide, but also marked professionalization and independence of the bank.

Dr Husain became the Governor of Pakistan's central bank in December 1999. During the next six years, he implemented a major programme of restructuring of the central bank and steered the reforms of the banking sector, which are now recognised by the World Bank and other agencies to be among the best in developing countries. The main ingredients of the restructuring programme were merit-based recruitment, competency-enhancing training, performance-linked promotion, technology-driven business process and induction of high-level skilled human resources. He placed great emphasis on practising values such as integrity, trust, teamwork for the entire work force starting from the top.

As Dean of IBA, Dr Husain has taken the institute to a new height by creating Pakistan's largest endowment fund by mobilising funds from the private sector. Dr Husain was also the first head and author of the report of National Commission for Government Reforms, which remains the most credible source of governance reforms in the country.

Just in last few months, the recently dissolved federal cabinet, and in particular, the finance ministry has avoided taking any tough and bold decisions. This has been done to save faces before the electorate, but it can have severe implications for future administration. Given the 8% fiscal deficit, 9% tax-to-GDP ratio, a free fall of Pakistani currency against dollars, depleting foreign currency stocks, bleeding of state owned enterprises, and behemoth stock of new debt it has become obvious that Pakistan will have to approach the International Monetary Fund once again for a bailout package very soon. It means that the caretaker Prime Minister should be well versed in managing economic matters and should demonstrate commitment to sound economic principles rather than political opportunism.

PML (N) which is opposing his nomination should do some fact-finding to know that despite pressures, Dr Husain as Governor of State Bank stood up on his principles and took tough stands on major policy issues, and therefore he should not be branded as the man of former Presidents' camp. On the other hand while in 2008, many countries witnessed global financial crisis, it was due to Dr Husain's timely implementation of reform process until 2005 and thereafter its continuity by his successors that not a single Pakistani bank defaulted on its obligation.

Political parties also need to realise that while the caretaker administration does not take primary responsibility for economic decisions, the appointment of a neutral economist will perhaps help their cause too. If Husain is selected as caretaker Prime Minister, then not only he will ensure transparency in the election monitoring function but may also take the burden of important economic decisions instead of postponing them to the next government. As the author of an excellent report on governance reforms, Dr Husain is also expected to initiate important administrative restructuring as well as implementation of much needed corporate governance in public sector enterprises.

Pakistan is successfully managing democratic transition. It is indeed a historic achievement and sign of maturing democracy in the country that has experienced significant political turmoil over last 65 years of history. It is also need of the hour to focus on smooth economic transition so that the next elected government can start with at least a degree of stability.

(The writer is the former Managing Director of Karachi Stock Exchange and currently Country Director of Center for International Private Enterprise, an affiliate of US Chamber of Commerce. mfudda@gmail.com. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the newspaper)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2013

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