Wasting Public Wealth—The Antecedents and practice of Public Land Management in Pakistan
Land is considered a valuable public asset and its efficient management can bring in ample advantages to its holders. Pakistan, like most other countries in the world, has a sizeable portion of public land. Both the Federal and the Provincial governments hold vast amounts of this valuable asset. However, there is no concise estimate of its size, no central data repository and no balance sheet reflecting its value. Evidence indicates that it has been poorly managed, implying significant forgone revenue to federal and provincial governments. This role in direct management of public lands has evolved out of historical circumstances, primarily the partition. Moreover, laws governing management of these lands evolved out of British laws or have remained the same. Unless the manner of management of these lands changes drastically, the status quo is set to prevail.
Every government around the globe has various types of assets at its disposal, some naturally occurring while others are man-made. One of the most prized asset in possession of governments is land, lying unused or with some infrastructure built on it. If utilised poorly, this valuable asset could become more of a liability with significant opportunity costs. For example, a railway station, a fallow lying land, dilapidated disused city centre, an unused stadium or a long disputed property or poor utilisation of rich urban land are all examples of assets that, if professionally managed, would add to employment and growth. Perhaps more importantly, the revenue stream would provide the fiscal means to governments to pursue development work without resorting to predatory taxation, especially in the cities. This (the use of land based financing to finance urban infrastructure development rather than predatory taxation) was one of the leading recommendations of a G20/Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Task Force formed in the aftermath of financial crisis of 2008 (Psarakkis, et al. 2020).
This paper wants to draw attention to a very important aspect of economic management in Pakistan: managing public lands! There exists enormous wealth in the country, especially our cities, in the form of government owned land (‘public land’). Yet, Pakistan’s policymakers and successive governments have been exceptionally incompetent at managing this wealth. Since publically owned lands are an asset that can work wonders for sustainable development of cities, it is important to study its evolution, use/misuse and laws governing them.
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