Action, not speeches needed | By Rashid A Mughal


Action, not speeches needed

EVERY patriotic Pakistani is worried at the presentstate of affairs. Unchecked spiral rise of food prices, constant rise of petrol prices, escalating unemployment and corruption, breakdown of law and order, depreciating currency and, above all, the apathy of the Government to tackle these issues on priority basis and create an environment of hope and betterment are causing frustration and despair among the general masses.

At the international level, we are losing our importance as a pivotal state in Asia, endowed by nature because of our geographical setting.

It is really painful to see Pakistan’s dwindling importance in the comity of nations due to pursuit of bad, defective and unrealistic policies, devoid of future vision and ground necessities/realities.

The decisions taken economically and politically “in the best interests’’ of the country in the past were actually in the best interests of those who ruled and plundered the country with the result that country kept going back, poverty increased, un-employment soared, value of the currency touched historic low, administrative structure collapsed due to lack of financial discipline and nepotism and favouritism.

The government amassed huge loans to run the country with the result that debt to GDP ratio is touching over 60 %.

Can we call it good governance when the prices of essential commodities and items of daily use have risen in astronomical proportions-simply out of reach of not only common man but even the middle class.

One is simply flabbergasted what the government is doing to control the prices. The manufacturers, whole sellers, retailers and, of course, the middle men are having hay day while the poor segment of the society is forced to curtail their food budget.

While those at the helms of affairs are seeking more and more benefits and perks for them, nothing tangible and visible is being done to ameliorate the hardships and miseries of the poor and needy.

The lavish government spending on huge battalion of Ministers, Advisors and Special Assistants is simply un-necessary.

Most advanced and well-off countries have less than 50% of the number of Cabinet members than we have, as a poor nation-running on loans.

Over the last few years, Pakistan’s economy has been in a tailspin. These economic struggles will undoubtedly deepen in the aftermath of damage caused by Covid-19 shutdowns.

Pakistan’s government puts the economic losses from the deluge at about $43 billion, or more than a quarter of the country’s total economy.

Government estimates for gross domestic product growth in fiscal year 2018-19 fell from 4.5 to 2.5 per cent.

The Asia Program, initiated by Woodrow Wilson Centre with assistance from the Program on America and the Global Economy, presented a grim picture of the economic climate in Pakistan.

Pakistan was described as “South Asia’s economic sick man,” and sounded a warning that due to multiple factors-Covid-19, shutdowns, bad law and order and opposition “Dharnas”, Pakistan will have lower economic growth over the next fiscal year.

At the same time, the Report mentioned about strengths that can help Pakistan emerge from its economic doldrums.

These include an “extraordinarily well-endowed” agricultural system, as well as a population blessed with youth (who, if they acquire the right skills, can be a major asset) and “well-trained, entrepreneurial” women.

It was acknowledged that Pakistan will definitely require international assistance but the country can turn the corner with proper planning and dedicated implementation.

Pakistan’s gloomy macro-economic situation, lower per capita income and public savings rates are abysmal, while consumption rates have increased only among the elite.

The Report added that Pakistan’s tendency to seek external assistance for its economic distress “is now ingrained.”

The Report also decried Pakistan’s lack of tax revenue. Political governments in the past have rarely asked the general population to pay taxes, either because doing so would have constituted bad politics or because leaders feared the impact on their own affluent life.

The Report mentioned that while Pakistan urgently needs a plan for tackling its fiscal deficit, reducing revenue deficit is of even greater importance.

Regarding the security dimensions of Pakistan’s economic problems, the Report mentioned particularly of the potential for these problems to spark civil unrest.

People’s patience is running out and people have begun to seriously question the resolve of the elite for improving the well-being of the masses and pointed out that this judgment was rendered several months before the price spiral and subsequent government response.

Many Pakistanis today are of the opinion that human security in Pakistan has almost disappeared.

Pakistan’s energy woes are still persisting and people are suffering daily power shortages of up to 18 hours.

The report underscored policymakers’ “historic neglect” of non-commercial (household) energy use in Pakistan, which often draws on traditional power sources like dung and firewood.

The report noted how many Pakistanis, faced with no energy alternatives, have had to chop down trees for firewood.

As a result, forests across Pakistan have been “denuded,” hastening the deluge’s spread across the nation.

Despite the downcast analyses, the report insisted that all hope is not lost. It declared that Pakistan is not a failed—or even failing—state, and that the country has the institutions and capacity to lift its sinking economic ship.

So what is required to pull Pakistan back from the abyss? Several criteria, including a more stable security situation; further fiscal decentralization, which would enable provincial governments to receive a greater share of budgetary resources and better governance, drastic cut in wasteful government expenses, effective and robust government intervention to control the present “out-of-control” price mechanism of items of daily use to restore confidence in masses, particularly poor segment of the society – a slogan on which the present PTI government came in power. However, one of the most critical ingredients is political will.

The challenge revolves not around “what is to be done,” but around “how it is to be done.” Indeed the right policies—from tax reform to skills development to export diversification—have already been formulated.

What remains to be done is the most difficult phase of action and implementation with determination.

— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.

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