EXPRESSING the confidence that the country will see resumption of the long-delayed programme of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has sensitized the people for more belt-tightening. In an interview with Anadolu News Agency, he said the people of Pakistan had faced challenges in the past, and if needed, would tighten their belt and rise again. And chairing a consultative meeting with leaders of the coalition parties on the Public Sector Development Programme (PADP) for the next financial year, he said that public welfare, development and business-friendly policies will be the key parts of the budget for the next fiscal year.
No doubt, as a leader, it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister to prepare his people for difficult days but he must also realize what has been happening to the masses for the last one year and whether they have the capacity to endure further pressure. It is also a fact that the incumbent government had no other option but to take difficult decisions to keep the economic system running and to avoid an imminent default in the face of drying up external resources. However, they squarely impacted the common man, making it almost impossible for ordinary households to manage their budgets. People withstood the pressure caused by unprecedented hike in the prices of POL products, increased tariff of utilities, massive fluctuation in the exchange rate and upward adjustment of taxes. It was because of the cumulative effect of the policies of the government that today the country has highest inflation rate in Asia and the situation is likely to aggravate further due to a variety of factors like further depreciation of rupee, 50% increase in prices of gas, taxation measures in the budget and decision of the OPEC to cut oil output as part of the strategy to boost falling prices of the commodity. In this backdrop, it is not enough to sensitize people as the government cannot and should not absolve itself of the responsibility to take tangible measures to shield the ordinary citizens against the rising inflation. The optimism of the Prime Minister about restoration of the IMF loan could mean continuation of the bitter decisions during the next financial year and, therefore, it has to be seen how the pledge to present a welfare-oriented budget is materialized.