New economic national muscle goes into contest

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US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 17, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB

Sirajuddin Aziz

VERY soon, the country will be witnessing another election [the process is on]. We will be fed with tons of information and disinformation. Each contestant will mudsling his/her opponent; and the ignorant electorate will cast their vote, not on what the candidate can offer to his constituency, but on how good he maligns the opponent. The results of any election never amaze me; what surprises me most is the electorate’s behaviour – it hasn’t changed since the 1988 elections. It is always good never to predict results. However, the certainty is that the likelihood of any single party getting two-third majority seems a very distant possibility – so we may have a coalition or any extremely weak coalition government – this is subject to that my arguments are not ‘punctured’!
The nation may get new wine in old bottles, or old wine in new bottles… the possibility of new wine in new bottle seems remote. Same faces, same fantasies, same intellect, same language, same attitude, same illusions will reign in the campaign. This is in spite of the heavy amount of invoices paid to the cosmeticians for Botox treatment, face uplifting, etc. The sheep, the fox, the lion, can wear any attire, but their natural instincts would break-through all artificial make-do. The electorate will get to see the ugliest political ducklings.
Those talking of ‘naya Pakistan ’, may do well, and what a yeoman’s services would that be, if they just re-create the ‘old Pakistan’. That will be a major fix.
In my life time, there hasn’t been a single year that wasn’t challenging for my beloved country – we were born, we live and we shall die, in challenging times. Our chronic ailment has no treatment? Seems, yes! The nation is clueless on how to put to ‘order’, the almost 200 million leaders who have no followers!
The economy is in shambles, says the opposition; the economy is on an upward tick, says the government… any lapses, they claim are due to opposition’s unruly behaviour of dharna’s, protests, etc. Those in power are almost pleading to the masses, give us one more chance, (what is 35 years of rule in the life of a nation?) and we will make Pakistan another “Asian Tiger”. Sounds a slogan of the nineties! The “old tired lion” wants to become a “tiger”. There is a need to check with an animalogist, which specie between the two is more robust, strong and resilient.
The global economic environment is not too unfavourable. Even the ensuing trade war between China and the US is of little impact on the prevailing positives. But to our collective dismay, our policies and stance indicate no matching steps to take advantage from global economic growth. Our entire thought process is anchored, nay sunk, in the over-rated China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) initiatives. The big question still is what does it mean to us? The political slogan of being a “game changer” is a result of misplaced intoxication. It is a long-term and long drawn programme – what economic uplift it will cause for our present and future generation, is a mystery to unfold. The future may belong to CPEC, if global policies, will allow it to happen in its entirety. Mutedly, at this stage, is global opposition to China’s one belt, one road (OBOR) initiative. There are many doomsday analysts who are churning out material that calls OBOR, as the latest tool of economic enslavement and political occupation, without the use of any armoury. The thought has some in-built validity!
The state of economy, on the eve of election does not present a glowing picture. The monthly joke of fuel adjustments; increase oil prices in one month; then lower it in the next, adds no value to the economy. The rising current account and trade deficit are major areas of concern. Our ability to honour international commitments is always questioned and doubted.
The external debt has risen to $95 billion, in which the contribution for increasing it between the two political governments (2008 – 2018), is a net figure of $34.1 billion. Where have these funds been deployed? Or have they evaporated? Our trade bill comprises imports of $45.36 billion and exports of $20.5 billion, reflecting a “respectable deficit” of $ 25 billion during July – April 2018. For better management of foreign currency resources, we continue to rely heavily on home inward remittances, which clock at roughly $20 billion. Even this inflow is under strain – the Middle East labour market is witnessing, changing employer’s preferences, to the peril and disadvantage for Pakistan. Our Muslim brethren states have found better labour markets to exploit. To let us live, the rich neighbour of the Middle East will offer as crumbs as a ‘gift, but against it, I am certain, they ask for an arm and a limb! After this, all roads lead to Beijing, who must be tired of a friend that is always a “respectable borrower”. A few billion dollars of “friendly deposit” will beef our reserves, albeit temporarily.
In the current fiscal, the current account deficit has gone to its zenith of $14.0 billion, an increase of 50 percent over corresponding period, last fiscal. Foreign direct investment (FDI) is on a downward plunge. In last ten months, it stood at a “royal” figure of $2.2 billion, which includes 63 percent investment from China. The FDI from Muslim brothers’ states is rapidly declining. Local investments, there is hardly anything to write home about. The entrepreneurs are sitting on the fences for the longest of time and suffering from the malady of indecision; of where and when to invest? Faith and opportunity must match, to gain investors confidence.
The textile industry in Faisalabad suffers from neglect; is almost in a state of decay. We are attempting to join hands with China and Vietnam to take back some lost space in the global textile market. The Trade and Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP), an organisation, whose objective is singular – promotion of exports – is not responding. The new government should either breathe life into it or perform its funeral rites – pull off the respirators. I believe it will stop breathing. Take on these white elephants!
Collection of taxes continues to haunt. The recently announced amnesty has been received with Luke-warm enthusiasm. No great liquidity has flowed our way… what were we expecting? A Niagara of ill-gotten wealth to return as an avalanche? And how much more foolish can be our collective expectations!
The education sector is in doldrums. In the principal cities we witness growth in the number of varieties but a maximum decline in the number of the “educated”. The Higher Education Commission will need major impetus of invigorating zest and commitment, from the new government.
The levels of good governance are in pits. Almost all regulatory bodies have begun to function as handmaids to the government and its ever-demanding ministers – which country, besides us, can boast to have had an “absconder finance minister”. None! We take the pie on the cake of corrupt states, being better than Nigeria on the index is no reason for glory.
To have economic vision and to translate it into implementable state is a dire requirement. For economic vision, bold steps are needed, and for bold steps, we need courageous leadership. The title of this piece is “for leadership”, not a leader. It is not a one man’s job. It requires dedicated and able cabinet and an equally efficient and responsive bureaucracy. “Eat grass to develop the nuclear bomb” was the vision. He ate no grass, the masses may have, but at least he was resolute for the country’s sake. Did not budge from the program!
Let’s for starters sake, eat grass for economic development now – shut down imports of luxury items, just ban the imports, not merely increase the duty structure, and if it is to dissuade, then develop the severest penal structure of duties and fines, its strictest implementation will yield results. Recently UAE has increased the penalty for over-speeding to DHs 700/= which is $190/= or Rs22,000/=. Hit where it hurts, if the incoming leadership is interested to do anything about economic correction.
Recently, the opposition and the government were in a jittery state at the announcement of the objectives of the “First 100 Days” by a political party. If opposition is to be believed, it is a pipe dream – why can’t as a rebuttal, other political parties come up with their version of an economic forecast – let the madness stop of playing to the self created applauding gallery, with imagination of orange, pink, yellow, green and all the other rainbow colour trains and buses – what use is communication network, if there are no good or services to place on them!
Foreign policy needs major re-tooling. Just look at the shabby treatment meted out to our prime minister in the recently held OIC meeting in Istanbul – he was made to stand in the last row, for the official photograph; pains that our prime minister, of the “only” nuclear state in the community of Islamic countries is shown disrespect with such callous disdain! We with our begging bowl have asked for it. The foreign office needs to be squarely blamed, they did no homework. Their inadequacies have brought us the worse image. The PM is not at fault. The foreign office needs fixing too; it needs to be aligned to the economic needs and economic realities.
Pakistan is a blessed nation. Leadership is all we need – and I haven’t said “leader” because it will connote to mean quest for a single person; nay, distributed and large base of leaders in respective fields, who are possessed of talents, know-how and skills; who carry indisputable credentials of being “criminally honest”, is the need. We need to produce our own De Gaulle, Mahathir, Lee Kuan Yew, Konrad Adneuar, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Markel and the likes, thereof. Economic bliss will follow.
Whoever sits in Islamabad in July/August, has to firstly undo the belief that it is a city, only five minutes away from Pakistan. Email.
—The writer is a freelance Islamabad based columnist.

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