THE Government shocked the nation by increasing the prices of the POL products by Rs 35 a litre and that too three days ahead of the scheduled fortnightly review, complicating woes of the people, who are already groaning under the heavy burden of unprecedented inflation.
Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announced the record single-day hike in the wake of massive devaluation of the rupee and consistent reports about impending shortage of the commodity in the country due to disruptions caused by the prevailing foreign exchange crisis.
It is a foregone conclusion that both the devaluation of the rupee and an all time high increase in the prices of petroleum products have been hurriedly done ahead of the scheduled talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the delegation of which is due today for the 9th review of the package under Extended Fund Facility.
The country has no choice but to accept humiliating and tough conditions of the Fund as suspension of the IMF programme has taken a heavy toll on the fragile foreign exchange position but both the measures are destined to multiply the difficulties of the people.
It is known to all that the Government, especially Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, tried his best to avoid conditions that impact upon the masses but at the end of the day he too was forced to retreat from his declared objectives and priority to address problems of the people caused by the price-hike and unending devaluation.
It is also a foregone conclusion that the Government has adopted a course that amounts to committing political suicide as no political party could afford to offend voters during election year.
PML(N) faced the wrath of the electorates during all the by-elections and it is apprehended that it would repeat the history if nothing substantial is done to provide relief to the inflation-ridden people.
Already, the political opponents of the coalition Government are using the issues of devaluation and price-hike as a tool to whip up the ruling coalition.
PTI was quick to retaliate to the announcement to increase prices of petroleum products with its Chairman Imran Khan criticizing the ‘corrupt, incompetent and imported’ government for total mismanagement of the country’s economy.
He maintained that the Government was insensitive to the difficulties of the people and has crushed masses and salaried class with the latest increase in the prices of petrol and diesel.
Former Finance Minister (of PTI Government) Shaukat Tarin, whose own performance as the manager of the economy is being contested, also lambasted Ishaq Dar claiming he was unfit for the job.
The criticism is understandable but the question arises as to what others did during their tenures and whether they have the vision and the capability to deliver in the given complex situation.
As against them, Ishaq Dar has enviable performance to his credit during his previous stint as Finance Minister as all economic indicators were positive, the country was moving in the right direction and reversal occurred when the PML(N) Government was destabilized and then the party denied power.
There are, therefore, reasons to believe that if Ishaq Dar could not deliver, then no other can do so.
It is not the failure of the Finance Minister but failure of the state due to self-centred policies and approaches of the important players.
The plight of the country can be imagined by the fact that it was unable to meet its demands for imports and as a result people are facing shortage and artificial price-hike including the feared shortage of petroleum products as the country has stocks just to meet 10 day demand.
The Finance Minister announced a hike in prices of POL products three day ahead of scheduled review on the plea of ending speculations about shortage of oil but as stocks are depleting there is no petrol on outlets in different parts of the country.
Though the Minister for Water and Power, on Sunday, asserted that there was no immediate plan to hike the tariff of gas and electricity but similar claims were made by OGRA just a day before Rs 35 a litre hike was announced by the Government.
It is anybody’s guess how such a scenario would affect the life of the people with consequences for the political future of the coalition partners, especially the PML(N) and that too at a time when elections are due in its political stronghold of Punjab.