GOVERNMENT is under pressure after the resignation of MQM Minister. There is no need for it. It is political ploy in which province card is being used by MQM and PPP to extract more funds from the federation despite getting share of their province. In case the fund is released it will be at the cost of other provinces. Historically speaking, the victim will be southern Punjab because other powerful stakeholders will protect their shares. Otherwise also, the performance of IT ministry has been very poor. It is good that the minister has resigned himself. PM should bring a person with a vision so that IT can play its due role in nation’s development starting with AI, IoT, 5G, robotics and e-cars.
British PM snubbed Trump by saying that all those who prejudice 5G for security reasons should give alternative because he said there is need for fast internet and Wifi. Our PM should regularly review the performance of ministers and get rid of those who serve their party interests at the cost of public and only bring those people to the cabinet who are ready rise above party politics and serve the public. Otherwise, there will be no difference in him and his predecessors who used cabinet posts to prolong their stay in power. Concerns are being voiced in media over PTIs anti-corruption strategy, both long term and short term, following changes in the NAB ordinance. The changes are likely to restrict recovery of looted public funds leaving government to rely on loans to run the country. Half-yearly report shows fall in tax revenue, economy has slowed down, interest rates are high, prices of fuel, gas and electricity are rising, and foreign investments are but hot money-short term predatory in nature.
Reports show that high interest loans are being used to cover the gap in fall in revenue, debt servicing, IPPs payments and run the country. In addition, mini budget could be presented to meet the [given] targets for receiving next loan installment. More difficulty times are ahead because under IMF program it is going to be difficult for the government to borrow and print more money at will. It has emboldened opposition. Members of PML(N) have promised to bring in house change and PPP has predicted 2020 to be an election year. No wonder rumors are rife that a forward block has been formed in the treasury branches.
On the other hand, government has rejected the acts as wishful thinking but it has failed to give concrete plans on critical issues like economy, corruption, cutting debt and imports, reducing gas, electricity and fuel prices, increasing exports and manufacturing, building houses, creating jobs and increasing employment. Unless, PTI comes with solid policies on these issues, it would become difficult to silence the opposition and satisfy the masses. Although Imran has said that 2020 is year of development and growth but it is about time government gives clear half a dozen bullet points to show how it will overcome the challenges. Despite external challenges, Germany, China and Russia have managed to stabilize and improve their economies, increase exports, decrease poverty and create jobs. Beijing also used combination of renewable energy, IT, domestic consumption based economy, mass transit system (trains), local manufacturing, better healthcare and education, controlling corruption, improving judiciary and better policing has managed to compete at global level.
Our leaders can also solve our problems. China is fighting corruption successfully. Beijing is using QR code to reduce use of paper money in daily life. By following similar policy we can digitize tax collection, businesses and facilitate digital tracking of funds. It will help to end money laundering, illegal bank transactions (TT culture), misuse of public funds, solve living beyond means cases and support government’s efforts to use identity card to fight corruption and bring transparency in financial matters at local and international level including financing objections under FATF. Experts opine that there is need to cut interest rates and by cutting one percent tax government can save Rs200 bn. If true, the government should bring down interest rates to 7 percent and use the savings for debt servicing, give loans to public to adopt alternate and sell excess energy to national grid energy by fixing buy back per unit price, and invest in renewable energy to end circular debt, support small and medium enterprises. By encouraging larger units to generate their own electricity, government can ease pressure on domestic consumers.
Reportedly, government is planning to increase gas prices more than 200 percent while their prices have halved (24.7 pence) in UK since December 2019 because of cheap gas supply from Russia. Germany is buying gas from Moscow regardless of US sanctions against it. British PM is headed to adopt 5G despite Trump’s objects in national interest. Islamabad should also buy cheap gas from Russia (via China), America and Iran to provide relief to public and protect its trade interests. US-Iran relations are going to improve in coming days. Europe has also signalled support for Trump Iran deal. Our leaders should also renegotiate gas deals with our Gulf suppliers because they are already providing cheap gas to UK and Europe (Energy bills for millions of households to fall after gas prices halve, 26 December 2019, the Guardian UK). Finally, there is no immediate threat to the government. However, democracy is 24/7 accountability and it is time government gives clear plan with specific details and timelines on how it will deliver on important issues. Opposition should also rise above petty politics and bring competing policies to provide relief to the masses and face domestic and international challenges so that people of Pakistan know that democracy can also deliver before it is too late.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.