Money Matters

Inflation genie

Money Matters
By Zeeshan Haider
Mon, 10, 20

A joke has gone viral on social media to explain the government’s helplessness in controlling the price hike.

A joke has gone viral on social media to explain the government’s helplessness in controlling the price hike.

As the joke goes, a doctor gleefully tells his patient that all his laboratory tests are clear. However, as the patient departs the doctor tells him that the result of just one of his tests is worrisome as he has tested positive for AIDS.

This joke is likened with government ministers’ statements that all economic indicators are encouraging and showing improvement, but the only thing that needed to be contained was price-hike.

An ordinary man on the street has no concern with economic indicators. What he wants is that the basic commodities for his and his family living are available on affordable prices.

But over the last few months, the prices of basic commodities like sugar, flour, pulses have shot sky high. The government has not yet come up with any tangible strategy to bring the prices of essential items down.

On Friday October 10, Prime Minister Imran Khan through a tweet announced that starting Monday in the coming week, his government would use all state resources to bring down food prices.

But on Monday, instead of mobilising state machinery, he instructed his Tiger Force volunteers to keep a regular check on goods prices and he would be meeting them at the weekend to discuss the matter.

This clearly shows that the government has not yet chalked out any plan to put the inflation genie back in the bottle.

The joint investigation commission report on sugar has been out for months in which those responsible for this scam were clearly named and shamed. But so far the government has neither taken any action against them nor has been succeeded in bringing down sugar prices in the country.

For weeks, the country has been facing a wheat and flour crisis. Flour is not available at fixed government price, instead people have to buy it at very high price from the open market. So far, the government has not done anything to control the situation. Instead of taking this utmost public matter seriously, government ministers are indulging in political point-scoring.

Federal Minister Ali Zaidi recently accused the Sindh government of smuggling flour and wheat out of Punjab and storing it in the province’s warehouses; thus, causing shortages in the country. The question is, if this logic is true how come Punjab, controlled by the ruling party in Lahore, allowed wheat to be smuggled out of the province?

One minister even justified the exorbitant rise in the prices of life saving drugs to encourage the hoarders to bring the drugs back to shelves.

The federal government needs to set aside politicking on these important issues, and rather sit down with provincial authorities to draw up a strategy to control the price hike which has affected the entire country.

This price hike has come at a time when the joint opposition has launched a full-fledged campaign to oust the government in Islamabad.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has been in power for over two years in the centre and controls Punjab - the country’s food basket – as well as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Balochistan is also run by its coalition partner.

It could not exonerate itself from its responsibilities just by blaming previous governments for all the ills faced by the country.

At a recent parliamentary meeting chaired by the prime minister, some lawmakers from the ruling party as well as from the allied groups have clearly told the premier that inflation has become a major headache for them in their constituencies.

One MNA even accused the prime minister of choosing an “incompetent team” to run the country.

The government needs to take steps on war-footing to address the inflation issue, failing which, it could provide much-needed ammunition to the opposition to mobilise the people against the government.

The government’s move to enlist support from the Tiger Force has drawn criticism from the opposition and has also raised legal questions in this regard.

The government needs to mobilise the state machinery to check price hike. It should keep in mind that the mantra of blaming the previous rulers for today’s problems could no longer work.

The PTI ministers need themselves to get out of the “opposition mindset” and should know that they are now in the driving seat.

If a country, whose economy is based on agriculture, faces food shortages and could not control prices of the essential food items, then the real problem lies with its administration and management.

The food ministry in Islamabad is headed by a well-known agriculturist who should have a clear idea of the problems and how to resolve them.

It seems, like previous rulers, the present government is too reluctant to take action against powerful lobbies responsible for this price hike as it might be politically damaging for it.

Successive governments have taken an easy way out of controlling the hike in the prices of food items by importing them to bring down their prices in the local market.

But the government needs to show muscle and should not be blackmailed by powerful mafias and cartels. It also needs to probe if these mafias have their representatives in the government’s own ranks, which might be scuttling any attempt to take action against them.

An all-encompassing and effective strategy needs to be drawn up by the government to address this issue otherwise it would intensify public anger. Television footages showing people crying and standing in long queues to buy flour at government-designated sale points should serve as an eye opener for the rulers.

Some ministers of the government like Sheikh Rashid Ahmed have realised the gravity of the situation that a “rift” is slowly creeping in between government and the people because of inflation.

If the government failed to control the price hike then this “rift” could aggravate into a “revolt” against the rulers. It is widely speculated that a large number of people turned up at the opposition rally in Gujranwala to support their agenda, and to vent their anger against the government.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad