Money Matters

Prices on the rise

Money Matters
By Zeeshan Haider
Mon, 11, 20

Prime Minister Imran Khan at the weekend tweeted a Reuters story on food inflation in India.

Prime Minister Imran Khan at the weekend tweeted a Reuters story on food inflation in India.

In his comments, PM Khan said the sensitive price index in Pakistan has shown a decline for the second consecutive week.

He said this “decline” in food inflation in Pakistan was “in contrast to the situation in other parts of the sub-continent”. “Inshallah, we will bring inflation further under control,” he concluded.

The government must be credited if inflation particularly the spiraling prices of the essential items are brought under control but it seems Prime Minister is not properly briefed on this issues by the concerned officials and departments.

Food inflation is said to be still highest in Pakistan among the South Asian countries and the government needs to properly probe that what were the reasons behind food inflation.

The deteriorating Covid-19 situation in India where tens of thousands of people are infected by the pandemic and high number of deaths on daily basis is one of the reasons behind inflation in India.

Moreover, long lockdowns also interrupted supply chains across India which contributed to high inflation.

But thanks God, the pandemic situation was not as bad in Pakistan as in the neighboring country and Pakistan lifted lockdowns long before India which resulted in the prompt resumption of food chains.

However, the inflation caused in the country is much severe than in India.

It means it was more of a governance issue than the usual economic matter.

The country has been hit by sugar and then wheat/floor crises for several months but no tangible measure has been taken to bring the culprits to task and to bring down their prices for a common man.

Agriculture is the mainstay of Pakistan’s economy and Prime Minister has repeatedly said that development of agriculture sector would be the top priority of his government but the people linked to this vital sector complain that government has so far done nothing for the resolution of their problems.

Earlier this months, hundreds of farmers from all across Punjab – the food basket of Pakistan – converged to Lahore to protest government’s failure to fix a reasonable wheat support price.

Instead of giving a patient hearing to their grievances and taking measures to resolve their genuine problems, the police resorted to baton charge to disburse their protest.

At the time when opposition has launched a protest movement to bring down government, it was advisable for the rulers to engage disgruntled sections of society into meaningful dialogue, but the government officials preferred to use force to silence the protesting people.

Moreover, it looks strange on the part of the government to take action against the farmers but is reluctant to act against the powerful lobbies, cartels and mafias which caused food crisis in the country.

It is ironical that Prime Minister has appointed a farmer as Federal Food Security Minister but he has been reluctant to constructively engage with farmers to address their problems and also avoids to media to speak on these topics.

Interestingly, once in the National Assembly he said he did not know how come flour disappeared from the market.

Critics say the government has learnt the art of exaggerating its achievements on economic front.

They believe that claims over downward trend in food inflation in recent weeks is a simple spin as government has failed to look into the reasons behind this exorbitant inflation.

Government undoubtedly took pains to bring down the current account deficit and then taking it into surplus mode. There have been improvement in the flow of remittances by overseas Pakistanis who are now sending more money through official channels instead of using dubious modes like hundi and hawala mainly because of strict international monitoring for dirty money.

But these achievements could not be substitute for the badly needed and long awaited measures to be taken to put the economy in right path.

The government has yet to take structural reforms and go after powerful mafias to stop economic hemorrhage of the country.

The government has to give increased attention to the problems faced by the common man on the street and for him price hike is the most important problem.

It is pity that in an agrarian country, the common man could not afford to buy basic food items. The government, therefore, needs to draw up a robust strategy to deal with the situation on priority basis.

People still recall that how did the so-called sugar crisis led to the downfall of powerful military dictator Ayub Khan in the 1960s.

One of the measures to control inflation to be taken by the government to keep a close eye on fluctuation in the domestic and international commodity markets and should have the remedial measures handy in case of any disruptions.

The government could have easily managed the wheat and sugar crises by timely import from the international markets.

But inordinate delay in imports allowed local mafias to jack up prices of the commodities at their whims to pocket maximum profits.

The government has to encourage the local farmers to increase their production and they should be given maximum incentives for this purpose and at the same time should keep the activities of the middle men and mafias in check to prevent them from swindling the genuine farmers as well as common people.

Prime Minister in recent days has held out assurances that his government would not allow further cartelization of sugar and wheat but the people would like him to translate his words into actions. If his government’s response to the sugar scandal after the release of the joint investigation report is any guide than one does not expect any prompt action against those responsible for such crises.

The pressure of the common people is building on the government to take tangible measures to mitigate their problems.

Any lethargy in this regard would provide an opportunity to opposition to exploit the situation in its favor. The coming weeks and months are appear to becoming very challenging for the government.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad