Tuesday April 23, 2024

Struggling economy

By Mansoor Ahmad
February 21, 2024

LAHORE: The general election in Pakistan has intensified political instability in Pakistan at a time when the country needed a harmonious approach to its economic problems.

Containers can be seen at Gawadar port. — AFP/File
Containers can be seen at Gawadar port. — AFP/File

Now it seems certain that whoever assumes power next month will not be able to bring smiles on the faces of the people of this country. Most leaders from developed economies who meet our political leaders, businessmen and bureaucrats wonder how these people live such a lavish life when their country is almost dead economically. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Obama regime during her visit to Pakistan was surprised to see the way of life of the Pakistani elite and openly said that the wealthy citizens should first pay their due taxes before asking for aid from friendly countries.

Not all leaders who visit Pakistan are so blunt but they are neither blind nor fail to see the lavish lifestyles of the people they meet that negate the impression that millions of Pakistanis live in absolute poverty. The change that the IMF and other global institutions want in Pakistan will come from within the country. The loans will only buy us some time to reform ourselves. We have wasted so many opportunities in the past that now even our friends have no sympathy for us and the IMF is more stubborn on its demands than ever.

This reality is known to the entire nation except our political elite that does not realize the urgency of bringing order in the country. They are busy wheeling and dealing for the formation of a coalition government as no party has secured enough seats to form the federal government. In fact, the situation is so serious that there is a need for a national government that could take the most difficult decisions without political backlash.

This seems not possible because of the confrontational stand of the major parties. Besides reforms that are necessary to increase revenues, we need to seriously cut expenses from top to bottom. No one should be allowed to live in lavish residences. The maximum limit should be three bedroom houses of maximum one kanal. All the posh bungalows, palaces and residences must be immediately auctioned and handed over to the new owner. Converting these places to universities or social welfare facilities has been a political slogan that has never been fulfilled. No one from the ruling elite should be allowed more than one vehicle. The rulers of a poor population must not be entitled to undue luxuries. All rest houses and recreation facilities must also be auctioned. The gymkhana and other elite clubs must be removed from state land. The members may relocate at private premises and bear all the expenses from their contributions.

These actions would draw huge protests because it would stop the luxury of the elite at government expense. The political elite should take these steps first before shifting their full attention to reforms and privatization of public sector entities. Pakistan is already operating in an economic emergency. We have no time for political settlements.