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September 7, 2018
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A disappointing start

Opinion

September 7, 2018

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It has been a disappointing start for the PTI government as there appears to be no serious agenda for reforms beyond the symbolic, meaningless and superficial measures it has taken so far.

This is not to question the intentions of Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government. But when the country is faced with economic, social, strategic, and regional challenges and the new government decides to devote attention to the expenditure of the PM House, protocol, and the menu for cabinet and other high-level meetings, its actions are bound to raise questions.

I will be more than happy to see our PM living in a small house and travelling in a small car without much security protocols. But I can wait a bit longer to see that. What I want to see is a change in the repressive and exploitative socioeconomic system.

The people want the government to concentrate on issues related to poverty; unemployment; educational and health woes; judicial, civil service and police reforms; social justice; inequality; and exploitation. They want to see a new direction in terms of policies.

When PTI Chairman Imran Khan announced his party’s programme for its first 100 days in power before the July 25 elections, it was believed that his party had done its homework to implement its agenda. The perception was that the PTI government won’t waste time to build Naya Pakistan. But it seems that the PTI is struggling to address economic and administrative problems.

The formations of various taskforces and committees on a daily basis to address problems and devise solutions are a clear indication of the PTI leadership’s failure to identify key challenges before the general elections.

The PTI leadership has repeatedly stated that it has the best team to steer the country out of crises. But most of the taskforces and ministries are headed by members of previous governments. Most of the technocrats who have been allotted government positions were part of General Musharraf’s regime while other even served in the PML-N’s previous government.

When the PTI was in the opposition and criticised the then PML-N government, its leaders claimed that they have suitable alternative policies to fix the system. But the first two weeks of the PTI’s tenure have revealed that the party is not fully prepared to face challenges on multiple fronts. It lacks a clear strategy and direction.

Imran Khan’s right-wing populist government has done little on the economic front. First, the selection of an economic team is a clear sign that neoliberal, free-market policies will not only continue, but will also be implemented in letter and spirit. Austerity, privatisation, the further liberalisation of trade, and neoliberal economic reforms will continue.

There will be no major change in terms of economic policies because the economic team consists of reliable economists who subscribe to the IMF/World Bank school of thought and believe in the free market and neoliberal economic policies. Although the PTI government’s economic managers and advisers may be seasoned professionals who have served in both national and international institutions, and have the best intentions, the fault lies with the ideas and policies that they represent.

They aren’t prepared to learn from the experiences and results of the neoliberal onslaught and the failure of the free-market policies over the last three decades. The right-wing PTI government wants to continue with its old economic policies, but expects different results.

Second, the PTI government will continue to rely on the bureaucracy to run the government – as was the case with previous governments. The state bureaucracy will continue to play a dominant role in formulating and implementing policies and programmes. Major policy decisions will also continue to be taken outside parliament.

Third, if the PML-N’s previous government was a representative of big traders, businessmen and industrialists, then the PTI government is a representative of the corporate class. Corporate executives and big businesses will, therefore, influence economic decisions.

This, in fact, means that there will be no significant increase in the wages of private-sector workers. The PTI government might not be able to take serious measures to implement labour laws, expand social security to the entire workforce, and minimise exploitation and repression at workplaces.

There is hope among the working classes that the PTI government will provide them some relief. But some decisions taken by the PTI government over the last few days have sent a clear message that these hopes are unrealistic. For instance, the PTI government has decided to sack all contract workers, doctors and other staff working in Punjab’s health councils, which will result in thousands of people losing their jobs. Austerity will also affect the working class the most.

Fourth, it seems that PTI has no concrete plan or policy to enhance productive capacity and boost agricultural and industrial production. Industrialisation is still a distant dream. Land reforms and the modernisation of agriculture are necessary to reduce rural poverty and transform rural Pakistan. The desire to reduce poverty and unemployment cannot be realised without investing in efforts to increase the productive capacity of the industrial and agricultural sectors.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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