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October 2, 2018

Govt feels heat as opposition growing active

Packaged between the Saudi investments in the offing and hopes of more investments and dividends from upcoming Chinese state visit, Premier Imran Khan-led PTI government painstakingly realises it has to absorb public criticism and opposition onslaught for now. Better days can come soon – only if they start delivering on their somewhat lofty good governance promises.

For now, circumstances have forced them to keep low, especially at the Parliament, amidst directionless outbursts from some ministers who are lately realizing the compulsions of a sitting government, undergoing a financial squeeze. Till the time PTI government can offer some incentives or relief for the masses, the hawks in their ranks have to take a back seat – under compulsion, even if they cry foul. They might pass this supplementary budget on Tuesday or Wednesday to coincide with premier’s departure for China.

Naturally, Finance Minister Asad Umar will wind up the debate. Jumbled up with work, he didn’t turn up at the National Assembly on Monday. PM Khan also didn’t grace the sitting. He is also too busy, even though we heard he will answer questions of the Parliamentarians every fortnight. Going by the book, this was the lucky week to be. PM is not ready to bog down, or take a back seat at a time when he has little to offer to please his voters and supporters. And he has to put up a brave face amongst treasury legislators, too. All this at a time, when criticism is mounting. Whether it is appropriate, or unwanted, they face a bruised opposition (especially PML-N) not ready to let go of any mistake, folly.

Austerity measures of August-September, auction of cars and cows of the PM House, and opening of Governor Houses for masses had little , limited time shelf value. What next? Aggressive, across the board accountability, bold measures to right size loss making state enterprises, bureaucratic reforms, Police reforms, or the South Punjab province. The list is long. But is the PTI government ready to take risky initiatives, bold moves?

Till this day, since their coming to power last month, we have been repeatedly hearing about the financial quagmire everyone in the PTI blames PML-N for. But this argument, excuse would also lose steam within weeks. Past this supplementary budget, the PTI would still be hand-tied to offer any major relief to the masses. But, the real test of strategy, and good governance will start then and there.

By November end, PM Imran’s forceful suggestion to media to give him 3 months to settle down and come up with a final shape of his 100 days agenda, would also mature. So a lot of politicking, moves and counters in the offing. For now, the initial turmoil in the National Assembly is settling down after the somewhat unwanted August fireworks at the inaugural. Opposition Leader is now a regular feature, just like his predecessor. Khurshid Shah was under the constant check of Bilawal-Zardari leadership watch. Shahbaz faces a leadership challenge. He has to prove his worth as Opposition’s formidable figure when former PM Sharif and his daughter are the center of gravity for Leaguers, voters, and supporters. A difficult task, a tough ask, indeed.

Bilawal is lucky. He is coming to grips with party leadership at a time when elder Zardari sahib is phasing out, gradually, slowly. And PPP is switching under Bilawal’s banner. Such circumstances have perhaps forced some of them to come to the Assembly prepared. At least with some data and facts. Abdul Qadir Patel did just that on Monday evening as he reminded PTI of its infamous U turns and follies. In a hurry, amidst some halfhearted treasury hooting, he jumbled up with figures – mentioning billions as trillions. Fair enough. It was now turn of Planning Minister Khusro Bakhtiar to amuse everyone. He however played some wrong tunes, providing the opposition back benchers ample space to hoot him down.

The Minister realised a bit early that he had hit the wrong chords from the outset in an effort to play it to the galleries, and get some desk thumps from the treasury too. From the word go, he started criticising the developmental agenda of PPP, PML-N. In a bit sarcastic tone, he thought of the past developmental strategies as misguided, a waste of time and resources. And that was it.

The Opposition back benchers could sense it as an opportunity. One could clearly hear their calls and slogans – nasty and pointed. Some called him a turncoat, others laughed out his suggestions that the previous planning and development team was reckless, ill-prepared. Sitting on the front opposition rows, Ahsan Iqbal could only smile. He too couldn’t stop himself from quipping one or two nasty ones.

Soon the minister realised he had actually chartered into unwanted, dangerous. But it was perhaps too late, middle of his speech. So Khusro decided to fight it out. He came up with high budget deficit figures to alarm every one. But this is what we have been listening from Asad Umar in a mannered but firm fashion. From Minister Fawad Chaudhry in a somewhat plain talk, last week. So nothing revealing. The last part of Khusro’s speech was however informative. He came up with logic and reason behind Rs300 billion-plus cut in the federal developmental programme, arguing the mass of schemes announced by the PML-N in their elections budget were too hefty, ill-planned. In a nutshell, Khurso was rightly or wrongly trying to take credit for budget rightisizing, unwanted developmental budgets cuts. But it was not his day. Soon Maryam Aurangzeb, came up with some tongue in cheek remarks, taunts and what not. She seems performing better in opposition compared to a cautious minister’s role.

But Ayaz Sadiq, the previous speaker, proved more lethal. He amused everyone as he cautioned PTI of the fast passing time, and missed opportunities on the way. Difficult to translate the visual and sound bites laden performance the former speaker offered. But everyone was amused. More to come from him in interesting days and weeks ahead.