Friday May 24, 2024

Broken promises

By Mohammad Zubair
December 11, 2019

The agenda was to transform Pakistan into a modern welfare state – something Pakistanis had only dreamt but never seen before.

This was Imran Khan’s agenda articulated over 20 years, especially since October 2011 after the famous Lahore jalsa. It was further elaborated during the 126 days of the dharna. It would make fascinating stuff if the media could capture all the promises and commitments made by Imran and other senior PTI leadership.

The proposed changes were massive compared to the other two mainstream parties. They were not proposing an improvement here or there. It was not about a few percentage points improvements in growth rate or a reduction of a percentage or two in the inflation rate. It wasn’t about a 10-15 percent increase in tax revenue collection since that would be considered quite normal and not enough to take care of the massive welfare requirements.

It was about doubling tax revenue in one or two years from the base inherited. It wasn’t about 3-4 percent growth in exports; the potential they mentioned and proposed was in the range of $50 billion – and that was just a starting point. It wasn’t about containing debt and liabilities but a massive reduction in public debt from where it stood at the end of the PML-N government in May 2018.

The PTI agenda was about complete transformation – education, health, infrastructure, public transportation, water management system, an efficient railways system, tax system as good as any in the world. A country where no child would be deprived of school education; where world-class universities will operate. A country which would have a healthcare system unmatched in the region. A judicial system through which every Pakistani would not only get justice but at very affordable price, and a completely reformed police system.

A Pakistan where one crore jobs would be created in just five years. A Pakistan where five million housing units at cheap rates would be provided over five years. A power network system with significantly reduced line losses and significantly higher collections. Public-sector enterprises with improved service delivery and significantly reduced liabilities.

We were promised a Pakistan with a lean and efficient cabinet with no more than 20 cabinet ministers with each minister outperforming the other in terms of quality, and with impeccable record in terms of transparency. A Pakistan where the VIP culture would be a thing of the past. A governance system that would be the envy of every educated Pakistani. A Pakistan where team selection would be based purely on merit and those not performing would face the axe. A bureaucratic system such that responds to the needs of the people and supports the ministries in the most efficient manner.

We were all excited that all the looted wealth ($200 billion) stashed outside Pakistan would be brought back and not only would our economic problems be resolved but all our foreign debt would also be repaid in full. A Pakistan where corruption would be a thing of the past. We were told by none other than Imran Khan himself that we would save Rs10-12 billion per day, which was being stolen through corrupt practices by our previous corrupt rulers. Not just that but no one with a tainted reputation would be appointed in his administration and the party would be forthcoming in responding to concerns raised by its opponents. A Naya Pakistan where money laundering would no longer take place and therefore our foreign reserves would add about $10 billion per annum.

There were other promises or commitments as well that would change Pakistan forever. As PM, Imran would always travel commercial airlines. There was also the promise of never seeking IMF assistance (preferring suicide to that). One very senior leader made a startling statement just days before Election 2018 – ‘if we are unable to significantly improve the lives of people within one year (note the period), then I will leave politics and go sit at home’.

I can go on with more promises and commitments. But let’s leave it here and see where we stand in terms of actual achievements.

No one was expecting miracles within the first 15 months or so even though many promises were to come true within 100 days and others within one year. But let’s be realistic. Of course, none of those promises have come true. On the contrary, what has become apparent is that there was no planning behind those promises or commitments. It was entirely based on simplistic assumptions – more so, on the lack of understanding of the complex issues confronting the country.

In most cases, there is not even a mention now about those promises. For example, we never hear the government’s plan to create one crore jobs. There is no mention by the PM and his team about building five million housing units. With 45 months left, building five million housing units means more than 100,000 units per month in the remaining period. That is simply impossible. All those financial wizards who announced the plan in July 2018 have gone silent, clearly reflecting poor planning and understanding of financial numbers. The same goes for the looted $200 billion. Within weeks of coming into power, ministers were denying and distracting from earlier commitments. The PM has conveniently forgotten he ever made any statement committing to bring back this money.

We never expected the turnaround that was promised but the last 15 months have established one thing: we are not going to see any ‘tabdeeli’ in the remaining 45 months either. At best, the government will manage to remain in power but without direction and ability to deliver. Slowly but surely, all the promises will be forgotten – and we will be left to wonder what the struggle was all about.

The writer is former governor Sindh and former minister for