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December 29, 2019

Chasing shadows

Opinion

December 29, 2019

Shadow number 1: $200 billion in Swiss banks. On August 18, 2018, Imran Khan took oath of office of the prime minister of Pakistan. On August 19, Murad Saeed, now the federal minister for communication and postal services, tweeted: “200 billion dollars of Pakistani tax payers money stashed in Swiss banks as per Fin minister written reply in parliament.”

Lo and behold, we ended up spending August, September and part of October chasing the $200 billion shadow in lieu of an economic policy. To chase shadows is “to pursue things that are not there……things that are imagined rather than real.”

As per the figure released as part of the Swiss National Bank’s (Switzerland’s central bank) annual statistics report, “A little over CHF380 million ($388.58 million) in Pakistani-origin funds were held in Swiss banks at the end of 2018…..”

Shadow number 2: By September 2018, we started forming ‘task forces’ – a task force on energy, another one on reforming the police, on civil service reforms, on austerity, on asset recovery, on knowledge economy, on tree plantation, on the economic corridor etc. Eventually, we had three dozen of them.

In August 2018, before the formation of the Task Force on Energy, our circular debt was at Rs1,100 billion. The most recent figure is Rs1,700 billion. In Punjab, over the past 16 months, we now have the fifth inspector general of police – average tenure three months; three chief secretaries and six education secretaries. The most recent reshuffle has reshuffled 31 DCOs, 20 Additional IGs, 19 secretaries and five commissioners.

The Task Force on Asset Recovery is yet to recover any asset and the Task Force on Knowledge Economy is yet to have its first meeting.

Shadow number 3: Naya Pakistan Housing. Yes, the months of October and November were big on Naya Pakistan Housing. Current status: not known.

Shadow number 4: Yes, December 2018 was spent on the ‘chicken-and-egg’ scheme. Yes, Dr Muhammad Arshad, the additional director at the Rawalpindi livestock department, told us that “2.5 million units will be distributed among residents of Rawalpindi division with each unit comprising four chickens and a cockerel. The chickens in each unit are 85 days old and fully capable of laying eggs frequently.” Current status: not known.

Shadow number 5: We spent February 2019 on welcoming Arab princes. The Saudi prince alone was going to invest $20 billion. Current status: not known.

Shadow number 6: We spent March and April of 2019 on ExxonMobil-led consortium drilling an ultra-deep well in Kekra-1. We were told that “Pakistan is on the verge of hitting a kind of jackpot in the form of discovering a huge reserve of oil and gas.”

Shadow number 7: By June, we had handed over the reins of our economy to the IMF. And the IMF has since given us new shadows to chase: the current account deficit and the Pakistan Stock Exchange.

Here are the four things we actually need to do. One, implement e-procurement in all public procurement projects. Remember, the government spends around Rs6 trillion on public procurement projects – and the leakages are estimated at around 25 percent (bigger than the IMF package).

Two, reform Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs). In August 2018, the losses at PSEs amounted to Rs1,300 billion. The losses have since jumped to Rs2,100 billion. Three, reform the electricity sector. The losses in this sector have jumped from Rs1,100 billion in August 2018 to Rs1,700 billion.

Four, the leakages in the gas sector amount to some $2 billion a year. Reform these sectors, please.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected] Twitter: @saleemfarrukh