Thursday July 07, 2022

Truth prevails

May 17, 2020

Tell a big lie. Then repeat it, tweet it, retweet it, post it, broadcast it, forward it, shout it from atop a container every day and regurgitate it multiple times on talk shows every evening.

Do this often enough, loudly enough and, before you know it, you have tricked people into believing it is the truth. This phenomenon has a name – the ‘illusory truth effect’ – and in the age of social media and unbridled misinformation, it has been exploited to influence decisions affecting the lives of billions of people. The likes of Trump and Khan have used it as a core strategy to build their political careers. But all lies have an expiry date. This strategy may drown out the truth for a period of time, but it can never erase it.

To echo the remarks made by a US district judge earlier this year while sentencing a long-time Trump ally to prison for lying to the US House Intelligence Committee, “the truth still exists, the truth still matters”. Truth survives and, sooner or later, truth prevails. Hard facts eventually prevail over the most believable of lies.

The PTI government is trying to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to whitewash its own economic failures by lying and falsely claiming that the economy was doing well before the pandemic. It’s a desperate but predictable attempt to shift the blame. In matters of the economy, facts often take the form of figures – inflation and GDP growth rates, prices of sugar and wheat, number of jobs lost, number of factories shutdown, electricity and gas bill amounts, petrol pump receipts. And these figures have been negating the false economic narrative the government has been peddling since before the pandemic.

Highest inflation in 12 years, lowest GDP growth rate in a decade, 83 rupees for a kilo of sugar, 117 rupees for a litre of petrol. These were the economic realities as recently as a couple of months ago, before the pandemic and its effects. These brutally honest figures, and many more like them, have been decimating the repeated lies the current government has been feeding to the public about the economy. Even prior to the pandemic, the more this government had said that the economy’s getting better, the more foolish it had sounded.

In addition to causing a global health crisis, Covid-19 has also resulted in the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930s. There is no doubt that Pakistan’s economy too has suffered, but it has been a case of an economy which was already in crisis because of this government’s mismanagement, sinking into an even deeper crisis. The government’s audacious claims of rainbows and butterflies prior to the pandemic are fictitious, to say the least.

Even before the pandemic, the government was facing a tax revenue shortfall of at least one trillion rupees, compared to the 5.5 trillion rupee tax target announced in the budget speech last year by Hammad Azhar, and the fiscal deficit was already expected to be close to or even larger than the record 8.9 percent deficit in the PTI’s first year.

Covid-19 has only caused an already large tax revenue shortfall and fiscal deficit to become even larger. Similarly, as recently as January this year, the World Bank was already projecting Pakistan to be the slowest growing economy in South Asia in 2020 with only 2.4 percent GDP growth, which would have also already been Pakistan’s lowest GDP growth since 2009. Just two years earlier, when the PML-N was still in power, the World Bank had projected a healthy 6 percent GDP growth for Pakistan in 2020. Now, a 1.5 percent GDP contraction is expected this year. Before the pandemic struck, the current government had already made a growing economy stagnant and had overseen record debt growth and interest expenditure. The economic situation was already terrible. It has only become even worse now.

The fact is that the government has catastrophically mismanaged the economy and the results have been devastating for the people of Pakistan. No amount of narrative engineering will erase that truth. This government claims to care about the poor but, in actual fact, it has consistently adopted policies since assuming power which have pushed millions into poverty and unemployment. By clumsily attempting to fix what wasn’t broken, they reversed years of hard-earned economic gains, leaving our people and our economy far more vulnerable than they should have been when Covid-19 struck. If this government’s economic management had not been so abysmal, Pakistan would’ve been in a better position to absorb the economic effects of the pandemic.

Covid-19 has only further revealed and emphasized Imran Khan’s inability to lead and govern. The more he has appeared on TV in recent weeks, the more confused and indecisive he has seemed.

At a time when clarity and leadership has been most needed, this government has utterly failed to provide any. Instead, it has resorted to unduly criticising those who are trying to do the right thing, and has rejected constructive suggestions and calls from the opposition to build a national consensus in a time of crisis. In a recent press briefing, the prime minister went through great pains to talk about his self-belief. But what he calls self-belief is actually an alarming lack of self-awareness.

The incompetence and failures of this government have rapidly exposed the pillars of sand upon which it has been built. The illusory truth effect has faded. Truth has prevailed. The same government which took a growing economy and brought it to its knees under two years is definitely not the right government to lead our nation out of the worst global health and economic crisis in a century.

The writer is assistant secretary general of the PML-N and a member of the PML-N's Economic Advisory Council.


Twitter: @BilalAKayani