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May 22, 2020

WEF address

Editorial

 
May 22, 2020

In his video-link address to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Prime Minister Imran Khan has rightly highlighted the importance of a global response to defeat the novel coronavirus. He termed Covid-19 a challenge for the entire world, in which the affected countries have become insular and have started looking inside rather than making coordinated efforts. The PM’s concerns in this regard are entirely justified as the world as a global village must be working in tandem and all countries must share their expertise and support each other. He also underscored that several developing countries ‘do not possess the fiscal space’ to deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak. The PM mentioned that the G20 countries were working on a debt-relief initiative and urged rich countries for debt relief to all developing countries that need such support.

While the PM’s call for concerted efforts is timely and his pleas for debt relief are also not out of place, there are certain points that all developing countries, including Pakistan, must keep in mind before expecting debt relief and asking the world to help them. The first is why so many developing countries such as Pakistan need the relief to begin with. As the PM himself explained, fiscal space is needed to divert resources to healthcare and the environment, and especially healthcare systems in ‘direct line of fire of this pandemic’. In fact, most of those countries which are in dire need have been squandering their own precious resources without scruples. Economic mismanagement and financial irregularities are the name of the game, and no matter which political party or non-civilian regime is in power, unproductive expenses keep rising. When their health systems are already in tatters and developing countries have been spending peanuts on social welfare, they can hardly justify their pleas for help.

The PM in his address also informed the audience that he had spoken to the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Nigeria, who are facing similar economic issues. If Pakistan stands in the same queue with these countries, they must have very many similarities in their economic history of financial mismanagement and political governance. Just look at the past 50 years of these countries and you see repeated military dictatorships, toppling of democratic governments, excessive expenditure in non-development and unproductive heads, and finally lack of social cohesion resulting in prolonged disturbances and severe law-and-order situations. In all these countries, as the PM pointed out, people are facing ‘stark poverty’ and starvation. This poverty and starvation is not simply the result of three to five months of Covid-19. This is the cumulative outcome of the past three to five decades of misplaced priorities and wrong policies, from defence and development policies to domestic and economic ones. Need we say more?