Friday May 24, 2024

A series of blunders

By Mohammad Zubair
June 13, 2020

After seeing it almost two years in power, we still don’t know why the PTI has not delivered anything at the federal or provincial levels.

To be fair, the PTI leadership does accept its failures. There is no new project that has come up in the last two years or any project that was initiated in the last two years and which is near completion. Except for the current account deficit, there is no other macro indicator which has shown any improvement (the improvement in the current account deficit is another story for some other time). In fact, all economic indicators have seriously worsened in the last two years. In simple terms, Pakistanis are much worse off today than they were in mid-2018, with nothing to hope in terms of improvement in the remaining period of the five-year term.

What is remarkable is the current government’s ability to provide multiple reasons for every failure. The reasons can include any of the following: things were in a mess all these years due to the PPP and the PML-N (never due to other governments that ruled several decades); the presence of mafias and cartels that are so strongly entrenched that the poor government is helpless; the elites who can get anything done including the very recent lockdown in the country; the bureaucracy which is simply not ready to support the Tabdeeli government; the media which has been conspiring against the PTI government since the first day and which is only reporting bad news; the courts which hinder the initiatives of the government; the opposition which is simply bent upon sabotaging the good work’ the 18th Amendment & 7th NFC award which has weakened the federal government; and most importantly the people who are indisciplined, incompetent, uneducated and have no patience. But for these reasons, the PTI government would have performed miracles.

The ruling party leadership has become an expert in telling why they could not deliver, why expectations have not been met, why even one house out of the 50 lakh houses have not yet been delivered, and why no jobs out of the one crore promised have been given.

Several questions are being raised. Why are there more unemployed people today than they were back in August 2018 (the unemployment rate having gone up from 5.79 percent in June 2018 to 8.56 percent now and expected to go up to 9.8 percent by next year).

Why are there more people below the poverty line than they were when the PTI came to power (at least one crore people going below the poverty line between August 2018 and March 2020). Why has the growth rate plummeted from 5.8 percent to 1.9 percent within the first year and which by the end of the second fiscal year will go into a negative zone? Why has large-scale manufacturing remained negative since August 2018 after a positive growth of 6 percent plus in the preceding year ?

Why has inflation, which remained at low levels during the five years of PML-N rule, gone into double digits? Why could exports not increase in the past two years despite massive devaluation? Why couldn’t tax revenue increase in two years after significant growth during 2013-2018 (doubling in five years)? Why have the losses and liabilities of state-owned corporations significantly increased over the last two years and why has circular debt increased from Rs1.1 trillion to around Rs2 trillion within two years and why has public debt increased by more than Rs12 trillion in two years compared to Rs10 trillion accumulated during the five years before this? What happened to the debt commission report set up in June last year? There are several more questions.

Let’s come to the bigger projects. Nothing can be more embarrassing for the current government than the famous BRT Peshawar project. The ADB has raised serious issues of incompetence, mismanagement and possible corruption, yet the PM and his team remain unmoved by the criticism. The Peshawar High Court raised serious concerns on these issues and directed the FIA to complete an inquiry within 45 days. Rather than ensuring completion and resolving those serious concerns, the government instead went to the Supreme Court to obtain a stay. The project has been stalled but the government would not answer the basic question of why it could not complete a simple project all these years despite the unprecedented cost increase, and exceeding the combined costs of the three metro projects completed in record time during the PML-N tenure (Lahore, Multan, Islamabad-Rawalpindi).

On state-owned institutions, the PTI had a clear policy which it had announced much before the elections and repeated even after coming into power. The plan was to set up a new company called Sarmaya Pakistan. All state enterprises were to be taken out from the control of the ministries and put under direct control of Sarmaya Pakistan which was then supposed to restructure these entities. Restructuring rather than privatisation was supposed to be the strategy under the new government.

Can we now know, after two years, what happened to Sarmaya Pakistan and why the project was shelved in favour of the privatisation of these entities? Why couldn’t the new board and new management of Pakistan Steel be appointed even after almost two years and why does the mill remain non-functional even to this day?

There are no answers to the above questions. It's been a series of mass scale blunders. Their overconfidence, lack of preparedness, lack of good quality team did them in. Looking down on opponents, as well as arrogance and hubris is a deadly cocktail.

There is still time for course correction but for that they need to finally accept their own failures and stop blaming others.

The writer is former governor Sindh and former minister for privatisation.