Monday September 27, 2021

Magic wand phenomena?

Is the magic wand of conjurer is working in Pakistan as GDP growth surged from 2% to 3.9% within weeks? The economists and the experts are taken aback and are wondering as how this is possible when the other indicators of the economy do not subscribe such surprise. The lower level of energy consumption, downward trend of transport, communication void, significant decline of cotton and wheat production etc., -- having direct bearings on growth or otherwise -- do not synchronize with the sudden and indeed enchanting figures. This may surely give the plausible reason to the people and to the Opposition of the presumption of fudging the accounts. The finance minister may therefore come clean for which he should hold well-attended press conference to clear the doubts as without such media exercise the authenticity of the claim may remain in limbo riddled in half-truth or may be not at all. Let the people share this optimism that may sparkle ray of hope. Undoubtedly, they have been going through the ‘autumn of despair’ since this government was imposed by the hallucinate power through controversial elections in 2018.

Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan was pleased to lift the lid off the startling truth when he said that PTI’s success would be ‘political death’ of the Opposition. It is always so in war of throne, Sir. The politics between the government and the Opposition is essentially spearheaded by the ruthless impulses of one’s political losses are the political gains of other standing on the opposite side of the equation. Opposition in democracy is deemed as government in waiting. Prime minister’s tone was mildly inclined on the trajectory of the success probably being conscious of the ground realities those may not subscribe his assertion.

The stream of the failures of the government policies had indeed made the task easier for the opposition that was evident in the by-elections held recently clearly certifying the abysmal performance of the ruling party. That was the reality that could not be defied. The Opposition would surely build upon the failures of the treasury benches, as being normal, because the unraveling of government to serve the people would offer the opportunity to the political opponents to do what was expected of them in such political environment. The Opposition would be quite within its legitimate right to expose the weaknesses before the people who were at the receiving end. The people could not be and should not be left to fend for themselves like hostage of the failed policies of the government. The list of such policies is long but will be discussed those standout.

The increasing political polarisation between the government and the Opposition may reflect the anti-parliamentary character of the ruling party that unfortunately is imbedded in the Party psyche. In fact, it is the prime responsibility of the ruling party to create an enabling environment for the parliamentary politics in which Parliament is the centre of gravity of the country’s politics where all important issues of public policy are discussed threadbare and fine-tuned through the prism of collective wisdom of the Parliament. In this count, the PTI leadership may be failing miserably because the legislative business seemed to have been outsourced to the President House from where ordinances are issued, quite often, without caring the prescribed procedure stipulated in the constitution. No wonder, the perception of running the government through presidential ordinances has become the byword. The perception may not be misplaced as these are promulgated even when the session of the National Assembly may be a few days away.

The other oddity that is recklessly in practice is the Opposition and the Parliament are hardly taken into confidence on important public policy issues thus reducing the Parliament as the dormant forum whereas it should be the highest forum of ‘debate, scrutiny and legislation’ representing the people as per their aspirations. Regretfully, the sessions of the Parliament are quite often marred by the ugly scenes of rowdy shouting by the parliamentarians, unsavory language and obnoxious behavior reflective of the Leader of the House’s inability to create a favorable environment for running the House.

The Leader of House hardly graces the House with his attendance. The track record of the legislative business of the incumbent Parliament is therefore no near to the then Parliament during last PPP government led by Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani. He was unanimously elected as Leader of the House and proved worthy of the honour by pursuing the politics of consensus, reconciliation and understanding as envisioned by Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. The enactment of the historic 18th Amendment with consensus restoring the federal, parliamentary and democratic character of the Constitution was the everlasting reward of the parliamentary politics. It could not be trifled with whims and caprice of the incumbent ruling elite that attempted to curtail the financial, administrative and political autonomy given to the federating units under the 18th Amendment.

The controversial accountability process through the national watchdog NAB is generally perceived as the political witch-hunting of the political opponents that indeed has surpassed in its notoriety of the politics of the ninety’s. How unsavory and ruthless on the part of the government that the top leadership of major political parties was sent to jail for months after months mere on the basis of allegations. They were denied the entitlement of fair trial. The leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly and the Senate have been facing number of cases on spacious grounds even today. The leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif, had been in jail quite a number of times on baseless allegations. This is an abomination in a democratic dispensation by any criterion.

The repeated attempt to intimidate the Opposition leaders to submission on purpose—to have free field to play ball-- have not succeeded and will not succeed in the future as the leadership is more determined than before in empowering the people come what may. Evidently, the government leadership is oblivious of the fact that such third degree tactics will not succeed. Regretfully, the government leadership is not discouraged and continues the witch-hunting regardless of the strong reservations of the apex court. The Supreme Court in its historic judgment added, ‘exercise of power as a tool of suppression and harassment’. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, while addressing the New Judicial Year (2019-2020) of the Supreme Court, had hit nail at the head when he said, ‘the growing perception that accountability process being pursued in the country at present is lopsided and is a part of political engineering. It is a dangerous perception and some remedial steps need to be taken urgently so that the process does not lose credibility’. But, to no avail so far. No visible steps have seemingly been taken to address the perception as the stream continues to flow upstream.

Furthermore, the government has not come up to the expectations of the people with big margin and their feelings of having been hoodwinked, may be getting on their nerves with repentance. The resultant bleeding of PTI political capital is the faith accompli that seemingly has been spiraling downward in perpetuity. The general perception hanging in the air may be that the government leadership is inexperienced and overburdened by sense of pontification preventing it from considering the paradigm shift to avoid the reinforcement of failures.

Poor masses miseries of day-to-day life may continue to compound when judged in the comparative terms. The general feelings of the people are that they were better off in terms of quality life during the two previous governments PPP and PMLN, because increases in their wages not only neutralised the impact of inflation but also provided them more financial space to improve the quality of life. The official statistics clearly suggest that the double digit inflation during the PTI government has broken the back of their purchasing power with middle and lower middle class facing the existential threat not to speak of the poorest of the poor who have become increasingly food insecure.

According to the credible figures 80m may fall below the poverty line during the current year. The unemployment statistics are also hopeless as more than 4m had already lost their jobs and the situation may surely become worse due to the impact of the COVID-19. It may be relevant to mention here that employment level may fall to 35m that was 55m five years ago. According to experts, the GDP should grow at 7% per annum to provide employment to all who join the labor force market each year.

Pakistan economy had been stumbling from crisis after crisis, like sugar crisis, flour crisis, petrol crisis, while electricity and gas sectors are in total disarray with little prospects that the dire straight could be straighten out in the foreseeable future. The circular debt touching the whooping level of more than Rs2t and was becoming increasingly impossible to overcome it in the face of lack of requisite political will to introduce structural reforms. The government’s reliance to go for easy and quick solution by increasing the tariff may give relief to the government but at the expense of the poor consumers who are being forced to pay more amounted to extortion.

The people are confronted with problems of food inflation that has been going through the roof; housing had become increasingly unaffordable, the whooping taxes and general sales tax including the surge in utility services have rendered the households with no money to spend on education and health. The obtaining conditions for the people are depressing. No doubt, the hopelessness and sense of loss have gripped the whole nation.

Stabilization of the economy and the liberal subsidies by the government to stimulate the economy might have served well to the predatory elite and the coteries of capitalists but the trickle down effects were negligible because the poor strata of society might have not benefitted from. They were poorer facing threat to their subsistence in the real sense.

The increase in the sale of flashy cars and the proficiency of manufacturing sector might not be deemed as good news because the indicators of the quality of life the people continued to tell the opposite story.

The new finance minister’s statement made a lot of sense when he outlined his vision that Pakistan’s economy could not afford stagnation and had to put it on the track of growth instead. He was right, but the late course –correction might prove too little and too late. The apprehension was that the late epiphany might not prove as double jeopardy because of the difficulties of maintaining the equilibrium while walking on the tight rope of the heating up of the economy and upping the growth rate at the same time. The maintenance of equilibrium between the two opposite trends might be the real challenge for the new finance minister.

The growth rate projection of 4% of the economy last Saturday was not less than a cautious pleasant surprise. The hanging sword of the FATF seemingly made the some difference that forced the state institutions to seek redemptions in going along with the international community side by side rather than looking for clandestine short-cuts. The government was seemingly trying hard to meet all the benchmarks of the international watchdog FATF pertaining to putting the ‘house in order’.

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