Wednesday April 17, 2024

PM’s address

By Editorial Board
March 01, 2022

The government seems to have taken notice of the opposition gathering forces and the general feeling of desperation in a people reeling under inflation. In an address to the nation on Monday evening, Prime Minister Imran Khan presented a bucketful of populist measures. The most significant ‘good news’ the PM delivered was the slashing of petroleum products’ prices by 10 rupees and electricity tariff by five rupees per unit. The PM also presented a sanguine picture of the country’s economic situation while also touching on the global challenges in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The reduction in electricity prices is likely to have some positive impact not only on domestic consumers but also on industry. In this scenario his assurance that there would be no increase in petrol and electricity prices until the next budget is literally heart-and-wallet-warming. There are no details yet available on precisely how this has been negotiated with the IMF and if heavier tariffs are to follow in the future to make up the demands of the organisation. But it seems for now populism is the name of the game – possibly a way to quench the anger and thereby the moves being made by the opposition.

While the PM’s emphasis on the superb performance of his own government is something that can be debated at great length, for now, the people need some relief. The government is shrewd enough to know that larger debates regarding the IMF programme and any future loans that will need to be taken usually stay within policy circles. The same thinking seems to have gone into the other schemes mentioned such as the Ehsaas card, relief on taxation for the IT sector, internships for the youth, and other measures to help people at a time when there is growing rage against the PTI government. Exempting the IT sector from paying taxes and lifting all restrictions on foreign exchange for them, though, is a decision that needs thorough consideration; it may prove beneficial in the short-term but in the long run such policies are bound to have their impact on the economy and other sectors. The same applies to the ‘no questions asked’ policy for anyone wishing to set up an industry or invest in Pakistan. There will also be questions about the PM’s announcement of importing wheat from Russia, given claims of a bumper wheat crop.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Imran Khan kicked off his national address with what has been a consistently favourite subject with this regime the past three years – the media and how it needs to be reined in. The prime minister put up a rather forceful defence of the recent PECA Ordinance, saying people are suffering at the hands of ‘fake news’ and, alarmingly, talked about litigation abroad against journalists and media houses. The Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 was bad even in its original law passed in 2016 by the PML-N. The PTI government has made it worse by adding more unconstitutional clauses in it. There can and should be no defence of such draconian laws, especially by a prime minister and especially during an address to the nation. On the upside, the PM’s acknowledgment of the past mistakes of Pakistan’s foreign policy especially during the 1980s and 2000s when the country took sides without realising the consequences was a welcome sign.

In all, the prime minister’s speech appears to be an attempt to checkmate the opposition – or ready itself for an inevitable early election. The public outcry against the government has been on the rise, with people simply unable to manage budgets or run their homes. The prime minister and his government may have responded to the no-confidence talk with bravado, but the opposition now has the satisfaction of making the government budge quicker than it has in the past three years. A word to the wise would be that any space the government manages to find within quick-fix measures will be only temporary and a political reckoning may not be as easily thwarted by applauding censorship, criminalising defamation or even reducing fuel prices.