Two pieces of good news: exports are up 15 percent and the trade deficit is down five percent. I have been writing a weekly column for the past two decades. I am thankful to the management of this newspaper because not once has it given me any direction whatsoever – not even once. Twenty years is a long time. I do, however, recall at least three instances over the past 20 years when the management refused to carry my column – three out of a thousand.
For the first time over the past 20 years, we have a prime minister whose personal agenda is perfectly aligned with our national agenda. For the first time over the past 20 years, we have a prime minister who has a two-pronged agenda: getting rid of corruption and getting 130 million Pakistanis out of poverty (Pakistanis who earn between Rs300 and Rs400 per day). To begin with, we should never link economic policy with proceeds from anti-corruption. Our economic policy should never be dependent on the failure or success of our anti-corruption campaign.
So far, the anti-corruption campaign seems to be humming along. It is the economic policy that is taking us nowhere – and if you’re going nowhere, any road will take you there. Indecision is the “state of being unable to make a choice” or the “quality of being unable to make a decision or having a lot of difficulty in deciding something”.
Cost of indecision: The circular debt has hit Rs1,400 billion (our defence budget is Rs1,100 billion). Over the past 137 days, we have added to it a colossal Rs260 billion – that’s nearly Rs2 billion a day every day for the past 137 days. A few years ago, the same figure was Rs1 billion a day – and now it has doubled. Clearly, the taskforce-driven model –infested with serious vested interests – isn’t working. Can wolves guard the sheep? There’s no economy without the energy sector and at Rs2 billion a day there will be no energy sector. This calls for course correction.
Cost of indecision: In 2013, public-sector enterprises (PSEs) collectively lost Rs495 billion. In the last year of the PML-N government, PSEs lost around Rs1,100 billion (coincidentally, that year our defence budget was also Rs1,100 billion). My conservative estimate is that over the past five months of the PTI government, PSEs have lost Rs500 billion. For the record, there’s no policy to control losses at PSEs. Yes, there’s the proposed Sarmaya Pakistan Company. The Sarmaya Pakistan Company-driven model is destined to fail because nowhere on the face of the planet – other than in Singapore – has it succeeded. And if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. This calls for course correction
Our businesses have stopped taking business decisions. Where will the rupee be next month? Importers have stopped taking business decisions. Exporters have stopped bringing back their export receipts. According to the Pakistan Association of Automotive Parts and Accessories Manufacturers (Paapam) Chairman Ashraf Sheikh, there will be “unemployment, bank defaults and revenue shortfall”. Paapam produces Rs60 billion worth of tractors. Our businesses are going nowhere – and if you’re going nowhere, any road will take you there. This calls for course correction.
Cost of indecision: In 2013, the accountant-general of Pakistan revenues (AGPR) informed the chairman of NAB that an amount of Rs290 billion had been disbursed as price-differential claims “in clear violation of constitutional and statutory provisions”. Not much has changed since. This calls for course correction.
Cost of indecision: We are taking on debt like never before. Over the past five months, we have been adding Rs15 billion a day to our national debt as compared with an average of Rs8 billion a day during the five years of the PML-N and Rs5 billion a day during the five years of the PPP (all figures include the devaluation impact).
The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.