Of bailout packages and bullet trains

If the Sharifs focus only on shiny get-me-votes projects, they will find that Pakistan’s electorate demands much more

Hammad Sarfraz July 09, 2013
At home, a beleaguered finance minister announced he had finally secured the much-need $5.3 billion IMF bailout package, without which his country might have had to announce bankruptcy.

Abroad, his prime minister dreamt of shiny new bullet trains costing $20 million per kilometre – approximately $27 billion from Peshawar to Karachi – and that’s just one project.

So how does a country, which needs to do hard bargaining for a bailout package of a few billion dollars, orchestrate the infrastructure revolution its prime minister has in mind? Well, simple economics would suggest that you either ditch everything else and pour all your dough in one pouch, or you borrow – like there is no tomorrow.

Sadly, that formula makes for poor economic management and worse – its poor political management.

The fact remains that a motorway and a rapid bus transit might have won the incumbents a landslide victory, but they were up against some of the worst governance ever. So really, it wasn’t much of a competition.

But if the Sharifs now plan on doling out all the country’s little remaining cash on shiny get-me-votes projects, they might be in for a surprise.

Pakistan’s electorate has changed. It has matured, and now more than ever, the voters demand quick results and good governance.

Only a month down the new government’s tenure, the average Joe is unhappy. Rising fuel prices, increased energy tariffs, high taxes and higher GST-induced rise in average consumer prices has the common man grappling with uncertainty.

And uncertainty is never good. It creates unexpected demands on a government and brings on unexpected responses. For now, people seem to be in a wait-and-watch mode. Muted grumblings abound, vocal criticism is still restricted, but that won’t last for long.

The government needs to realise that a harsh budget has affected the people, and the energy crisis doesn’t seem to be improving. This, coupled with an IMF bailout package, is likely to make life even harder for the average citizen. The government needs to respond, and respond soon.

Now more than ever, the government needs to show the people that despite the tightening of the belt, the government is tackling other immediate problems on an emergency basis. It needs to act on its promises of austerity and anti-corruption, and it needs to act sooner rather than later.

Read more by Hammad here.
Hammad Sarfraz
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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