Hardly a brilliant performance

Dr Pervez Tahir May 06, 2010

Stuck in the middle of a complete shutdown commandeered by the Maoists in Katmandu on earlier this week, I started looking at a nicely printed, rather heavy, report handed to me by a participant of the workshop on inclusive federalism that some of us (I A Rehman, S M Zafar and others) were attending. It turned out to be an official report, “Promise, Policy and Performance” — the PPP of Information Minister Qamar Kaira, if you like.

The report claimed credit for the consensus reached on the National Finance Commission (NFC) and the 18th amendment and prides itself in taking forward the spirit of the Charter of Democracy. It devoted 33 pages to the foreign trips that are said to be “reviving diplomatic dynamism” and 10 pages to who is who in the cabinet. But the party of the people runs out of space and ideas when it comes to the real problems increasing their misery. Unparalleled energy shortages and skyrocketing prices, particularly of food, are issues leaving no one except the privileged untouched.

The three-and-a-half page chapter on energy told us that the governance of energy corporations had been improved and circular debt was no more a problem as one more corporation had been created to deal with it. It rightly pointed out that not a single megawatt was added by the Musharraf regime, but the PPP blamed its own dismal record on “strong media and political opposition” to rental power. Conservation, which should have started two years ago, only just began.

Prices did not even merit a chapter. Doubling of wheat prices was highlighted as benefiting the farmer, but there is no analysis of the adverse impact on urban consumers and non-farm households in rural areas. Nor is any priority discernible to alleviate their suffering. In view of the missed fiscal deficit target, and a lower current account deficit (resulting mainly from a rapidly depreciating rupee — itself an inflationary fuel) the assertion about macroeconomic stabilisation sounds hollow. The rate of inflation, the main indicator of stability, remains in the dangerous double-digit zone. The latest sensitive price indicator stands at 16.3 per cent.

Macroeconomic stability is billed as the first point of a 'new' nine-point strategy of growth. This is old wine in the old bottle! The nine points are the headings of the nine chapters of the World Bank-assisted poverty reduction strategy paper prepared in the last days of Shaukat Aziz. The PPP has failed to present a comprehensive alternative strategy based on its manifesto. Even the groundwork for the Benazir Income Support Programme had existed in the form of a social protection strategy in 2007. The paradigm shift claimed is simply a misapplication of the concept. Giving some footnotes here and there does not make it a duly referenced volume. Curiously, most of the references are made to print media, not research papers. Even in areas where the original source can only be an official agency, newspaper sources have been quoted. The table giving the new NFC formula on page 71 is a case in point. Again, a cherry-picking table makes the heroic conclusion that democracy delivers high growth rates. It should, but the evidence so far in Pakistan does not support the proposition.

The report is useful to the extent that it prints some important texts, making them readily accessible. It is poor in marshalling information, and poorer in analysing it. The 18th amendment would require a lot of regular reporting to the parliament. This report does not inspire much confidence.