The economy of Pakistan is heading for a crash. A good number of factors behind this have external origins and are thus beyond the control of the government. These include the volatility of oil prices, the uncertainty engulfing the world economy for its lacklustre emergence from the global financial crisis and the more recent commodity price boom, particularly of food and the associated speculation. However, there is a lot that remains in the domain of internal economic governance in Pakistan. The quality of this governance could also serve to mitigate the effects of external factors and exogenous shocks like natural disasters.
However, the economic governance of the PPP is killing hope, and spells a cumulating disaster for future decisions. National consensuses evolved on the Eighteenth Amendment and the Seventh NFC Award raised hope that a similar consensus could be worked out on critical economic issues. However, it seems the PPP is keen to leave the economy to others. The stillborn Marshall Plan, the Friends of Democratic Pakistan disaster and the consequent bridge finance from the IMF, empty trade-not-aid-rhetoric and the dusting off of old MoUs on energy links, are all examples of this. The individual line-up includes Ishaq Dar, Shaukat Tareen and now Hafeez Sheikh — all having nothing to do with the PPP and its political culture. The result has been policies proposed and rejected, as the PPP itself was never prepared for them. Ishaq Dar set a noisy pace. Shaukat Tareen had little idea of how to sell hard economic decisions to politicians. The incumbent sought imposition of the RGST, but, instead, got a 50 per cent raise in salaries. Before the ink dried on the ordinances signed by the president to recover some lost revenue ground, the moves to restore the disallowed exemptions had become visible.
I said it earlier in my first column for this paper, on April 13, 2010, and regret having to say it again, that the PPP suffers from “economic poverty of an unusual kind. Despite its edge over other parties in its concern for real economic issues, it is strange, but true, that the PPP never had in its fold, a person rising from its own membership to assume the stewardship of the economy.” It is not only that the economy is in shambles, there is also no effort at the level of the party to think things out and set a direction for the future.
A manifesto committee has been set-up well before the next elections are announced. It shows the seriousness of the party to work out a platform to win over the electorate. However, the composition of the committee shows that the economy is not on its radar. While it includes almost everyone from the unsinkable Babar Awan to the sinkable Hamid Saeed Kazmi, there is no one who can even remotely be accused of being an economist.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 01st, 2011.