Every which way but out

Over the last couple of months, the finance ministry has been in a state of disarray inspired by convivial deference

Editorial November 19, 2017

This is hardly the way any ministry, let alone the finance ministry, should be run. Pakistan has effectively had no finance minister for the last few months and the authorities have shown little interest in naming a replacement for Ishaq Dar. Since Dar’s indictment in a corruption reference on 27th September, things have only gotten worse for him and the country.

The minister is accused of accumulating assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. On the 14th of November an accountability court issued a non-bailable warrant of arrest for Dar in view of his repeated failure to appear in the court. In many ways the minister’s personal woes have begun to match the country’s dire economic situation. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that several options would be considered by the ruling party. The prime minister, for instance, is authorised to appoint a deputy finance minister and constitute an economic advisory council. He could also name a minister of state or a junior minister. By the looks of it, however, none of these options are likely to be considered because the PM would rather hold onto the finance minister’s job himself.

In the first place the ruling party is not ready to give up on Dar just yet — and senior government aide Mariyum Aurangzeb has made that clear.

The current challenges facing the national economy demand attention. This month Pakistan was counted the “fragile five” countries, along with Turkey, that are seen as most vulnerable to a normalisation in global monetary conditions. Foreign exchange reserves have fallen 15% to $19.8 billion this year, while external debt and liabilities have risen 31% in two years to 8.7 trillion rupees in June, according to the State Bank. Even if PM Abbasi decides to run the show himself on the economic front he will need expert assistance which could be made available through the formation of an economic advisory council.

Over the last couple of months, the finance ministry has been in a state of disarray inspired by convivial deference. As a result, there have been costly delays in critical decision-making at the highest level. The tax machinery has suffered particularly on this count. That is why some bold decisions are needed.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2017.

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