Things to come

Published: August 10, 2018
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Pakistan is passing through the Never-land of the interregnum, transition from one government to another. Beyond some exploratory visits by assorted dignitaries to Bani Gala and the publication of a vanilla ‘100 Days’ agenda there is little political activity. That said there are plans afoot and some are now on the table, promises for the future. That Pakistan is teetering on the edge of a financial crisis is beyond doubt and now is not the time for finger-pointing into the past. The country, its institutions and businesses and economic managers want to know how it is going to be fixed, and when.

Although not yet named there is a putative finance minister, Asad Umar, and he has announced that he will be separating economic matters from politics, and will be giving administrative independence to government-sector institutions and public-sector enterprises. If he succeeds in either it will be a first. There is to be a ‘reform oriented’ chairperson of the Federal Board of Revenue and autonomy for the Bureau of Statistics that has of late been suspected of cooking the numbers regarding inflation rates and economic growth. It is time for back to basics, says Mr Umar, almost in the same breath saying not to expect miracles in the first 100 days. The optimism expressed about turning round PIA has never turned into anything but a cloudy dream in the past, and there is nothing to suggest that the future for PIA is any brighter now than it was a week ago. Similarly the Pakistan Steel Mills, a Soviet-era dinosaur that gobbles money willy-nilly.

To be scrupulously fair to Mr Umar he has a thankless task ahead. There is a current account deficit that runs at an unsustainable $2 billion a year and has done for the last five years. Observers and analysts are all of a similar mind that the country is facing a financial crisis like no other in its history. Hard decisions — and hard times — are ahead for the newcomers, and the electorate is going to want to see a return on their investment.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2018.

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