Imran Khan has always insisted on the ‘ease of doing business’ being the key to economic prosperity in the country. In the driving seat now, he must have come to know that the ease that businessmen look for is not so easy to afford — and not so easy to avoid either. Imran Khan, the Prime Minister, paid a visit to Karachi on Wednesday and spent hours with the representatives of businessmen and traders who were up in arms against the ‘IMF budget’. Against the expectations of the business community though, the interaction turned out to be more of a persuasive session than an occasion to address the community’s grievances regarding the ‘harsh’ and ‘unacceptable’ measures adopted in the federal budget 2019-20.
The PM made it loud and clear to the business fraternity that the economy of the country could “no more be run under the obsolete system”, and that businessmen and traders must support him over his government’s “three-pronged strategy to overcome the economic crisis” that included measures to increase revenue; adopting austerity to reduce government expenses; and going ahead with the accountability process to bring back the looted money to the country. The news reports covering the PM’s meeting with the many visiting business delegations suggest that he utilised much of the opportunity to justify his harsh political strategy to deal with the opposition — something that can be perceived to have also struck fear in the hearts of his audience there.
Prominent among the dozens of demands of the business community are: withdrawal of the 17% sales tax imposed on traders; doing away with the condition of acquiring CNIC copy from buyers; undoing the increase in power and gas tariffs; bringing down key interest rate to make banking credit affordable to traders; and reversing the exchange rate regime from a free float to a fixed one. The PM made no efforts to hide the rigidity in his stance about the various measures adopted in the budget and conveyed it to the business community very clearly that there would be no stepping back. Whether or not the merchants stand convinced is not yet known, though.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2019.