The PNL-N government has already been in power for two months and as they often say in clichéd political jargon, the honeymoon period is over. The government had promised at the time of presenting the budget that it would be willing to take the tough decisions needed to bring the economy back on track.
The initial optimism that had accompanied the coming in of the PML-N government is still there, but people are fickle. Now they want to see results, even if their expectations are unreasonable and unrealistic.
They want to see results on the ground, not just read impressive numbers.
Resolving the power crisis
The government has not given an exact time-frame for the resolution of the power crisis but it has repeatedly said that it is working on a three-pronged strategy. The first is to eliminate the circular debt. The second is to gradually increase power generation in a two-phased approach, developing medium and long-term power generation. The third is to gradually increase power rates to eliminate subsidies for all consumers except those who consume less than 200 units per month which is also being done.
So far the government seems to be sticking to the game-plan and there is a visible indication that power generation projects in the areas of coal, hydel and nuclear are being fast-tracked and international funding is being solicited at all levels.
However, while the government says that the resolution of the circular debt has added 30% to power generation, the issues of theft and leakages in the distribution system still need to be resolved before the effects will trickle down to the masses.
Rescuing bleeding SOEs
The other issue that the government really needs to get a move on is the revival or maybe even privatisation of sick or underperforming state owned enterprises with three giants on the top of the list. Pakistan International Airlines, once the pride of the nation is now an ailing and limping airline. With over 500 pilots it has one of the highest pilot to airplane ratio in the world. It has among the highest ratios of rehiring people on contract and is a fiscal mess. Despite having taken billions upon billions of tax rupees as handouts, the organisation is still unable to run its operations without delays and cancellations. A lot of this is because the Civil Aviation Authority has failed to discharge its responsibilities as a regulator.
Next in line and even more important to the national economy is Pakistan Railways. A smooth-functioning railway is said to be the lifeline for any economy. It is an extremely cheap mode of transport for passengers and especially for freight. But Pakistan Railways has gone pretty much the same way as PIA. Passenger services have declined and freight services are a fraction of what they used to be. The financial affairs are so bad that Railways needs government help at times to buy diesel to keep daily trains running.
Pakistan Steel is another white elephant that is important for Pakistan, a developing country with large infrastructure projects in the pipeline where the demand for steel is expected to rise exponentially. In the absence of enough domestic production, not only will the country continue to sustain Pakistan Steel, using tax-payers money, but steel imports will continue to eat into our forex reserves.
The PML-N government seems to be taking a lot of right steps, including taking tough decisions. But the economy of a country is like a super-tanker. It cannot be reversed instantaneously. However, people don’t see it like that, they want results, and fast. As unreasonable as that sounds, that’s politics!
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2013.
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