WEB DESK: Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony of the Gojra-Shorkot section of the M-4 motorway, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his government’s commitment to a ‘national agenda of prosperity’ and hit out at his critics stating that ‘instead of politicking for petty gain’ they should support the government achieve its objectives. He added: “instead of leg pulling and making these projects controversial all should back these projects of national importance.” There is a widespread perception that the list of the Sharif administration’s critics is not only growing but some powerful voices have been added to the list in recent weeks – a reference to the recent ISPR press release after a routine corps commanders’ meeting lamenting poor governance fuelling discussions as to whether the reference was to lack of civilian implementation of the National Action Plan, the deal with MQM prompting its return to the assemblies, or lacklustre actions against past corruption. This has generated a considerable political controversy as to the true nature of the civil-military relationships at the present time with several opposition parties throwing their weight against the army.
Be that as it may, it has become the norm in Pakistan for our heads of government to routinely use ground-breaking ceremonies of mega projects and the distribution of cheques to victims of natural disasters or terrorism, all funded from the taxpayers’ money, for political point scoring against their adversaries. Unfortunately, however, Nawaz Sharif has not proved an exception to this general practice and in recent weeks alone, with the second phase of local bodies’ elections in Punjab on the 19th of this month he unfairly announced an uplift package in areas where Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has a strong base notably Lodhran and Sialkot.
Sadly it has also become the norm for the political force in the federal government to define national agenda of prosperity as its own set of projects and sectoral priorities. This is inexplicable as in any democracy, in infancy or fully mature, each political party has its own socio-economic agenda even if there is a broad agreement as to what policies must be supported. Thus for example the PML-N government has spent a huge amount on Metrobus, a project that was first implemented in Lahore and is believed by PML-N stalwarts to be a major reason for the party’s political success in that province in the general elections 2013, yet the PTI favours investing in clean drinking water, education and health before a Metrobus project – priorities that are difficult to reject in favour of a transport project with a limited reach. Similarly, Nawaz Sharif has favoured road building over and above other sectors, including the power sector in terms of annual development allocations, while economists are urging the government to desist from road building till the power sector projects are completed. Technical experts also point out to the government that it must focus on governance reforms in the power sector – reduce the circular debt, receivables, transmission and distribution losses before focusing on mega generation projects but to no avail.
And what is even more baffling about the Prime Minister’s recent statement was his failure to acknowledge the fact that it is his own administration that has rendered most of the mega projects controversial through lack of transparency by not taking anyone on board. The 46 billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, widely regarded as a game changer for us, is a case in point. Unfortunately, the widening trust deficit accounts for the government’s failure to convince the opposition as well as its allies that it would stand by the commitment it made at an All-Party Conference. The forum available to the government to resolve all differences with the provinces, namely the Council of Common Interests (CCI), has regrettably not been used; in addition, the Sharif administration has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to call a meeting every 90 days, in spite of requests by Sindh for a meeting. The federal ministers refuse to take anyone on board and the ongoing LNG negotiations are a strong case in point with no one understanding why a commercial deal must remain shrouded in mystery.
To conclude, the head of government – be it a democracy or dictatorship – is by definition a politician who favours certain policies above others, policies that are not supported by members of the opposition. To insist that the performance of his select cabinet is exemplary defies imagination as rating agencies, foreign media as well as our multilateral creditors, have begun to regard our reliance on external debt as unsustainable, the power sector issues remain intact though generation is likely to improve, and setting unrealistic budgetary targets with respect to revenue and development outlay year in year out does not bode well for convincing anyone that the PML-N’s national agenda of prosperity is desirable.