WEB DESK: While addressing the two-day Pakistan Investment Conference Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stated that his administration’s programme was built around four ‘Es’ – (i) elimination of extremism and terrorism; (ii) economic development; (iii) ensuring affordable supply of energy; and (iv) education and health access for all.
The proclivity to refer to one letter of the alphabet to itemise the objectives of the administration has been repeatedly used by our heads of government in their speeches, no doubt based on the perceptions of their speech writers that this is an effective way to drive the basic tenets of their manifestos home to the public during their tenure. However, repeated failure to achieve the objectives has diminished the success of such an approach.
It may be recalled that Yousuf Raza Gilani referred to three Ds yet development (Sharif’s economic development) was a common item in the speeches of our two prime ministers. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has repeatedly expressed his full confidence in the policies of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar at various fora – and the investment conference was no exception. The administration has supported its claims by citing selected news reports published in the international media which are then on-sent as press releases to the Pakistani media by the Pervez Rashid-led Press Information Department (PID).
Not surprisingly PID did not on-send the most recent Bloomberg report which has reiterated the stance of independent local economists. The report states that “Pakistan’s record foreign exchange reserves are masking economic weaknesses that risk pushing the nation toward more aid from the International Monetary Fund…At least half of the country’s $20 billion stockpile comprises of debt and grants, almost all of which have flowed in since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office in 2013.
That money could leave quickly as Pakistan begins repaying the IMF in 2016 or if oil prices surge, leading to another balance of payments crisis.” A dire prognosis indeed and one would hope that it focuses the attention of the Prime Minister on the policies currently being pursued by the Finance Ministry.
Education as a means to reduce the outlay on health costs, generate a more skilled labour force and make the public more resistant to recruitment by fundamentalists has long been widely acknowledged through various studies. Considering that Pakistan is one of two remaining countries in the world where polio is still categorised as an endemic viral infection, with 38 documented cases of the virus till October 2015, and where polio teams are assassinated due to lack of adequate security this Es objective remains largely unmet.
In addition, education has been devolved to the provinces and the PML-N rules only in Punjab with a major input in Balochistan or in other words education as well as health in Sindh is the responsibility of the PPP and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa of PTI.
Ensuring continuous and affordable supply of energy is also an objective that has yet to be met two and half years after the PML-N took over power and the necessary reforms in the sector remain unimplemented with a 600 plus billion rupee circular debt at present, high transmission and distribution losses and relying on upping the electricity tariff to meet sectoral inefficiencies. The PML-N government though has initiated some projects – some that were identified by previous governments including Diamer-Bhasha requiring massive external assistance not yet firmed up and some projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are expected to be completed on time.
During his speech, the Prime Minister mentioned the two US-approved projects namely CASA 1000 and TAPI but did not mention Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and extended support to the controversial import of LNG project however he, like his Minister for Petroleum, did not take the nation into confidence about the deal being negotiated with Qatargas; nor did he mention that he would call a Council of Common Interest meeting to appease concerns of other provinces particularly Sindh with respect to the deal. The end of load-shedding may be in sight for the PML-N leadership; however, it is not yet visible at the grass root level.
The Prime Minister also noted that the expenses of the PM House have been slashed by 45 percent though his recent four-day sojourn in the UK on a private visit (to and from the US) cost the exchequer parking fees as well as hotel stay for his delegation.
It is indeed unfortunate that the recent success of the PML-N in securing the largest number of seats in the local bodies elections in Punjab (with independents a close second) were cited by the Prime Minister as proof that the public supports his administration’s economic policies.
Such an approach must spread concern that the government is not going to change its focus implying thereby that the scenario outlined by Bloomberg and supported by the local economists is looming on the country’s economic horizon.