Disadvantage of incumbency

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  • One year of the PTI

Sitting governments all over the world suffer from what is called disadvantage of incumbency. Their opponents, commentators, analysts and even media, relish the prospect of having a dig at the policies pursued by them. The tendency often descends into the realm of cynicism. Even the good deeds are not taken notice of. It is opposition for the sake of opposition. This phenomenon is more pronounced in countries like Pakistan.

The flak directed at the PTI government during the year and the conclusions drawn at the end of its one year’s governance are typical of this culture of cynicism. In the economic domain the opponents and critics of the government policies have mainly focused on the increase in debt, frequent enhancement in the prices of utilities like gas, oil and electricity, and withdrawal of certain subsidies, stressing the point that these steps had made the lives of the people miserable. People also tend to oppose the measures taken for broadening the tax base like documenting the economy, operationalizing the Benami Act and the initiative requiring the people to register their businesses with the FBR. People also dealt harshly with the fiscal and monetary initiatives. The government was also accused of a sell-out to the IMF. Some have even gone to the extent of dubbing the one year under PTI as a year of reversals.

It is hard to challenge the conceptual thrust of these programmes. Their successful implementation over the next four years will surely prove to be an X-factor in achieving the desired goals. The PTI government deserves to be given an uninterrupted stint in power to prove the efficacy of the strategies adopted by it to lift the economy and promoting welfare of the masses

I am afraid it is the most lopsided view premised only on short-term impact of those policies on certain sections of society, totally ignorant of the long-term benefits that are likely to accrue because of those steps, with regard to putting the economy on the path of sustained economic growth and enabling the government to focus more on relief measures and lessening the hardship of the vulnerable sections of the society.

It is indeed politically difficult for an elected government to take harsh and realistic decisions, such as those taken by the PTI government. But one should not ignore the fact that the current state of the economy, to a great extent, owes itself to the policies pursued by the previous governments, which invariably were subservient to political expediencies rather than dictated by the ground realities. It is encouraging to note that the PTI government has taken the right correction course in the larger and long-term interest of the country. The economy badly needed to be fixed.

The policies adopted by the government will show their prowess and healthy impact in due course of time owing to the time-lag required for full implementation of those initiatives, but the reality is that the direction set by the PTI government during one year of its governance has already started showing visible results. Prime Minister Imran Khan in a tweet on last Wednesday said “Government’s consistent focus on reducing our external imbalances by reducing imports and increasing exports and remittances are bearing fruit. Current account deficit reduced by more than $6 billion last year and July this year deficit is 73 percent, or $1 billion, lower than July 2018—a great achievement” His claim is corroborated by verifiable reports of the concerned quarters.

It is believed that the results achieved so far in this regard partly owe it to the implementation of the tough measures suggested by the IMF for providing the bail-out package of $6 billion. The major contraction in the deficits occurred as a result of a 26 percent drop in imports and 11 percent enhancement in exports. The IMF programme required and bound the government to undertake structural reforms, including increase in key interest rates, depreciation of rupee, upward revision in power and gas tariffs and an ambitious tax collection target of Rs.5.55 trillion Apart from the foregoing measures, increase in exports was also the consequence of the incentives given to the exporter by the government like provision of subsidized electricity and gas, and tax rebate on export growth of up to 6 percent. Increase in remittances also played a part in decreasing the deficits.

True, implementation of the measures suggested by IMF and adopted by the government in the short run have pushed inflation into double figures and slowed down the economy to some extent, but they only represent ephemeral distortions which will be dwarfed when the full impact of the initiated policies comes into play and the economy is put in the full revival mode. The critics are also underestimating the likely impact of the Naya Pakistan Housing project which is the flagship programme of the present government. It is a humongous project of socio-economic development with the prospect of generating thousands of jobs besides emergence of the downstream industries. The impact will surely become evident on the completion of this undertaking. Plantation of 10 billion trees, besides taking care of the environmental issues and the impact of climate change, also has economic dimensions and was a badly needed step.

While the government has given major attention to structural reforms in the economy and projects of socio-economic development, it has not lost sight of helping the poorer sections of the society and mitigating the sufferings of the indigent. Ehsas programme is an imaginative step for social safety and poverty alleviation, while construction of shelter homes, issuance of 80 million health cards and programmes like Kamyab Jawan within the ambit of National Youth Development Framework in collaboration with UNDP are measures which will have a far-reaching impact on the future socio-development of the country. It is hard to challenge the conceptual thrust of these programmes. Their successful implementation over the next four years will surely prove to be an X-factor in achieving the desired goals. The PTI government deserves to be given an uninterrupted stint in power to prove the efficacy of the strategies adopted by it to lift the economy and promoting welfare of the masses.