Promises versus Performance

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by Mehrooj Rai 26 September 2019

Imran Khan came to power on grandiose promises of establishing the rule of law, creating job opportunities, reforming police and civil services, ensuring quality education and healthcare, strengthening institutions, providing good governance  and putting the country on track for progress and prosperity.

However, the one-year rule of the PTI has unquestionably disappointed the nation as Pakistan has sunk further financially, economically, strategically and politically. The government’s performance has been plagued by failures in governance, administration, foreign-policy, education and health sectors and economic domains.

The economy has been stuck in reverse gear since the PTI assumed power. The economy has gone in shambles and is suffering from uncertainty and volatility. The dollar is soaring. Exports are declining. Imports are falling. During the PTI’s one year in office, the prices of general and non-food items, medicines, gas, electricity, and petroleum have dramatically increased. The tax situation has deteriorated and the foreign exchange reserves position has worsened.

Imran Khan categorically said that he would prefer death to going to the I.M.F. But within months the government fired its own financial minister, touted as “the brain of PTI,” and handed over the economic management and the State Bank to the IMF’s appointees and agreed to their anti-poor policies.

PTI borrowed a whopping $16 billion in foreign loans in just one year-the highest ever external borrowing in any fiscal year since 1947. Pakistan’s debt and liabilities surged from 29.88 trillion rupees to 40 trillion rupees in the first fiscal year of the PTI regime.

The government has failed miserably in bringing respite to the people. The people’s whimpers and wails caused by galloping inflation, acute poverty and rising joblessness are falling on deaf ears of the government.

Business confidence is low and business activities are stagnant. Economic policies of the government have pushed tens of thousands below the poverty line. Where PTI is giving amnesty to the rich it is imposing taxes on the poor.

The PTI government unabashedly stepped back from their words and the promises they made of ensuring supremacy of the parliament and depoliticisation of bureaucracy and police, maintaining law and order, promoting meritocracy, bringing transparency and justice, implementing austerity measures and making ‘Riyasat-e-Madina’ where everyone would be equal.

Imran Khan and his party are openly doing everything that they once claimed they were fighting against. In fact, PM Imran Khan called U-turn the hallmark of great leadership and recently even said that he became PM by taking U-turn.

Imran Khan promised to keep the smallest possible cabinet and would appoint up to 20 ministers. On the contrary, the PTI government is crowded with ministers, advisors, special assistants, spokespersons and task force members.

The government claimed to replace the prime minister house with a university and convert Chief Ministers’ and Governor Houses into educational institutes. But they went back on their words.

Appointments of Usman Buzdar as the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mahmood Khan as the Chief Minister of KPK, Azam Swati as Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs and Sheikh Rasheed as the Railway Minister and other key positions given Firdos Ashiq Awan, Khusro Bakhtiar, Zulfi Bukhari, and Fehmida Mirza raised big question mark and contravened with Imran Khan’s incessant claims of making decisions based on merit and competence.

Khan promised the freedom of expression but electronic and print media are under immense pressure under his rule. Free speech is being suppressed, TV channels are pulled off-air and media freedom is being curtailed.

Bearing in mind the PTI’s promises of creating 10 million jobs and building five million houses, it is unsettling to see how policies of the government have culminated in unemployment, homelessness and hopelessness. In just one year, nearly 1.5 million people have become unemployed and it is feared that about three million people will become unemployed in the first two years of the PTI rule.

Foreign investment is declining. The inflation is now in double digits, recorded at 11.63% in August. This has hit the lowest strata the hardest. Khan criticized the previous government for increasing the gas and electricity prices but now under his government people are suffering because of the sky-rocketing prices of basic commodities and rise in utility bills.

Foreign policy setback in Kashmir, further politicization of bureaucracy and police, the lowest tax-to-GDP ratio in five years and institutional flaws show the misplaced governance of the PTI and how it has failed to keep its every vowed standard.

Although the constitution has created National Economic Council to set the economic direction of the country, a new body National Development Council was set up and Army Chief was appointed as a member. This step clearly undermined the de jure system.

Imran Khan had opposed extension given to army chief in the past. He had said that such extensions weakened the institution of the army and were against the rule of law. Yet, PM Imran Khan recently granted an extension in the tenure of the army chief for another three years.

The government’s immature attitude within the parliament is known to everyone. In his first address, Imran Khan promised to answer the questions of parliamentarians every week but he has hardly even been to parliamentary sessions. Since the government’s inception, they have not made any serious endeavor to reform the financial institutes nor showed any intention towards legislation.

The PTI government is launching a major crackdown on the opposition, journalists and civil society, targeting political rivals, carrying out a political witch-hunt and selective accountability, making attempts to form forward blocs and appreciating floor-crossing in the name “conscience.”

The government cannot spin inflation with blame-game, media censorship and emotional appeals. Because even if the entire opposition is jailed and the media is all praise for the government, economic slowdown and depreciation of the rupee will not stop like this.

These are extremely difficult times as the country is facing financial and political morass and internal and external security challenges. The economy cannot function properly if political instability and economic uncertainty keeps worsening. Considering the enfeebled economy and polity of the country, the government needs to shake off its haughtiness and rashness and act in a mature and rational way.