Can Imran Khan salvage the situation?
IMRAN Khan was indisputably the greatest cricketers to emerge from Pakistan and the world’s second-best all-rounder after Garry Sobers. He took a mediocre side and won the World Cup in 1992. Since his foray in politics in 1996, he waged consistent struggle against corruption, and it is due to his perseverance and vision that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is today the largest national party. Understanding the ground realities, he blended pragmatism with idealism and took electables and independents into party’s fold, which ensured his party’s victory, but in a way he is slightly handicapped in implementing his policies. Nevertheless, he should tread carefully, and watch parliamentarians of his party and ministers so that they do not make blunders that could be exploited by the opposition especially PML-N and the PPP who have significant presence in the assemblies. Therefore, the accountability should be across-the-board including members of PTI.
There is no scandal so far, but allegations of interference by Punjab Chief Minister in police in case of Manika family, and kidnapping of policemen in which Punjab Minister Mehmoodur Rashid’s son was allegedly involved could adversely impact his party’s popularity. It is true that previous governments had made a mess of economy. Last year, imports were around 58 bn and exports only $22 bn; hence trade deficit of $36 bn. After taking into consideration remittances of $20 bn by Pakistani expatriates, current account deficit was $16 bn, which is not sustainable. On fiscal side, the deficit runs into Rs. 1600 bn. In supplementary budget, gas tariff has been increased, but the government should not increase electricity tariff which will result in higher cost of production and rise in general price level. To avoid that, the government should strive to stop electricity theft and reduce line losses.
Pakistan faces economic challenges from fiscal deficit to trade deficit to current account deficit, and challenges of unemployment and poverty alleviation, Pakistan needs massive investment. But Pakistan’s savings rate is 13 per cent of the GDP, which is the lowest ranked in Asia. To achieve 6 per cent growth, investment ratio of savings to GDP should be 18 per cent on the basis of Incremental Capital Output (ICOR) 3:1. But the problem is that inflation hinders the capacity to save, as it erodes the incomes of the people, especially salaried class and fixed income groups; therefore, Pakistan has to depend on IFIs and foreign countries. However, the most serious aspect of our dire economic situation is the growing public debt, which is more than 80 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product; and 40 percent of revenue income is allocated for debt-servicing – payment of instalments and interest.
However, the government should avoid controversies by floating ideas like leasing the Radio Pakistan building to save a couple of billion rupees. Addressing a meeting called by Munir Ahmed Khan of defunct Alliance for Restoration of Democracy, Federal Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Fawad Chaudhry said the building of Radio Pakistan will be given on lease to build Pak Media University. Stating that the PIA was facing an annual loss of Rs 45 billion while PTV News and Radio Pakistan Rs 1.25bn and Rs 0.5bn, respectively. Referring to massive losses he said the government wanted to utilise these institutions’ dead assets. It is worth mentioning that the loss incurred by Radio Pakistan as stated by Information Minister is Rs 0.50 bn only. Therefore, the government should focus on the dead assets of PIA and Steel Mills instead of disturbing the Public Broadcaster.
Radio Pakistan is a source of information and entertainment for millions of Pakistanis, and is not meant to generate profits. Renowned journalist Murtaza Solangi in an interview to a national daily in 2015 had stated: “The current salary bill for 2,900 employees of the organisation is Rs 1.6 billion. The salary bill for its 4,200 pensioners is closer to Rs 1bn. The total advertising income available for the entire radio industry is a little over Rs 1bn which is shared by Radio Pakistan and over 150 private FM stations. Despite all its efforts, its total earnings have never crossed Rs 330 million, which includes the Rs 80m it gets from CRI and VOA.” Since the corporate media neglects cultures and languages and works for profits, public broadcaster (Radio) should be rather strengthened. Radio Pakistan is the only broadcaster that broadcasts in 22 Pakistani languages and also plays important role in promoting culture.
Prime Minister Imran Khan is indeed working hard. He has constituted Task Force on Civil Service Reforms, Task Force on Austerity and Restructuring of the Government, and Task Force for Identification of Impediments and Facilitation of Merger of Erstwhile FATA and PATA with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He has constituted the task force, headed by Barrister Shahzad Akbar, to recommend ways and means of repatriating illegal wealth either stashed in foreign banks or turned into assets around the world. It will comprise representatives of the National Accountability Bureau, Federal Investigation Agency, State Bank of Pakistan and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to ensure coordination between government agencies. Having that said, Imran Khan should ask his Ministers not give irresponsible statements and should focus on fulfilling the promises made by him in the election campaign. Last but not the least, he should provide relief to the common man and not expect more sacrifices from the people.