Daily Times Editorial 21 November 2019

Mind your language, please


The kind of political atmosphere that has developed since PTI’s rise to prominence, not just to power, is bad for just about everything and everybody for a variety of reasons. One, it does nobody any favours, least of all the government itself, when the primes minister speaks in a manner that he did while inaugurating a CPEC-related motorway project on Monday. Since the moment was about projects and roads, and especially since the Chinese ambassador was reportedly in attendance, one expected to be spared the usual “No NRO” speech that the nation is treated to every time the prime minister makes an outing. Yet not only was there a lot of “No NRO,” he also chewed into the opposition a lot more than usual. And nobody was laughing, except senior government officials eager to please the prime minister perhaps, when Imran Khan mimicked Bilawal Bhutto’s Urdu accent.
Two, such antics hardly harm the opposition, especially when everybody is so used to hearing the same remarks over and over again. If anything, Bilawal has been enjoying a wave of social media sympathy since immediately after Imran’s speech. This ought to have been clear to almost anybody yet, somehow, such facts continue to dodge the prime minister as well as his many special advisors. And three, and perhaps most importantly, such rhetoric no doubt further alienates the opposition, on top of the dozens of arrests and corruption cases of course, and you don’t have to be prime minister to understand just what kind of strain that can put on the process of legislation in Parliament. So ordinary people, whose interests governments are primarily meant to serve through effective legislation, become the biggest losers.
Only very recently, the government had to withdraw as many as 11 presidential ordinances, which it muscled through the House, when the opposition threatened a no-confidence motion against the deputy speaker. How does the government expect this particular, rare example of reconciliation in the national assembly to play out now? Already PTI’s performance is not much to write home about in areas that really matter. Foreign relations stand more or less where PML-N left them, especially the matter getting Uncle Sam to resume the free aid, and the less said about the economy the better. If, somewhat correctly, the finance and foreign ministries are hamstrung because of the rot they inherited, what is the excuse about failure to legislate?
Eventually, surely, the government will realise that taking the opposition along is an essential requirement of representative government. But the longer it takes, the more it will paralyse the whole system. And, as always, the common man will continue to pay the price for a direction-less government trying to find its feet.


Current account update


That the current account is in surplus after four long years is welcome news, of course, but the government must also understand just why it has not quite been received with a sigh of relief by the people. No doubt everybody ought to be happy that the ruling party is really doing something about the bloated deficits, but, then again, there’s only so much happiness they can experience when inflation has got to the point that even prices of essential food items are out of reach of most Pakistanis. Let us not forget that a large majority of the 200 million or so people that live in the country are poor, belonging to the lower-middle and lower income groups. And for them the current economic situation is not something they can bear by simply cutting expenses here and there. For most of them, it is a matter of life and death.
With most people experiencing job losses, or at least lower salaries, since the PTI government took over, and not much chances of finding employment anytime soon, the matter of constantly rising prices – rents, bills, fees, food – is naturally the number one concern. They hoped the SBP governor’s prediction from last quarter, that prices would begin falling soon enough, would prove true. Alas, things seem heading in a rather different direction. That is way indicators and trends mentioned by the PM’s special advisor on finance and SBP governor all the time mean very little to most people. What they do understand, though, is that whatever those in charge said would change things quite simply hasn’t.
And while the rest of us celebrate the progress on the current account front, and quite rightly so, there is that nagging concern that the road back into green has been driven almost only by blocking imports. That in itself is not a bad thing, but tends to run into some trouble when not accompanied by a rise in exports. And our exports haven’t really budged much at all. That is why it is already abundantly clear that all traditional avenues of stimulating exports have failed, particularly debasing the local currency to make end products more attractive to foreign buyers. The problem is incorporating value addition in the export mix, which is a rather long term strategy. Yet it must still start somewhere. Once initiated, it triggers a long cycle of economic linkages, from vocational training, to increased manufacturing, to financing and lastly to more vibrant commerce. Once that process starts, you can take the foot off the imports a little as well; just enough to allow crucial input parts for the large scale manufacturing sector at least.
So let us feel happy about the current account, by all means, but let us also not take our eyes off the real, bigger goal.

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