Dawn Editorial 18 September 2020

Economic prospects

THE Asian Development Bank says Pakistan’s economy is moving out of the coronavirus-induced sluggishness and beginning to crawl forward. A new report released by the Manila-based bank on Tuesday forecast a modest but broad-based recovery, projecting the economy’s expansion by 2pc in the present fiscal year. This is in line with the government’s GDP target of 2.1pc and a significant improvement over the negative growth of 0.4pc last year. Indeed, short-term economic trends show that the economy is returning to the path of recovery. Yet the ADB forecast in the Asian Development Outlook Update report should not be taken as gospel because it assumes that the impact of the Covid-19 health crisis will subside by end-December this year and the implementation of structural reform under the IMF Extended Fund Facility to address macroeconomic imbalances will resume.
This means that while so far the trends show that the economy is getting back on its feet, in spite of earlier fears of further contraction, the future remains uncertain. Pakistan’s success in controlling the virus and reopening its economy has been tempered with fears over a possible escalation in infection rates, even if business activity is picking up momentum. Still, the ADB projections about growth, a stable balance-of-payments situation in spite of a bigger current account gap of 2.4pc owing to an expected fall in remittances compared with 1.1pc last year, recovery in the industrial and agriculture sectors, and domestic demand growth, provide us with a reason for cautious optimism though it is too early for celebrations.
Improved GDP growth prospects aside, the report has also pointed out that Pakistan’s economic expansion will remain significantly lower than that of other economies in the South Asian region. The economy of the Maldives, which was the most affected by the virus in the region, is likely to grow by 10.5pc. India, the second worst-affected country economically, is forecast to make a comeback with an 8pc GDP growth rate. Similarly, Bangladesh’s economy is expected to expand by 6.8pc and Sri Lanka’s by 4.1pc. The only countries to grow at a slower pace than Pakistan are Bhutan, Afghanistan and Nepal. The comparison is important because it underscores the structural issues plaguing the economy — the weaknesses that we have been long aware of but done little to tackle — which take us back to the IMF for a financial bailout every few years. Pakistan is not the only country to have experienced ‘boom-and-bust’ cycles. But it is certainly among those economies that have ignored deep-rooted structural issues for too long at the peril of the well-being of the citizenry. The Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria and Afghanistan are the only countries that occupy a lower place than Pakistan among 153 nations on the Global Wellness Index. That says a lot about how our economy is faring.



Parliament shock

THIS week’s tumultuous joint sitting of parliament was eerily reminiscent of last year’s Senate session, where backdoor wheeling and dealing had resulted in the shock defeat of the no-confidence vote brought by the opposition against chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. On Wednesday, the ‘Sanjrani model’ wizardry was once again on full display during the joint sitting of parliament that President Alvi had summoned to get FATF-related bills passed. Even though the bills had earlier been rejected in the opposition-dominated Senate, the government managed to have three key FATF bills passed, along with five others. Despite having the numbers, the opposition yet again failed to block the bills despite vociferous criticism against the proposed amendments, which they allege grant sweeping powers of surveillance to the government. The PML-N’s Shahid Khaqan Abbasi later said that “no businessmen will now be safe from NAB”; yet, over 30 legislators from the opposition ranks were mysteriously missing from the session, as against 16 absentees from the government’s side. As a result, the first bill was passed with the majority of 10 votes. The number of votes cast by the government and its allies were at 200, while opposition members were said to be 190.
That the opposition with their numbers was defeated on such a significant day is shocking. If, as the opposition have said, the FATF bills are so damaging, why did such a significant number of parliamentarians skip proceedings on such an important day? Here, the confidence and body language of government legislators’, especially of the prime minister, offer some clues. The way the joint session was called, it appears that the government circles had been assured that they would have the numbers to pass these bills at the time of voting. The prime minister’s speech in the Assembly was akin to a victory speech delivered with the bullishness of one who knows they have secured the prize. This should be a moment of reckoning for the opposition: if their own members are working against them, why would the government take them seriously? But not only should the opposition get its house in order, the government, too, should have accepted some of the proposed amendments instead of relishing the apparent help it had in keeping so many opposition legislators away from the session. The entire episode is an affront to the sanctity of parliament. There should be no space for such manoeuvring in a healthy democracy.



Cricket grievances

CONTROVERSIES are not new to Pakistan cricket and the past 68 years have witnessed as much action off-field as on-field. The latest storm to hit the game is the abolishment of departmental cricket. The Pakistan Cricket Board, under its 2019 constitution, has revamped the domestic cricket structure which favours regional and provincial teams over departmental ones.
The deafening noise over the PCB’s abrupt decision prompted head coach Misbah-ul-Haq, Test skipper Azhar Ali and senior player Mohammad Hafeez to call on Prime Minster Imran Khan on Wednesday, to request him to review the decision which has rendered hundreds of cricketers jobless. However, the meeting proved fruitless, with Mr Khan telling his visitors to focus on their job and not interfere in policy matters. The meeting that took place without the PCB’s knowledge has left cricket’s top brass fuming.
In hindsight, the trio had approached Mr Khan with good intentions. However, it was a hasty move and one that violated the PCB’s disciplinary rules, earning them the authorities’ ire. Had they done their homework properly and consulted PCB chairman Ehsan Mani and CEO Wasim Khan prior to visiting Mr Khan, Misbah, Hafeez and Azhar would have had a good idea of what to expect.
It is no secret that the decision to abolish the departments was the brainchild of the prime minister himself. He has supported the regional format since his playing days. Being the patron of the board, Mr Khan has ensured its implementation through the PCB. It remains to be seen whether or not the new domestic set-up works for Pakistan cricket.
Nevertheless, a quick glance at sports in the country, including cricket, hockey, squash, athletics etc, is enough to show how pivotal departments have been in producing a majority of the country’s legendary stars such as Hanif Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood, Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Aisam-ul-Haq and indeed Mr Khan himself. In a nutshell, abolishing a tried and trusted system may not prove to be such a wise step.


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