THE numbers released by the State Bank regarding the government’s domestic debt stock and servicing at the end of November present us with a mixed picture. That the debt has increased almost 12pc to Rs35.8tr and debt repayments 38pc to Rs921bn from a year ago underscores the expanding gap between the government’s income and expenditure. Not only that, it also underlines the fact that the government is forced to borrow more money every year from domestic and foreign sources to pay its bills, including repayments on old loans, because it has utterly failed in its attempts to execute tax reforms in order to mobilise enough revenues. The hefty growth in public debt means that government expenditure on debt repayments will continue to rise quite substantially with the passage of time. The central bank, for example, reported in its recent monetary policy report compendium that the steep rise in interest payments consumed over 73pc of the total tax collection of the FBR and constituted close to 53.8pc of the total federal expenditure in the first quarter of the present financial year to September. It also means that the fiscal space available for undertaking socioeconomic development in the country is shrinking fast.
The positive side of the picture is that the composition of domestic loans is changing in favour of long-term, permanent debt from short-term, floating debt. This change is indicative of the improvement in the government’s debt management strategy. At the same time, we see a significant drop in unfunded debt or public investments and savings in the national saving schemes owing mainly to decreased interest rates. But the changes in the composition of the borrowings will only help us delay the loan repayments for a while without slowing down the pace of growth in the size of the debt stock. The only sustainable way of controlling debt and creating room for greater development spending lies in mobilising taxes in keeping with the economy’s true potential.
IN an increasingly restrictive environment for the media, the last thing Pemra needs is more powers to tighten the screws on the press. And yet, that is what the PTI government is attempting to do in the guise of concern for the welfare of mediapersons. On Monday, the opposition-dominated upper house rejected a bill moved by PTI Senator Faisal Javed proposing that Pemra be given the power to inquire into complaints against private channels of violating contractual obligations.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman correctly described it as an attempt to gain further control over electronic media by using the “backdoor”. She suggested discussions be held with representative bodies including the Pakistan Broadcasters Association and the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists before enacting such legislation.
It is an undeniable fact that some media houses are violating their contractual obligations towards their employees, especially those lower down the pay scale. For example, payment of salaries can be delayed, sometimes by several months. However, it is scarcely a regulator’s job to delve into human resource management; its role should be limited to the content on electronic media. It is also ironic that the bill assumes the posture of looking out for media employees. The right to freedom of expression has been curtailed on the PTI government’s watch to such an extent that it invites comparisons with martial law times.
Intrepid journalism that speaks truth to power is an invitation to trouble in the form of threats, suspension of ads, etc. Some journalists have even been subjected to short-term abductions. To date, the government has released only a small portion of the advertising dues it owes to media outlets. This, coupled with the overall economic downturn, has resulted in hundreds of journalists losing their jobs as media houses try to cope with shrinking revenues.