Dawn Editorial 3rd September 2023

Sports and government

CLEARLY, sports and politics are joined at the hip. This means that governments have a large say in the running of the game. The latest example is the Pakistan Hockey Federation, whose top officials the government wants to change through fresh elections. However, the incumbents reject such interference in the game’s governing body, saying the latter is autonomous, and affiliated with the International Hockey Federation and the Pakistan Olympic Association. PHF president Khalid Sajjad Khokhar got himself re-elected last year, holding elections on his own despite the Pakistan Sports Board’s formation of an election committee. The PSB suspended all PHF officials last month in order to conduct fresh polls. The wheels are in motion for a no-confidence vote against PHF officials, including Mr Khokhar and secretary Haider Hussain, to be passed in a meeting next week. The PHF is the latest sports federation to be at odds with the government, the turmoil coming at a time when the national team is due to take part in crucial events.

Like the PHF, the FIFA-appointed Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee has also seen its relations sour with the government. The Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination, which oversees sports matters, has slammed the committee for delay in holding elections. The committee has also suffered delays in the issuance of the no-objection certificate for two tours of the national team. FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation are due to meet officials from the government and the normalisation committee soon to decide the way forward for elections — highlighting that the world’s governing body has understood that working with the government is necessary for resolving issues. Unfortunately, the state’s role in sports remains undefined post the 18th Amendment, when sports was devolved to the provinces. It is high time Pakistan came up with a proper policy and legislation to govern sports. Not only would this ease funding pressures, it would also ensure government oversight over how they are being run.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2023

Dar’s delusion

ISHAQ Dar lives in a world completely divorced from reality, a world where he can be a self-styled ‘saviour’. During a media talk in London, the former finance minister once again boasted of having rescued Pakistan from the verge of defaulting on its foreign debt payments.

As always, he conveniently skipped the part where he botched the previous IMF loan programme that his predecessor and party colleague had helped revive after significant fiscal adjustments and months of tough talks with the lender. Nor did he mention his own role in bringing the country to the brink of the default he now claims to have averted.

Indeed, Pakistan’s economy was not faring very well when PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif removed Miftah Ismail unceremoniously from the Q Block and dispatched Mr Dar to Islamabad to replace him. Yet, investor confidence had clearly started to improve on the revival of the loan deal with the IMF, and Pakistan was expecting to successfully complete the next programme review that would have paved the way for more official capital inflows and ameliorated its balance-of-payments position.

However, Mr Dar’s advent totally changed the scene, reversing whatever little progress had been made since the revival of the IMF loan facility. His preoccupation with manipulating the exchange rate for a stronger rupee, as well as controlling interest rates, sabotaged Pakistan’s relationship with the IMF.

No matter what he did later — for instance, imposing huge additional taxes on already taxed persons through a supplementary finance bill and devaluating the currency — he was unable to convince the IMF to complete the pending review and release the money.

The deepening economic crisis, characterised by entrenched inflation, steep rupee depreciation and rising costs of power and fuel that we have on our hands today is largely because of his obsession with a strong rupee and low interest rates, as well as his failure to cut the huge fiscal deficit by taxing the undertaxed and untaxed sectors.

He says his party has paid a heavy political price to avert a sovereign default. What about the unimaginable price the majority of Pakistanis are forced to pay every day, and will continue to pay for the next several years because of his flawed policies and gimmickry? No wonder many don’t want him to return, at least not to Q Block.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2023

More action, please

THE caretaker prime minister has faced a major challenge managing public expectations over the past week or so. When protests over the significant increase in electricity tariffs had first broken out, Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar moved quickly to assuage the public’s concerns, promising the people he would secure some manner of relief. It appears he hadn’t done his homework on the state of the country’s finances. Having received a reality check from his cabinet and the IMF, he is now telling the people that they “have to pay the bills”. But many of those bills had already been burnt. Many are also likely to have become overdue, incurring additional penalties as citizens waited for the PM to deliver. It is a bad look for Mr Kakar, who has inadvertently ended up causing more trouble rather than solving anything. Perhaps the episode should serve as a lesson on how even the best of intentions can end up exacerbating public harm.

It may not be within Mr Kakar’s means to deliver any instant ‘relief’, but he is still responsible for steering the country during these fraught times. Instead, as the man tasked with ‘taking care’ of Pakistan till elected representatives are sworn in, he seems a little detached from ground realities. On Friday, Mr Kakar told a delegation of journalists and TV anchors that he sees the breakout of public protests against rampant inflation as a manoeuvre orchestrated by political parties. “I realise their position. If I were to contest the [upcoming] election, I would have done the same,” he is reported to have said. If nothing else, the statement speaks volumes about the perspective with which the PM is assessing the situation. But the desperate citizenry is no opportunity for politicians to squeeze for electoral gain; it is a grave threat to the country’s stability.

Mr Kakar need only read the Ministry of Finance’s Fiscal Risk Statement 2023-24 to understand how big a risk inflation poses to the country’s external stability. The report highlights that uncertainty surrounding energy prices is “the main upside risk” to Pakistan’s inflation outlook. In simpler terms, unless the dollar somehow stops appreciating and global fuel prices suddenly decline, the people in charge in Islamabad need to work very hard to keep the Pakistani economy from imploding. With the cost of living having already risen to an unbearable level for most citizens, the government can no longer consider their daily challenges ‘non-issues’ in its larger game plan. Sustained adversity in economic conditions may trigger wider social unrest, which in turn will make economic management an even more difficult task than it already is. Before the country enters that vicious cycle, the decision-makers should act. This is no longer a political problem but an existential one.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2023

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