Domestic debt: historical rise
A recent critique by former SBP chief Shahid Kardar and former federal minister Hafeez Pasha should be raising eyebrows. The two economic experts, as quoted in a recent newspaper article, say the domestic debt to GDP ratio has gone up six points to 53.8% in just one year. They also mention that until March 2019, most historical increases in domestic debt were largely proportionate to the budget deficit, but after that, there has been a sharp escalation in outstanding domestic debt of Rs2.6 trillion in just three months from April to June 2019.
Overall, domestic debt has increased to Rs20.7 trillion, or 26.3% more than the previous fiscal year. Long-term debt more than doubled within a year, going from Rs7.5 trillion to Rs15.2 trillion by the end of June 2019. Yet, one year into its tenure, the PTI government continues to blame its predecessors for all that ails the economy. According to a most recent claim by Minister for Economic Affairs Hammad Azhar, the government added Rs1.2 trillion to the public debt in the last fiscal year in a bid to build a ‘cash buffer’ for timely debt repayment in the future. This, he insists, was necessary because the IMF had placed a ban on fresh borrowing from the central bank. The government borrowed the money through Market Treasury Bills and placed the amount with the central bank for future payments.
The Rs1.2 billion figure is, however, just a fraction of the Rs7.6 billion in public debt the PTI government added in its first year. The amount is equal to nearly 16% of the public debt that the government added in the last fiscal year. The minister also says that Rs3 trillion from the increase – i.e. 40% – was the devaluation effect on the old debt stock inherited by his party. He claims that the cash buffer will be needed for bond repayments beginning soon, and will also help the government shift its policy from debt rollover to debt repayment. The minister insists that the interest rate hikes and currency depreciation were the only solutions to the current account deficit.
All this, and we have still not even begun to get out of the rough economic waters yet.
Prisons are a hard space – a number of criminals, with varying behaviour, are confined in small quarters. In Pakistan, prisons are generally overcrowded. Owing to these reasons, the Federal Ombudsperson had presented a set of recommendations to ensure that prisoners come out of jails in somewhat better shape from when they had gone inside in terms of health and education, at least. It is heartening to note that only months after these recommendations had been presented on the directives of the top court, most of the provinces have started implementing them in varying degrees.
In Punjab, for example, the government has started screening prisoners and has found that at least in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail there are no HIV-positive prisoners, but there are more than 300 Hepatitis prisoners there. Elsewhere in Punjab, the government is working on setting up detoxification centres within jails for those addicted to drugs. Moreover, psychologists are being hired at jails across the province to work on the mental health of prisoners. In Sindh, the government is working on setting up separate barracks for prisoners who are either infected with contagious diseases or are addicted to drugs to keep them away from the general prison population and prevent further spread of infections. Both Sindh and Balochistan have started treatment programmes for prisoners as well. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is working out the best possible ways to implement the ombudsperson’s recommendations. Efforts have also been made to increase access to educational material.
Issues in Pakistan’s jails extend far beyond drug addiction and infections. Overcrowding and cleanliness are some of the biggest issues which contribute to most if not all the issues in our prisons. Some of these can be solved without massive infrastructure investments. A will in a prison goes a long way to reforms. In this regard, those mentioned above are all very encouraging measures that can really help the authorities turn our jails into true reform institutions rather than mere punitive centres.
Minority MPA from ex-Fata