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PTI needs to introspect about its own motives

PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) may be ready for the elections but the real question is whether the party is ready for governance. The question is: Does it have the capacity and right people to run government in days when the economy desperately needs structural reforms that include unpopular decision-making and innovation? PTI may have public support, but it must put its house in order. There are not many ‘cheetas’ in the core team. Most of them perform lip service to the social media. The majority is just relying on Khan’s popularity. The need is to learn from their mistakes and shortcomings which were exposed while the party was in power.

When PTI came to power in 2018, it was the party of hope. IK’s maiden speech as a PM touched the heart chords of many. His words resonated with reformists and progressives. However, the government actions in 3.5 years disappointed many. On the economic front, the performance in the energy sector, public sector entities reforms and in the planning commission was subpar. Shipping and ports report card is terrible. The performance of the economic team was mixed– the slackness of Q-Block (ministry of finance office) was somehow compensated by better performance and innovation at SBP (State Bank of Pakistan). The star performers were technocrats such as Reza Baqir, Sania Nishtar and Faisal Sultan.

The right time to do reforms is in the early days of the government. The first 6-12 months are critical. Any unpopular reform must be initiated in this period. Unfortunately, the PTI team wasted that crucial time. Having said that, it was a weak coalition government where smaller parties continued to exert undue pressure on the party leadership. Then was a rift between the party factions and that had done its damage.

Another critical element was the bureaucracy which was not on the side of the PTI. Pakistan’s bureaucracy is Punjab-dominated and Sharifs being in power for majority of time in Punjab between 1990-2018 have allegiance of many civil servants. PTI could not win the trust of ‘babus’. And matters had become worse by misguided obsession with accountability of political opponents and their accomplices (including DMG officers) a top priority, as bureaucracy had virtually stopped taking key decisions.

Then the mainstream media was not in support of PTI. Again here, Nawaz and company had cracked the independent media model during 2008-18. The governments’ ads were skewed towards specific anchors’ shows in 7-11pm slots. There was said to be a practice of issuing public-sector ads to dummy papers as well. PTI rolled these back, and that had resulted in layoffs and pay-cuts for media persons. That brought out personal animosity of a few in the media against IK and PTI, and party’s subpar performance made the matters worse.

There were challenges for PTI; but there were opportunities as well. The team was not prepared. There was no plan. And they did not learn much while doing it. There were expectations that the government would do the much-needed energy reforms. However, the first energy minister was very weak, and he did not have comprehension of the gravity of the situation. His SAPM was excellent, but he was seen as a person of conflict of interest. First two years were missed, and it was an illusion to do reforms in the third year.

The planning ministry remained clueless for most of time. The minister was busy doing politics and running NCOC (National Command and Operation Center). The position of chief statistician remained vacant for most time, and the much-needed economic census got delayed and is still incomplete.

The finance ministry wasted first few quarters in contemplation of going to the IMF (International Monetary Fund) or not. Finally, the team changed and ministry was assumed by an old guard. His job was to fulfill the IMF conditions. He didn’t exhibit energy and lacked innovation and indigeneity. Many matters of finance were outsourced to the SBP where a younger leader was instrumental. Anyhow, the appointment of DG Debt in the Q Block was good and he came up with some new products and plans.

Then the PM replaced the finance minister (by another old guard) just before the presentation of the fourth-year budget. The thinking was conventional to have a spurt of growth momentum by presenting a ‘loot sale’ budget and go the elections earlier (by Dec 22). The new finance minister’s policies did work to gain a growth momentum, but at the cost of macro stability. He went against the IMF; and within six months he had to revert to the IMF path. Then came VONC (vote of no-confidence) and events related to it, which resulted in a complete economic chaos the country is facing today.

Anyhow, PTI focused on increasing exports and to become part of the global (and regional) manufacturing value chain. The party wanted to earn foreign exchange by enhancing exports, substituting imports, attracting expat savings, and spurring tourism. For all of these, development of ports – shipping and airport infrastructure— is critical. However, that is one area where PTI performance was much worse. And had that been improved, the people of Karachi could have been contented with PTI’s performance. The party leadership in Karachi needs serious introspection and change in faces.

The good thing about the PTI government was that many appointments on PSEs’ (public sector enterprises’) boards, chief executives, and top slots in regulating agencies were on merit. There was no element of nepotism in it. A due process was followed – though at times it was painstakingly slow. This is unlike Dar who has to have his confidants in the key position be it SBP, SECP (Securities Exchange Commission of Pakistan) or any other organization.

Then the Covid was very well managed and it was well acknowledged by the world. Credit goes to NCOC and team. Then Ehsaas programme was super. It was much more than rebranding of BISP (Benazir Income Support Programme). The need is to take the structure beyond to move towards targeted subsidies using Ehsaas data.

There were patches of good work; but the cohesion was missing. For instance, in response to cushion the government got from the IMF in Covid days, the policy response was mix. At one end SBP was promoting industrialization through TERF scheme; concurrently, a generous amnesty was offered to the real estate boys.

IK’s dream was to make 5 million houses for affordable segment; however, because of the real estate amnesty, the housing prices became dearer for the middle class. The party’s skewed focus towards real estate is incorrect. Economic and financial resources are scarce, it’s the policy framework that can channel them to the productive sectors. Real estate is not the one. This thinking needs to change.

PTI needs to introspect. People demand change in governance structure. Ministers should have energy and zest to do reforms. The need to have a good mix of younger people. The old guards in the economic team need to retire with a vote of thanks. The party needs a good finance minister – perhaps, KP finance minister could be a good choice in center.

The party’s core focus should be reform; not accountability (especially selective accountability). The need to work on making right blend of team to chart down a plan of how to implement reforms. The exercise of presenting white papers on a day’s notice is a pot boiler. It’s time to move on or gel in the colours of status quo political parties.

Ali Khizar, "PTI needs to introspect about its own motives," Business recorder. 2023-01-09.
Keywords: Economics , Structural reforms , Public support , Critical element , Economic change , Ehsaas programme , Pakistan , PTI , IMF

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