The following article has been published in Daily Nation, dated 2nd February 2015
(E-Paper (Print Edition): http://nation.com.pk/E-Paper/lahore/2015-02-02/page-9 )
By: Omer Zaheer Meer
Economic prosperity is defining the place and clout of nations on global stage in the present world order. The issues of economy and terrorism have captured the national attention in Pakistan too. The need of the hour is to strengthen the economy of the country which in turn would translate in to the might for the state, enabling it to better deal with the menace of foreign-sponsored terrorism.
While there is no doubt that Pakistan’s economy has constantly faced serious challenges over the decades yet there is indeed much left to be desired in terms of the management of the existing resources and structural reforms. Whenever the economic woes of Pakistan are discussed, the rulers point out to the limited resources and the dismal state they inherited the economy in. Fair enough, more often than not, the point conceded here. But fact of the matter is what stops them from properly managing the pool of resources at their disposal as well as inducing the much needed reforms to address the structural inefficiencies?
Many recent crises including the power break-down and the petrol crisis were examples of the incompetence of the highest order by the officials and ministers concerned. By not taking action against the culprits baring few government servants, the incumbent government has strengthened the argument of its detractors about its lack of political will and a vision to guide Pakistan’s economy in the right direction.
Let’s begin with a brief dissection of the two recent crises with most impact. First is the petrol crisis which literally bought the life to a halt across Punjab. Students couldn’t for to educational institutions, patients were unable to reach hospitals, work became stagnant and the life froze. This was down to atleast three major issues. Firstly the dues owed to PSO by state institutions were unpaid despite repeated requests rendering PSO unable to bring in more supplies. Secondly the private companies did not keep the minimum reserves required and OGRA failed to ensure implementation of the law and regulations in this regard. Last but not the least when PSO’s reserves were nearing exhaustion, despite official letters the Government still failed to realize the gravity of the situation. There were ugly exchanges of allegations between the Finance and Petroleum ministers. There are also unconfirmed stories doing rounds that the whole fiasco was created to authorize payments of over Rs 225 billion without due process involving AG office and audits. However, even if one discounts them, all this sums up to the mismanagement and incompetency of the highest order.
As if this was not sufficient for the suffering of the masses and losses to an already ailing economy, an electricity breakdown across the country ensued resulting in blackout in over 80% of major cities. A senior minister from the incumbent Government blamed terrorist activity in Balochistan province but perhaps owing to a lack of co-ordination due to blackout a senior government official acknowledged a technical failure in the transmission systems. The lack of co-ordination was simply astounding. It is no secret that the electricity transmission system is in dire need of overhaul and up-gradation with a severely decayed state at present. Unfortunately the incumbent Government hasn’t been able to do much on this front either despite been in power for the 2nd year now.
These crises clearly imply that the cause for exacerbation of Pakistan’s economic woes rests with a lack of management. Add to this the issue of the pending structural reforms badly needed in the taxation system along-with the dismal state of the revenue collection and one can easily appreciate the serious improvement warranted in the management of the affairs. One prime cause for this dismal performance is the appointment of non-professional people at the help of affairs of key institutions and ministries. While politicians do run the governments in a democracy, they atleast ensure they have a professional team to assist them. Unfortunately for Pakistan, be it Democracy or Dictatorship, this has been lacking.
While understandably, Pakistan cannot generate resources at par with established first world economies overnight, we can at-least manage our meager resources in an efficient manner. Perhaps it is high-time that Prime Minister of Pakistan Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif needs to look inwards within his party and take corrective measures including appointment of professionals to assist if not run the crucial ministries. If not, than a dismal economic performance can only sustain for a short span with the help of foreign aid. Let this also be a lesson for other political parties to ensure they’ve systems, teams, professionals and processes in place to cope with the challenges facing the country, should they be assigned the duty to steer the nation.
The author is Director of the think-tank “Millat Thinkers’ Forum”. He is a leading economist, chartered financial analyst, qualified fellow accountant and anti-money laundering expert with international exposure who can be reached on Twitter and www.myMFB.com @OmerZaheerMeer or firstname.lastname@example.org