Divide et impera

Muhammad Zain


In May, the government completes its fourth parliamentary year. With the Panama leaks still threatening to cut its term short yet again, the four years have been a tough journey for it as it faced one crisis after the other, though most of them were self-induced.
The ruling party has been in power twice in the past with a heavy mandate but was sent packing by the military establishment. It is already a great achievement for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has completed four years in office. In his earlier stints, he even failed to complete three
years. His first test came in the shape of sit-ins in Islamabad in 2014. The
protests could have been avoided, but the government delayed acceeding
to the demands of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, which led to agitation in
the country. Imran had been demanding a probe into alleged rigging in the
election. Qadri was forced to take to the streets after the Punjab police
had killed 14 of his activists, allegedly at the behest of the government.
The government claims to have improved the economy but ground realities
are different. Over 35pc people of the country live below the poverty
line. Pakistan's net public debt has crossed the Rs18.28 trillion mark, rising
about 35pc during the tenure of the ruling party. The volume of net public
debt as on September 30, 2016, was Rs18,277.6 billion. Total public debt
stood at Rs13.48tr at the end of fiscal year 2012-13 — almost three years ago. The major contribution to the increase in net public debt came from
an almost 40pc rise in domestic debt, which rose from Rs8.686tr at the
end of 2013 to Rs12.14tr at the end of the first quarter of the current fiscal
year (FY 2016-17). In the same period, foreign debt posted an increase of
28pc and went from Rs4.796tr in 2013 to Rs6.14tr on September 30, 2016.
Every Pakistani now owes about Rs130,00. The figure was Rs90,772 in
2013. It was Rs80,894 in 2012 and only Rs37,170 in early 2008.
Pakistan still faces a power shortfall of over 6,000 megawatts. According
to a new schedule, urban areas face eight to 10 hours of power cuts
while rural areas suffer 12 to 14 hours of loadshedding. Almost the same
situation existed in 2013, when the government had come to power. Unannounced
and unscheduled loadshedding in the country has increased as
most of the country sizzles in the scorching heat.
The countrywide demand of electricity is 17,000MW whereas the production
capacity is 10,000MW. According to the National Power Control
Centre, the hydro power production has minimised to 2,000MW. The government
power houses are producing only 4,000MW while 3,500MW is
being attained from private power houses and 500MW from solar and other
sources. The predicted shortfall during June-July is 8,000MW with the demand
persisting at 22,000MW.
The circular debt has also soared to Rs600b after Rs480b was paid to
the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) in December 2013. It exposes
the performance of the government in its topmost priority sector. It has only
taken cosmetic measures to address the energy crisis. In a shocking development,
the Punjab government has decided to sell off the Quaid-i-
Azam solar power plant in Bahawalpur, which it had inaugurated amid
great pomp and show. According to sources, the asking price for the project
has been set at Rs6-7 billion while it cost over Rs16.6 billion. Spread
over 10,000 acres, the 1,000MW plant was completed in May 2015, and
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated it.
People have already started feeling the heat of the budget and Ramazan
as prices of flour, pulses, fruit and vegetables have skyrocketed in
the country. Fuel prices have remained the same but rates of food items
have increased.
The government had promised job opportunities and houses to people
but they still await them. Nawaz Sharif announced a highly publicised
Rs100 billion bank loan scheme for the youth, but it failed to click because
of serious flaws.
After the government's indecisiveness on terrorism, the military had to
launch operations in the Tribal Area and Karachi. The militancy has decreased
in the country but the government cannot claim credit for it.
The number of out-of-school children in Pakistan is 22.6 million and
44pc children between the age of five and 16 are still out of school. According
to the Pakistan Education Statistic 2015-16, launched by the National
Education Management Information System (NEMIS) – a subsidiary
of the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training, 21pc primary
schools in the country are being run by a single teacher while 14pc
have one room. The report says only 30pc children remain enrolled from
class one till 10. Balochistan is home to the highest proportion of out-ofschool
children, followed by FATA. Over 40pc public sector primary schools
are operating without electricity, 28pc did not have toilets, 25pc are without
boundary walls and 29pc have no access to drinking water. Some 7pc
schools do not have any building and 43pc have unsatisfactory buildings.
Over 70pc children in Balochistan and 58pc in FATA do not go to school.
In fact, the overall literacy rate in Pakistan has declined by two per cent
over the past two years, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey, 2014-
2015. Female literacy in Khyber Paktunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan stands
at only 36 pc and 25 pc, respectively, compared to male literacy levels of
72 pc and 50 per cent. Sindh and the Punjab have slightly better percentages
at 43 pc and 52 pc for female literacy respectively, but male literacy
levels are higher at 71 pc and 57 pc.
The PML-N government has taken steps which are highly visible, like
metro bus projects, laptops, Danish schools and loan schemes. It has
largely ignored education and health. Its priorities should have been health,
education and inexpensive and speedy justice, not roads and bridges.
People wanted relief from politicians when the PPP came to power in 2008.
They still lack basic amenities after another elected government is about
to complete its tenure.
A $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project is top
of the list of government achievements, but it can't claim the credit exclusively.
Negotiations for the project had begun in 2008, and China has its
own interests, though it will immensely benefit Pakistan. Some say its benefits
are overhyped and the common man's lot will remain the same.
The government has failed to improve governance, provide speedy justice,
depoliticise the police and civil bureaucracy, set up an effective accountability
system, overhaul the tax net and empower parliament.
After the onset of the Panama leaks, the prime minister should have
changed his concept of development. He should have announced reforms
in the police in his home province and focused on health and education
facilities for people. Instead, he announced a number of highways and airports
in different areas of the country. Had he been sincere about development
of the country, he would have announced an education
emergency, approved maximum funds for health, overhauled the police
and bureaucracy and introduced stringent laws against corruption. The
people deserve more than roads and bridges from a democratic government.