FeaturedInternationalVolume 12 Issue # 20

Divide et impera

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.