Winning the elections was relatively easy for the PTI. Now begins the hard part – governing an ungovernable society like Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has completed a little over a month in power and during these 40-odd stormy days, he has stepped back from electoral promises and the decisions taken in the cabinet meetings for as many as 16 times, according to one count.
It is perhaps the heavy weight of expectations that makes the PTI’s performance look below par. But it is equally true there is no end to flip-flop by the PTI neophytes. It may be too early to judge the performance of the PTI government but the bumbling start has dashed hopes in many hearts. The new set-up has yet to find its feet. A motley team of old and new politicians and the lack of a clear policy direction is making the situation worse confounded.
The process of team selection has been tardy and patchy. Some appointments like those of Zulfi Bokhari, who is under NAB’s radar, have drawn a lot of flak from independent analysts. The appointment of the CM Punjab left everyone wondering what the criterion and motivation was for such an out-of-the-box choice. Imran Khan has been defending his selection but has not been very convincing to his interlocutors.
Numerous taskforces have been formed to chart out plans of action in various fields, but they have not yet swung into full gear. There are tell-tale evidences of an amateurish approach in handling critical issues related to governance. The PTI must understand that populist rhetoric is no substitute for solid policy measures.
It seems the PTI did not make the requisite preparations although it was a foregone conclusion that it was going to sail through the hustings smoothly. No detailed homework was done for the revival of the economy or putting other sensitive sectors on an even keel at the soonest possible. Dr. Ishrat Husain has been appointed head of the Economic Advisory Council but this body has yet to show any concrete results. The pace of decision-making has been painfully slow. As a result, the stock exchange, business confidence, the exchange rate, the market and the economic sentiment are in a state of depression.
No doubt, it was a wise decision to form a permanent Economic Advisory Council inducting the best talent from both inside and outside Pakistan. This showed that the PTI government is serious in tackling the grave economic challenges confronting the country. But the far-sighted decision came to naught, when the government, under pressure from the right wing lobby, asked Prof. Atif Mian, a world renowned economist, to resign from the council.
The PTI government’s promise to get millions of children into school needs massive resources. The same is the case in the health sector. In this connection, the ululating financial crisis is the biggest constraint. The current account deficit and falling foreign exchange reserves need urgent remedial action. The government is still undecided on the question of whether to seek an IMF bailout or use other options. The delay in finalising a course of action is worsening the situation by the day.
On the other hand, the burgeoning circular debt affecting the power sector and the massive losses incurred by public-sector organisations have compounded the government’s financial woes. The government has also not made up its mind about privatising the loss-making state-owned enterprises. Conditions are so bad in the PIA and Pakistan Steel Mills that they cannot be run more efficiently just by making changes at the top. It is clear the government is shy of taking tough and unpopular decisions for fear of public backlash.
Imran Khan has promised to double the tax revenue by reforming the FBR and appealing to the people to pay taxes honestly. But much more than public exhortation is needed to instill a tax culture in society. In this context, the government’s austerity drive is a welcome move. Imran Khan’s decision not to live in the Prime Minister’s House and cut down on protocol has great symbolic value, but the administration needs to follow up with concrete measure to reduce public expenditure. The bureaucracy, police and criminal justice are in urgent need of overhaul. But little progress has been made towards reforming these vital organs of the state.
Imran Khan’s commitment to bring change and his focus on human development and environmental issues are beyond question. But without a clear vision and a well thought out strategy and plan of action, no concrete results can be achieved. PM Imran Khan should move quickly to get over the teething troubles of his government and initiate corrective action. He can’t afford to lose time. The vultures are waiting in the wings.