By Kiran Fazal Butt
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government, which has set out on a journey to achieve its ambitious 100-days agenda, seems to have realized that a daunting task is ahead. Challenges are tough, stakes are high and expectations of the people of Pakistan, who have been reeling from the specters of poverty, injustice, and unemployment for last 70 years, are even higher.
Some see the much-debated agenda that the PTI announced before the July 25 elections as “opaque” keeping the poor performances of respective governments. But Prime Minister Imran Khan and his lieutenants, Chief Minister Punjab, Sardar Usman Buzdar and Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, Mahmood Khan do not give much weight to the pessimism.
With opposition parties engaged in blame-game, and criticism, the PTI governments in center, and the two provinces- Punjab and KPK- are steadily and convincingly trudging to set the tone- their prime target to achieve before completion of the first 100 days.
Expecting a radical change in the country in mere 100 days with respect to a tottered economy, rampant corruption, declining foreign reserves, colossal current account deficit and dwindling exports, is totally unjustified.
The first 100 days, in fact, will set the government’s direction for next five years.
The 100-day agenda included six themes — transforming governance, strengthening the federation, revitalizing economic growth, uplifting agriculture and conserving water, revolutionizing social sector and ensuring national security.
More specifically, the 66-year former cricket star also pledged to create 10 million jobs, and facilitate the private sector to build 5 million homes for low-income residents apart from fixing the simmering energy challenge and making multibillion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) a “game changer”.
Achieving this all is not going to any easy task for a government, which has come into power for the first time, as the challenges the country is facing are chronic and complicated.
For many, even five years are not enough to overcome these lingering problems. I personally would be happy if it were a 10-year plan..
“The 100-day agenda, in my opinion, should be regarded as mere recommendations, which are not even clear.
Therefore, I will wait for at least six months or so to assess where we are heading.
More specifically, this government’s next budget slated for next June, would exactly be the right time to assess the progress on much-hyped agenda.
Khan’s Cabinet picks has also drawn widespread criticism. A majority of his ministers have already worked twice or thrice in the governments of General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) governments. But, the key difference the critics deliberately or unconsciously forget is their leader who , seems to be confident and undeterred by criticism on his ambitiousness.
The federal and the provincial governments’ austerity drive that includes curtailment of the perks and privileges of ministers and bureaucrats, has already given a hope to the common people of Pakistan who had waited long for this “change”. Not only the masses but the analysts too see several government plans as ambitious but “doable”.
Creation of a large number of new jobs is quite possible if the government shifts from colossal non-development to development expenditure. This shift can help in building new infrastructure, including the planned 5 million houses.
Creation of jobs and construction of new houses are interconnected. If the housing industry is boosted, it will automatically serve both purposes, and will also be a good jumpstart for the new government.
But for that, the government has to come up with a proper macroeconomic plan, particularly about investment, employment, increasing trade, current account deficit and growing imports. The finance minister, Asad Umar who embodies a vast experience in corporate and management is exploring all conventional and unconventional ways to cope with these simmering issues.
Some economists disagree with the government’s proposed plan to expand its tax net.
According to them, Pakistan’s economy is already over-taxed. It has no capacity for further taxation as a huge section of the population is already paying all kinds of direct and indirect taxes.
Maximum, the government can add 100,000 big and small businessmen into the tax net but not more than that as the tax-GDP ratio of the manufacturing sector is already 29 percent. Unlike previous governments, Khan’s nascent government embodies certain advantages, most importantly good relations with the army.
Civil-military relationship remained sour during the last five-years, which badly affected the country’s functioning. But this is not the scene in case of Imran Khan. Secondly, Khan is in a comfortable seat in terms of law and order, which is much better compared to 2013 following a series of military operations against militants, criminal gangs, and political violence.
The energy situation is comparatively better than in 2013 but a lot still needs to be done, particularly to cope with the energy needs of our future generations.
The country’s energy requirements are likely to shoot up following an expected economic activity across the country in years to come.
No doubt, Khan’s agenda is over ambitious but if he manages to translate 50 percent of his plans into action in the next five years, the nation’s direction will be set for a bright future.