- Populism and the economic realities
When seeking votes as an opposition leader it was easy for Imran Khan to make populist promises to please every section of the population. These included five million houses equipped with all basic facilities, jobs for 10 million, reduction in the charges of gas and electricity for industrial units, bringing down taxes and still generating Rs8 trillion “within one to two months of forming the federal government”. Now that Imran Khan is in power he is required to fulfill the promises.
Finance Minister Asad Umar spoke about the gravity of the economic situation in his first press conference and said it required tough decisions for course correction. He made it clear that Imran Khan would not distribute jobs in D-Chowk. What was required was to increase revenues, reduce expenditures and open up several areas for investments and job creation. After five cabinet meetings, the government is still unable to spell out how it would increase the revenues or reduce expenditures. The out of the box thinking recommended by Imran Khan to avoid seeking a bailout from the IMF has not proceeded beyond one year ban on import of luxury cars, smart phones and cheese. We are told by the information minister that no decision was taken in the cabinet meeting on Thursday to raise power or gas service charges or to seek IMF bailout. The imported fertiliser will be meanwhile subsidised. The PTI government remains indecisive about the tough decisions because it is afraid of popular resentment and agitation. The longer the hard decisions are postponed the more the problems for the economy.
Meanwhile U-turns continue. It was decided in the first cabinet meeting that the Prime Minister and federal ministers, with the exception of foreign minister, would not undertake any foreign tour over the next three months. There are reports now that Khan would visit Saudi Arabia soon.
The only policy being pursued consistently is enquiries against the PML-N leadership. But can the gross acts of commission and omission committed by the previous government be used to justify PTI’s own failures?