- A tale of two meetings
At the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Bani Gala residence on Saturday, which he had convened to emphasise his message to the new ministers, Mr Imran Khan stressed the need for fixing the economy, again saying that those who failed to deliver would be shown the door. Khan’s new pointman for the economy, Dr Hafeez Shaikh along with his team met the PM separately as the date for PTI’s first federal budget fast approaches. Hafeez last presented the budget in 2012 under the PPP regime. Unless found a seat in Parliament first, he will not be able to present the Budget, though, nor preside over the National Finance Commission. However, as the meeting showed, he will have to avoid the mistakes of his predecessor, which centred around his claiming success where none existed. True, the economy the government inherited faced an unprecedented balance-of-payments crisis, but Mr Umar could not tackle it by claiming the ‘patient was now out of the ICU.’
Apart from the budget, Dr Sheikh has got to finalise the IMF package which Mr Umar said had been negotiated. However, the IMF has announced, not a package, but the sending of a team to Pakistan. This team has been met with a position paper, which Dr Sheikh says will be ready by April 30. It is thus impossible to present the Budget as early as May 24, as Mr Umar intended. The recourse to the IMF was also something that Mr Umar fumbled on, at first carrying forward campaign rhetoric that excluded it, and then proceeding to apply for it. Dr Sheikh should heed Mr Khan’s instruction not to make the common man’s life miserable, for that is one of the factors that sunk Mr Umar: his inability to so manage the economy as to satisfy the IMF without taking measures which lost Mr Khan and the PTI much more public support and goodwill than could be afforded. Dr Sheikh and his team, which consists of mainly old faces, must keep in mind that efforts to satisfy the IMF must take second place to the welfare of the people of Pakistan. All governments pledged to do so, but the PTI relies on this even more.