- An exercise in unaffordable populism
Prime Minister Imran Khan is caught between two stools. As a staunch admirer of Ayub Khan’s economic model, based on the trickle-down theory, he has consistently advocated capital formation first, and people’s welfare later. This encouraged his economic team to mechanically implement the policies dictated by the IMF, causing misery to all sections of the population. But Mr Khan also has an eye on the next elections too. Unless he can provide relief to the common voter, his party could not only be routed during the elections, but might even be sent home without completing its term. He needs therefore to keep the voters sweet. This requires an exercise in populism.
Some of the claims that the PM made during his address in Layyah were a not in consonance with his economic team’s policies. He said for instance that Pakistan was no more in the woods, that 2020 would be the year of economic rehabilitation and that he was trying to make Pakistan a welfare state. He made the claims at a time when the country has failed to meet its revenue collection target while the FBR chief has gone on long leave. Meanwhile the PM’s Finance Advisor has warned the government that it would also fail like its predecessors if “correct economic decisions are not taken”, implying further measures to raise revenues. Promising a pie in the sky at a time when his economic advisers are calling for avoiding populist policies. is nothing short of chicanery.
Mr Khan’s Leiah address had the ambience of a TV quiz show where prizes to be distributed were heaped in a corner for public display. Under the PM’s Ehsas Aamdan programme, ten beneficaries selected on the basis of poverty cards were awarded agricultural equipment, retail shop inputs and livestock worth Rs60,000. If the programme was to be uniformly implemented in the 154 districts of Pakistan, a total of 1540 people out of a population of over 219 million will receive uplift funds. This is like irrigating a hundred acres of land with a glass of water. Politically this could cause frustration among millions of poor who get nothing. Keeping in mind the financial crunch faced by the government, one wonders if loans for 80.000 people every month and 50,000 scholarships every year would be sustainable