- Need to cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth
While tele-addressing the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Covid Action Platform, Prime Minister Imran Khan made out a strong case for debt relief for poorer pandemic affected countries. He pointed out that countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria faced economic difficulties while their medical systems were unable to cope with the pandemic. Pakistan wanted the relief because it needed the fiscal space to divert resources to healthcare and the environment. One would agree with Mr Khan that Pakistan’s health sector has been grossly neglected by successive governments, both civil and military. When the first Covid-19 cases were reported Pakistan had neither the testing kits nor PPEs, while it was unable to set up a proper quarantine center at Taftan. According to Health SAPM Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s present stock of ventilators and PPEs would last only till the first week of June.
It remains to be seen what effect is produced by Mr Khan’s appeal. Whether Pakistan gets meaningful debt relief or not, it is time for those who manage Pakistan’s economy to realise that a country cannot be run on borrowed money for long. There is a need to reduce the expenditure and raise the revenue. This is precisely what is not being done under the present government also. While promising to have a lean and mean cabinet, the PTI ended up with a 50-member club, by bifurcating ministries and raising the number of departments. Non-development expenditure is on the increase at the expense of education and health. The provinces too have failed to divert sufficient funds for the health sector. There is a need to force those with taxable incomes to pay to the state what they owe it. The government has once again failed to coax the trading community, tens of thousands strong, into paying their tax dues.
The government says it wants to save the people from starvation. Provincial administrations need to ensure that social distancing is strictly maintained in intercity buses . A violation of the SOP would amount to endangering the lives of millions who would be commuting on these buses. This would also overburden hospitals all over the country.