- Ignoring the youth bulge
One of the election campaign promises made by the PTI was to find jobs for the youth bulge. That promise did not seem to have worked out before the covid-19 pandemic, as the economy was growing at nowhere near the rate needed to keep up with the fresh entrants into the job market. After the epidemic, the economy tanked, and not only does the youth not get jobs, but their parents have been losing theirs. Now Dr Ishrat Hussain, the PM’s Adviser on Structural Reforms, has chosen this particular juncture to reveal his plans, the centerpiece of which is the abolition of 71,000 posts. There is no harm in having a leaner government, but the posts are not being abolished after examining whether the posts are needed, but on the intellectually rather lazy criterion of their not having been filled for two years. True, the fact that departments continued to function without the posts being filled might incline one to believe that they could be easily abolished, but it is possible that the abolished posts include those which needed for the efficient functioning of a department.
Dr Ishrat has also presented a Voluntary Separation Scheme for PIA employees, which, when combined with the Balance sheet Restructuring Plan to be prepared by a committee headed by the Finance Secretary, seems an effort to prepare the national carrier for privatization. This is part of a pattern, which started when the government decided to pay off all the employees of Pakistan Steel Mills, a move which has landed in court, and which was avowedly meant to prepare it for privatization.
The government should remember that one of its main economic functions is to provide employment. The pandemic, the youth bulge, and the government’s own mandate make it imperative that it should not abolish jobs; rather, it should find ways of creating them. Its hope that its ambitious housing schemes would be a shot in the arm for the construction industry, leading to job creation in the private sector, has not panned out, a victim not just of the pandemic, but its own oversimplifications. The soft spot the Prime Minister has for the construction industry seem to have more to do with its effective lobbying than the hopes it gives him.