Energy Minister Omar Ayub Khan tried to pass off the blame for the latest power tariff increase on to the PML(N). He is a little behindhand, for the PTI government has now been in office for over two years now, and is fast approaching the midway point of its five-year tenure, assuming that there is no early dissolution. The government has thus had enough time to do something about any landmines that might have been left behind by the PML(N). If landmines can be planted for such a long time, what price landmines that might have been planted half a century ago (during the tenure of the late minister’s grandfather as President) or even less than a quarter century before, during the tenure of the minister’s father in the same portfolio?
The PTI government should try to balance realism with populism. The tariff hike is no doubt unpleasant for the consumer, but it was still easily predictable. The PTI government tried to have its cake and eat it too, by campaigning with a commitment not to approach the IMF, but doing so once it was elected to office. The IMF package has been suspended for the last year, with one of its conditions for restoration being the tariff hike which has been made. This is the result of the IMF’s concern at the circular debt in the energy sector, which has crossed Rs 1 trillion, and is still rising.
That the government has raised the tariff because it wants to return to the IMF programme is the sort of thing that has made the IMF unpopular among the masses. It is not as if the present package did not bring harsh measures for it to be granted, such as a massive devaluation and gas tariff hikes. It should be noted that IMF preconditions are apparently always those tending to restrict growth, and thus unpopular with people whom it will cost a price hike, even if they do not lose their jobs. However, the government should realise that it has cried ‘wolf’ so often, that any new attempts to blame past governments for present woes, are unlikely to be believed even if true.