By Mehroz Siraj Sadruddin
Also published at: http://www.countercurrents.org/sadruddin210111.htm
Scandals, instability, political assassinations, targeted killings, socio-economic mismanagement and corruption have been some of the major hallmarks of the near three year rule of the Pakistan People’s Party in the country, since the party assumed power in February 2008.
As the party is about to complete three years in power it is important to analyse the issues on which the administration has miserably failed. It is essential to hold the government to account for failing to fulfill on its election promises that it made to people of Pakistan after the assassination of former Prime Minister and Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) Chairperson, Benazir Bhutto.
Over the last three years, under the watch of this government, Pakistan’s terrorism and politically motivated violence has worsened, as the economic growth has stagnates, inflation is skyrocketing, industrial units are closing down and unemployment is growing.
In the current series of articles, different areas of governance failures would be analyzed.
First up, the economy and inflation. According to official statistics, Pakistan’s inflation is being measured at approximately 15 to 20 per cent per quarter. Refer these figures to ordinary Pakistanis and they would say that they are simply false.
Even credible data available today clearly suggests that the real inflation in Pakistan is much more than the government estimates.
Rising prices of daily necessity items like groceries, food products, petrol and Compressed Natural Gas, CNG, has been the most troublesome for millions of Pakistani households and as a result, consumer spending and confidence in the retail markets has taken a nosedive.
In Karachi, the country’s largest city and commercial hub, a full loaf of bread today is sold for a price range between Rs 52 and Rs 60 in different suburbs, up from Rs 28 to Rs 30 three years ago, marking a more than 86 per cent increase.
Across Karachi and Lahore, Garlic and Ginger are being sold today for roughly Rs 240 per kg (approximately US$2.79 per kilo). Similarly onions and tomatoes are priced roughly at Rs. 120 and Rs 90 per kilo, respectively as prices of cooking oil have nearly doubled.
The government has also regularly altered prices of CNG and petroleum products adding more miseries in the lives of millions of Pakistanis who commute daily through public transport or otherwise.
Normal petrol that was priced between Rs 54 to Rs 57 per litre in 2007’s last quarter, is now being sold at above Rs 75 around Pakistan, which is at least an increase of 37 per cent over the last three years.
CNG which has been widely popular due to its traditional cost and mileage efficiency for private vehicles was priced between Rs 35/kg and Rs 37/kg across Pakistan in 2007. Today gas stations across the nation are selling the product for Rs 56/kg, a near 57 per cent increase.
This back-breaking inflation has ensured that over the years, even the very basic necessities of life are getting out of the reach of ordinary Pakistanis, who are already facing massive electricity breakdowns and gas load-shedding.
Under the current government, business prospects in Pakistan have become more gloomy. According to a report in The News International newspaper on 16 January, many small and large businesses have forcibly closed down in Karachi owing to very high costs and the serious law and order chaos created by the city’s various mafias. These mafias, which include drug smugglers and extortionists have made doing business a difficult task in Pakistan’s troubled port city.
In other parts of Pakistan, most notably Faisalabad and Sialkot in the Punjab province, textile and sports goods industries have come to a grilling halt, as many have shut down owing to massive gas and electricity shortages and the very high utility costs.
The shut down of industries has led to massive unemployment amongst the nation’s bread-earning populations, many of whom would have been daily wage labourers who would have travelled long distances to make it to these cities.
These daily wage labourers across Pakistan have been the ones hit worst by inflation and unemployment. In many cases, most of these individuals could be hailing from the country’s poor rural areas and they may be the sole bread earners of their large families.
The federal government of the PPP and the provincial governments of the four provinces (in three of them, the PPP is a coalition partner with other political parties) have done nothing to accommodate these people who have been laid off by the hundreds of thousands.
In the Punjab province, gas and electricity load-shedding has reached worse proportions and is now triggering widespread protests across the province against the government, but the latter, owing to its own aloofness from the masses has not been able to come up with a coherent plan to import CNG in order to fulfill local demands.
Closed industrial units also mean that the nation’s exports are being hit badly. Industrial units across Punjab, routinely provide the bulk of the raw material that export based industries in places like Karachi, use to make their finishing products which are then exported to overseas markets, including Australia.
The sharp reduction in the supply of these unfinished materials, such as raw cloth and refined wheat has led many of these middle and large scale industries to lay off its employees, or undertake cost cutting in some other way, as their productivity has been adversely affected.
In the Punjab province, people are furious and agitated at the government as it has been increasing the tariffs for electricity and gas at a time when the two commodities are only becoming scarce due to severe load-shedding.
The government’s own reply to these multitudes of challenges has been shocking.
Over the last three years, the PPP government came up with failed initiatives like the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).
The BISP was launched with the idea of doling out Rs 1000 (about US$11.62) to each individual who subscribed to the package and hailed from the nation’s lower middle or working class. Through this programme, cash worth billions of rupees has been doled out to people.
The programme has been largely criticized as the cash being doled out could have been easily used for generating more jobs by the boosting the economy, and for keeping inflation in check.
These billions of rupees could have been utilized by the government to initiate public-private partnerships in areas such as construction, where maximum jobs could have been created for ordinary Pakistanis, especially the residents of small cities, towns and rural areas.
Rendering this government’s economic management an abysmal failure would not be an incorrect conclusion by any means. Failed economic policies, rampant corruption in state departments, misallocation of funds, political motivations and the administration’s routine failure to plan and undertake reforms were the key factors because of which it has failed to successfully run the economy.
It can clearly be seen that neither is this government on the top of things, nor does it have the capacity or the willingness to take charge.
The author is a Pakistani freelance journalist, an International Studies student at RMIT University in Melbourne and the editor of the online blog, theburningissue.wordpress.com