In continued servitude to IMF

As for those who used to claim they will never beg IMF? Well, they are busy ensuring our servitude to the financial institution.

“The country’s economy is directionless…..captain of this ship will have to be stronger or else the economy will not progress…..government has been unable to put its house in order….at the very beginning, the negotiations with IMF were botched up…..raising the tariff alone is responsible for rise in corruption…..NAB law will have to be balanced out…”

So read the charge sheet against the federal government as read out by Shaukat Tarin, possibly the next Finance Minister or Advisor. As per reports, an Economic Advisory Council is about to be formulated with the Prime Minister as its Chairman and Shaukat Tarin as its chief convener.

This development comes about amidst the blitzkrieg of “all is well with the economy” and “good times are right around the corner” that the government harps about almost daily. Tarin’s comments, then, come as a major surprise, exposing the economic performance for what it truly is. Now it will be all the more difficult for the PTI to blame the media for showing a “negative picture” of our financial situation. Tarin’s observations make it clear that national benefit was not given importance when the financial team negotiated with IMF. There were plenty of people who wanted to safeguard IMF’s benefit.

Shaukat Tarin also opined that if line losses were reduced by 5% and recoveries were increased by 5%, then circular debt, which now stands at a staggering Rs. 2500 billion, would have been reduced. However much the government would like to twist the debate, the buck always lands at poor performance. Did Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif stop the government from reducing line losses? Or did they somehow become an obstacle in increasing recoveries?

In this scenario, Tarin asked the right question, wondering “how the ship will sail further if the captain does not remain strong”. A more pertinent inquiry, however, would be “How will Shaukat Tarin remain strong in the face of a tsunami of incompetence”.

When Tarin was discussing the economy on a private news channel, Special Advisor Shahbaz Gill sent out a tweet denying that he was being considered for the job. Today, the matter is almost decided.

The former finance minister is not without detractors. His critics point out that inflation during the period he ruled as Finance Minister in PPP government’s tenure. GDP fell, Pakistan Steel Mills went into loss while the losses at PIA and Railways increased substantially. Like Hafeez Sheikh, he too has been accused of being an “IMF man”. He has been accused of charging the highest tax on petroleum tariffs while Tax revenue itself fell considerably.

Amidst all the accusations and allegations, the fact remains that Tarin is being considered for the job precisely because IMf and other monetary agencies are concerned about us. Over the past 70 years their shadows have loomed so large on our economy that no other influence matters. Through their people they have tried to control Pakistan’s economy directly, be it Shaukat Aziz or Shaukat Tarin or Hafeez Sheikh at the helm. Political opposition alone has prevented them from succeeding completely.

PML-N and PPP are, after all, political parties with deep roots among their voters. They do not want to cross certain limits. PTI had no such qualms and willingly handed over the reins of the economy entirely to a former IMF employee. Whatever the system in place to select the head of the finance team, it is seemingly anti-politicians.

Hammad Azhar’s appointment was a welcome step. Tarin’s appointment, if it comes through, has forced us to roll back the welcome mat. Hammad Azhar belongs to a political family, and will most likely not express his disappointment publicly. As for those who used to claim they will never beg IMF? Well, they are busy ensuring our servitude to the financial institution.

 

 

Imran Yaqub Khan

The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst.

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