Who is responsible for Pakistan’s current economic mess?


By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

Pakistan is currently faced with multidimensional economic issues. These issues have also started affecting the public perception of the ruling PTI government. However, what PTI promised in its election campaign and what it can deliver in long term and short term in power are two different things.

Pakistan’s current economic woes stretch over a long period of time. The country did not get into this dismal position overnight. Here is a brief overview:

When former President Zardari’s PPP government took over the reigns from General Musharraf in 2008, it gave the nation a growth rate of 4% compared to 6 to 8% under Musharraf. Economic growth was tepid. High rate of unemployment was also the hallmark of the Zardari government. The cost of consumer goods spiraled up to 80%. With low incomes and high living costs, the salaried class and those forming lower and middle class income groups continued to live under miserable conditions.

According to a report, foreign debt rose from $45 billion in 2008 to over $65 billion by year 2012. Moreover, the situation regarding poverty and hunger was also bad. A story published by Dawn News on May 9, 2012, reported, “Pakistan National Nutrition Survey for 2011, which was sponsored by UNICEF and conducted by the Agha Khan University, reveals that Pakistan’s state and society has failed miserably to even feed the children. The survey revealed that because of prevalent malnutrition, 44 per cent children under five years old in Pakistan are stunted. These children in the future are unlikely to attain the same height as of the non-stunted children. Thus, fifteen years down the road, almost half of Pakistan’s youth will not even be as tall as youth in other countries.” (Dawn, May 09, 2012)

The report further brought out the unevenness of hunger base in different provinces of the country. With Sindh facing the worst situation, where three out of four houses faced food insecurity, Balochistan was second in line with a 64% ratio. The average GDP growth between 2008 and 2012 was 2.9%, which was the lowest in the country’s history.

Leaving all else aside, in a country where the government cannot feed its population, what development – economic or otherwise – can one talk about?

The Eighteenth Amendment abolished the Concurrent List. Instead of focusing on making Pakistan into an effective federal state with a balanced approach towards its provinces, the 18th Amendment worked towards devolution of powers without too much of an effort going into analyzing the impact the Amendment. Moreover, there was also a lack of setting up of infrastructures for good governance to trickle down to grassroots levels – and thereby the common man – prior to the introduction of the law.

The 18th Amendment has created a governance gap. It has removed the Federal umbrella funneling finances to provinces without checks and accountability.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the “fake accounts” case will be sent to a review committee working under the Interior Ministry once the JIT on fake accounts submits its report.

The JIT report reveals that those involved were making around Rs. 40mn per month. These amounts were transferred out of the country through 120 front-men – give or take – using illegal methods such as hundi and hawala system. The report names the KAM Crown International Company responsible for collecting these ill-gotten funds. The JIT report also reveals roughly 25 properties were owned/acquired by the then President Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur in New York, Dubai, Paris and London (Further details can be found here). 

This is not where the country’s misery ends. 

After the PPP government left in 2013, the Nawaz Sharif and PML N government acquired $35 billion in new loans and artificially controlled the currency to convey a false impression of security to the investors and to repay the debt that was maturing. Half of the aggregate loan was used to pay existing debts (From July 2013 to June 2017). According to the IMF, for this time period, Pakistan’s total external debt jumped from 30% and ballooned to $79.2 billion.

As Nero fiddled while Rome burned, the Red Metro project was launched as was the Orange Train project. Though one can appreciate the convenience to the common man, the business model of the Red Metro bus service left much to be desired. According to official numbers, the average operating cost for a bus trip comes out to be around Rs 9,100. The average revenue for the same trip earned by the Authority is Rs. 2,600, recording a loss of Rs. 6,500 on every trip (as reported by The Express Tribune on June 29, 2015)

 The costs of the Orange Line in terms of mechanical and electrical works, track and rolling stock are double the costs of any civil structure. The government reportedly acquired 135 coaches along with mechanical, electrical, and tracks’ works from China for around $1,000 million, which was equal to 60% of total project cost. A senior official working on the project highlighted that the average price of a similar specification train coach is around $1.6-1.7 million in the international market and the total invoice for 135 coaches should not exceed $220-230 million.” (The Express Tribune, August 26, 2018). All this, at the cost of ignoring other necessities, such as water reservoirs, indicates wrong priorities for our ruling elite.

As Nawaz Sharif and his coterie continued to lead the country into greater economic abyss…the Panama case blew into their cumulative faces. The case, its background, findings and ultimately the judgment gives some insight into how our ruling elite has “toyed” with the country’s resources that were supposed to be spent on the citizens.

The Panama case judgment starts with a reference to The Godfather, a renowned novel by Mario Puzo:

(The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out because it was properly executed)

It is ironical and a sheer coincidence that the present case revolves around that very sentence attributed to Balzac…”

Justice Khosa later added:

“I may, therefore, be justified in raising an adverse inference in the matter. The fortune amassed by respondent No. 1 is indeed huge and no plausible or satisfactory explanation has been advanced in that regard. Honoré de Balzac may, after all, be right when he had said that behind every great fortune for which one is at a loss to account, there is a crime.”

“In the above mentioned sorry and unfortunate state of affairs, a conclusion has appeared to me to be unavoidable and inescapable that in the matter of explaining the wealth and assets respondent No. 1 has not been honest to the nation, to the nation’s representatives in the National Assembly and even to this Court.”

The creators of the economic mess, Pakistan finds itself in, may not be at the helm of affairs, but they continue standing on the sidelines, screaming hoarse and pelting stones at those who may want to fix this mess. If they still have not learnt a lesson from their misdeeds- one can only be sorry. Sorry, not for them but the nation that chose them many times over to lead them out of their miseries!