Published Date: Jun 7, 2018
Caretaking the economy
Islamabad these days is rife with all sorts of rumours surrounding the General Elections 2018. Those with heightened democratic sensitivities are almost living in fear; the fear that the elections may be delayed or may not be held at all. In such an environment, even if the caretaker set up is only successful in ensuring timely rigging-free elections, it would be nothing short of a great performance. But the realities of the ever-turning wheels of economy demand much more from the caretakers.
Top in the order is the IMF bailout. To go or not to go to the IMF is no more the question. Sources say that in his briefing on economic affairs, the Ministry of Finance informed the caretaker PM that Pakistan should start doing its homework because the time to knock at IMF’s doors is nigh.
In the short span of (practically speaking) less than two months (assuming elections are held on time), it would too hard to expect the caretaker cabinet to undertake any other item on the agenda aside from the IMF and the elections.
Earlier there were some concerns that the powers that be may influence the centre to reconstitute the National Finance Commission (NFC) and nudge them to hammer out a new NFC Award where provinces are made to agree to a 7 percent deduction (for security, AJK & GB) prior to the drawing up of the divisible pool for horizontal and vertical distribution. There is already a precedent for a caretaker set up to sign off an NFC award; the 1997 award to be specific. But given its risky and rather contentious nature, as well as the paucity of time, those fears should now subside (touchwood!).
At the risk of being demanding, the government could call in a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) to decide the release of two pending datasets: the population census and the new and improved Consumer Price Index (CPI). In the last CCI meeting, the last government had left the decision to release the final results of census to the next government, even though the results had been finalised. In order to avoid further delays by whoever forms the next government, the caretaker government should release final census result.
Likewise, the new CPI has been approved by the technical committee of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), and is awaiting a go-ahead from the government. The CPI has not been mentioned in Part-II of Federal Legislative List that forms the domain of the CCI, but in keeping with good spirit and considering the inter-provincial implications of the new CPI (which also includes a separate rural CPI); the matter could be put to the CCI. Besides, the IMF – Pakistan’s lender of the last resort, might also demand a new CPI because it captures markets and prices in a much better way than the old composition.
Adding to this list is a strong suggestion by Dr. Vaqar Ahmed of the think tank SDPI. He rightly points out that heads of more than 80 government institutions and corporations have not been appointed for the longest time; even the commissions of the SECP and CCP remain incomplete. This so because the ministries under PML-N wanted to keep these institutions and corporations well under their grip. Finding 80 MDs/CEOs and other heads in such a short time may be a tall task. But filling these vacancies of at least key institutions and corporations should be item on the caretaker cabinet’s agenda, given their background, expertise and that they are less likely to be political.