Published Date: May 26, 2017
Economic Survey: Fix it
In June 2015, this column opined that the sin of Economic Survey is not as much a sin of commission but a sin of omission. Two years later, the story remains the same; the survey’s content and format is fixed in time with little changes over the last fifteen years. It won’t be a surprise if it remains such ten years later unless the quality of the survey becomes a political issue.
For instance, CPEC promises to be the biggest thing happening to this country. Yet the government allocated a grand total of three pages of same old information to discuss the corridor in this year’s survey.
Or take the case of inequality. Most economists agree that poverty is on the way out from the country, and inequality is a much bigger problem. Yet there is absolutely no discussion on that subject in the survey.
Similar is the case of public sector entities that have a substantial footprint on the economy. Given the mammoth sized monetary injections these white elephants receive each year, it is the right of the citizens to know about their performance and how successful the government has been in reforming these organisations. Yet, the survey remains silent on this matter.
Silence is also noticeable in so far as the PSDP is concerned and its long list of unfinished projects with huge throw forwards. Or take the case of the chapter on trade; a host of previously available datasets is shared to say what the public already knows. What is the government doing to tap the potential of exports to new markets or exporting new products? Critical questions like these haven’t been answered.
The story of tax reforms is no different. How SROs were phased out, how much tax was collected from the filer-non-filer distinction, how many previous non-filers became filers – these and many other key operational performance of the tax machinery are missing from the survey. Missing also from the survey is a detailed analysis of remittances, which is one of the most critical items in Pakistan’s economy.
The Economic Survey needs a revamp. It should not merely be a list of things that the government did, peppered with previously available datasets. At the least, each year’s survey must discuss key areas of the economy and key issues (such as the ones highlighted in this piece). It must also explain the impact of government’s action or inaction and why the government wasn’t able to achieve its targets.
These days the Centre of International Private Enterprise and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute have embarked upon provincial consultations all over Pakistan with the objective of developing an economic manifesto. These organisations hope that political parties will use that economic manifesto as a point of reference to come with their own economic manifestos.
In that vein, this column contends that economic manifesto of political parties must contain elements of transparency on economic affairs, an end to which a good quality annual Economic Survey could be very helpful.
The manifesto of political parties must also reflect their ambitions or promises for a particular province and its economy, since devolution has tied a stronger knot between the provinces and the fate of its citizens. On that note, provincial governments must also be pushed to develop a practice of publishing provincial economic surveys along with estimations of provincial GDP. (See BR Research column: The black box of provincial economies, published Mar 21, 2017)
Any discussion on fixing the economic survey must begin with the question of “why do we want a survey?” or “what is the reason of its existence?” If it exists to glorify the incumbent governments or if it’s simply supposed to be what can be best described in Urdu as “khana puri”, and then the existing survey is doing a great job. But if it’s supposed to be a detailed communiqué through which the government speaks on economic affairs, then a major revamp is in order.