THE PML-N’s manifesto has been unveiled and the party claims to have kept its goals both realistic and very much achievable. But are they? Going through the list of pledges, the PML-N appears to have described a country that everyone would like to see five years from now: slowly sorting out structural impediments to growth, for example, the power sector; increasing basic services delivery by doubling allocations to health and education; and addressing sundry political challenges (new provinces) and even civil-military relations (focusing on “seniority and merit” in appointing service chiefs). The gap, though, between what is desired and what actually transpires is often very large. Start with the obvious benchmark for the PML-N’s ability to deliver on electoral promises: the performance of its government in Punjab over the past five years.
The PML-N has promised to raise tax-to-GDP ratio from nine to 15 per cent over five years, while, oddly enough, promising to cut taxes across the board — presumably because a six per cent rise in the tax-to-GDP ratio can be achieved, in the PML-N’s thinking at least, by closing loopholes in the tax laws and documenting the informal sector. But how much has the Punjab government done to help boost overall tax revenues in the past five years? Agricultural income tax, a provincial issue, is still a taboo subject and when the federal government had mooted the idea of a Reformed General Sales Tax, designed specifically to help document the economy and business chain better, the PML-N rode to the defence of its trader base. Doubling expenditures on health and education can also sound like a very promising measure — though really a worn-out pledge of many a government — but after the 18th Amendment, both subjects are in the provincial domain. So what is the PML-N’s promise supposed to achieve? Similarly, going through the list of economic proposals, they are long on promise and short on specifics, particularly on how political resistance to reforms will be overcome. And perhaps most stunningly, militancy continues to be treated by the PML-N as a side issue that can be addressed through jobs and growth.