The Supreme Court last Friday disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from holding public office in a decision on the Panama Papers case.
Shortly after, the prime minister stepped down from his post “despite reservations”, according to the PM house.
Apparently, this should end the logjam in government functioning and move the country forward. The transition has to be swift to let the markets return to normal with the government machinery functioning.
Since the case started, instead of focusing on implementing the ambitious budgetary measures, cabinet members and officials have been busy in dealing with political matters.
“There is a slowdown in economic ministries”, a senior government official claims, most of these departments, especially the Federal Board of Revenue, have been preoccupied with the investigation.
In its fifth budget, of the current five year term, the government announced an ambitious development plan to woo voters ahead of the next election. However, the political preoccupation of economic ministers has hampered the implementation of budgetary measures.
A major promise was to revise the valuation table for the real estate sector. But the finance ministry informally directed the FBR not to proceed on the subject for the time being.
The newly appointed Chairman FBR, Tariq Pasha, dismissed the argument. He said the FBR has nothing to do with the politics. “We are bureaucrats and will have to do our job”, he claimed while responding to a query of this scribe.
The most powerful minister, Ishaq Dar, will also face a reference in the accountability court on corruption charges in the wake of the SC judgement. He was heading several important forums of the federal cabinet.
It is not clear if Mr Dar will be part of the next cabinet or not. But, a businessman from Karachi was of the opinion that a new person for the slot will be good for the business community.
He thought Mr Dar was a tough person, not inclined to accommodate businessmen’s demands.
The FBR Chief, Mr Pasha, said it was hard to quantify the impact of the premier’s disqualification on the country’s revenue collection.
“You may see the impact of this decision on revenue collection in the current month when the figures are finalised by July 31”, he said.
The commerce ministry also appears to be affected by the political debacle although a ministry source gave other reasons for the slow pace of progress.
“I don’t think the non-implementation of the trade policy is because of the Panama case”, an official commented. He said it may be because of inefficiency within the ministry.
Officials in the board of investment were more worried. “There is political uncertainty in the wake of the SC judgement”, an official source said, elaborating that the situation gives foreign investors a negative signal.
Asked whether the SC judgement has had an impact on the CPEC related projects, the official said everything was moving as per schedule. “We are receiving Chinese delegations as per the agreed schedule”.
Commenting on the situation, a senior officer of the prime minister’s secretariat said, “These are difficult times though such things have happened in the past. It’s good that the political system is on the course to maturity. We have still a long way to go”.
“Please do appreciate the jolts that this government has seen in the last three years which could have taken care of any government long ago, a few years back. To me these are positive signs”, the official said.
“When the government is kept engaged three out of four years fighting for survival, how do you expect it to reform and focus on important issues”, he commented.
FPCCI President, Zubair Tufail, said private businesses are doing their job as per normal routine. However, he hoped the next premier will be elected soon.
Mr Tufail said there will be no impact on the implementation of policies. He said the bureaucrats will work according to the law. “We expect no change in economic policies”, he stated.
For Mr Tufail the important issue is of the early release of exporters refunds. He said he expects the government to clear outstanding refunds by mid of next month.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, July 31st, 2017