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How realistic are PTI’s grand plans?

Updated May 28, 2018

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Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan explains the [100-day plan][1] during a ceremony in Islamabad on Sunday.—Online
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan explains the [100-day plan][1] during a ceremony in Islamabad on Sunday.—Online

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) announced last week a political, governance and economic reforms agenda that it plans to start implementing in its first 100 days in office if voted into power.

The party maintains that its action plan would fix most long-standing structural issues plaguing governance, federation and economy besides strengthening (internal and external) security.

A cursory look at the PTI agenda shows that the party aims to shift the government’s present (internal) policy focus away from hard infrastructure development to soft political, economic and governance restructuring.

The plan promises, among other things, to carve out a new province in southern Punjab, merge Fata with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, mainstream Baloch dissidents, reform civil service and police, devolve power, improve public service delivery, and revitalise the economy.

“It’s a great programme as far as the goals in it are concerned. The next government can build on the economic achievements of the outgoing administration but we still don’t know about its implementation mechanism,” says Ali Asghar Poonawala

“The 100-day agenda is seemingly part of the PTI’s election manifesto that is expected to be made public later on. It is basically a ‘wish list’ that may or may not get implemented,” prominent Lahore-based political analyst Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi told Dawn.

He is of the view that the implementation of the agenda largely depends on election results: if the party wins a comfortable majority to form a new government on its own, it will be easier for it to implement the plan, fully or partly. In case of a coalition government it would not be so easy.

“(Ifs and buts aside), the party has given its social and political plan. It has highlighted all issues challenging Pakistan internally.”

Indeed, notes Dr Rizvi, “this is an ambitious agenda. But, then, all (election) manifestos are ambitious and none gets implemented fully. If the party wins enough numbers in the elections, it may be able to initiate work on at least some of these plans.”

Other political parties, including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), were, however, quick to criticise the PTI leadership for giving their 100-day agenda before actually winning the polls, dismissing it as a political gimmick.

Outgoing Finance Minister Miftah Ismail insisted that the PTI programme would cost taxpayers a whopping Rs1.6 trillion a year, increase federal debt from Rs27tr to Rs45tr in five years and widen budget deficit by four per cent a year. In a nutshell, he argued, the PTI action plan would be disastrous for the economy and people.

“The success of the agenda mainly relies on the successful turnaround of the economy,” a professor who teaches at the Lahore University of Management Sciences argued on condition of anonymity.

“I haven’t calculated the cost of the promised political, economic and governance restructuring, but the minister is right on the spot to the extent that you cannot implement reforms if you don’t have cash, even if you have political will and support. The faster they turn the economy around the quicker they can implement political and governance reforms.”

The PTI’s plan to revitalise the economy aims at generating an additional 10 million jobs in five years, boosting exports, facilitating private sector, building five million housing units, reviving manufacturing and agriculture, reducing electricity prices, reforming tax administration and policy, improving the doing business ranking, creating a wealth fund to reorganize the loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs) outside the control of line ministries, and so on.

“It’s a great programme as far as the goals in it are concerned. Though we still don’t know the details about the mechanism for its implementation, the next government can build on the economic achievements of the outgoing administration in the last five years by implementing it,” Ali Asghar Poonawala, senior financial analyst at AKD Securities, says of the economic agenda of the PTI.

But unlike the LUMS professor, he believes that the next government will have to focus on improving governance in the public sector before it can execute its economic reforms.

“How can you reduce electricity prices without fixing the power sector, cutting losses, recovering bills, etc? Or how can you cut taxes for the industry unless you broaden the taxpayers’ base, plugging evasion and leakages, and increasing collection?” he concludes.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 28th, 2018