It's only by improving the lives of the people does one fulfill a democratic mandate.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz's government finished its term on May 31, 2018.
When it came to power after sweeping the 2013 elections, the PML-N, which prides itself on prioritising economic growth and development, set out ambitious policy goals in its manifesto that year.
How many of those promises did the party live up to five years later? Let's look at what the data says.
—Ensure universal access to affordable food grains in all parts of the country by legislating the Right to Food as a fundamental right.
—To implement the Right to Food policy, the government will formulate, in consultation with the provincial governments, a National Strategy for Food Security to achieve an average agricultural growth of at least 4 percent per annum in the next decade, evolve an equitable system of food procurement and distribution, improve the access of poor households to food at affordable prices and evolve a transparent system of safety nets for very poor households.
—Strengthen the procurement programme to ensure all farmers receive the guaranteed support price for grains and improve arrangements for storage and subsidised distribution to ensure relative price stability throughout the year.
The government didn't follow through on its promise to legislate a right to food policy. The target of 4 percent growth in the agriculture sector was also not achieved, with the sector's performance remaining unimpressive throughout, peaking at 3.81 percent in 2018 and falling to 0.15 in 2016.
The federal government's goal to procure food grains from all farmers to ensure they all receive a guaranteed price was unrealistic from the start due to the simple fact that such an endeavour would have been too costly.
At its maximum, only one fourth of the total wheat production was procured by the government, in 2017.
However, the government ought to be commended for keeping the support price stable at Rs1300 per maund of wheat during its tenure, unlike the previous Pakistan People's Party government. As a result, the PML-N was able to reduce food price inflation.
Food price inflation was also brought into check thanks to the government's Kisaan Package in 2015, which included benefits in terms of tax reduction on agriculture machinery from 45 percent to nine percent, reduction in sales tax from 17 percent to seven percent on cold chain machinery, tax holidays and mark up-free loans for farmers with less than 12.5 acres of landholding.
—The PML-N aims to achieve public spending of four percent and two percent of the GDP for education and health by 2018 to achieve the targets set by the United Nations.
The government did increase spending on education and health, but only marginally so. The abysmal numbers fall well short of the intended targets.
—Through reforms in the Federal Board of Revenue and the tax system, the PML-N will strive to improve the tax-to-GDP ratio to 15 percent by 2018. Informal economy will be brought into the tax net and the tax base will be broadened.
—To tax all income and to achieve greater equity in the tax system by increasing dependence on direct taxes.
—Budget deficit will be brought down to four percent of GDP.
The government did consistently improve the tax-to-GDP ratio, but still wasn't able to achieve what it promised in its manifesto.
But what's more important is that the PML-N increased indirect taxes and the overall ratio of direct and indirect taxes did not change. This also means that the tax base was not broadened.
The government did, nonetheless, made progress on reducing the budget deficit and almost met its target in 2018.
—Inflation will be brought down to single digit in the range of seven or eight percent by limiting government borrowing and lowering interest rates through effective monetary policy.
The PML-N succeeded in curbing inflationary pressures due to a host of factors, including low oil prices, stable exchange rate as well as its decision to stabilise the support price for wheat.
The food and general inflation figures are now at the lowest since a decade at 1.6 percent and 3.2 percent respectively, which is a great achievement and must be acknowledged, though the question of sustainability still lingers, especially since international oil prices are out of the country's control.
The government also performed respectably on reducing the interest rate by bringing it down to six percent most recently, as opposed to 15 percent at the start of the PPP tenure in 2008.
It is important to note that low interest rates help reduce borrowing cost and encourage investments via bank borrowings.
—At least 1,000 clusters of 500 houses each for lower income families will be developed on a public-private partnership mode, and the industry will be encouraged to expand investment and to provide employment opportunities in the adjoining areas.
This was an over ambitious target without realising the cost of setting up 500,000 houses in five years — that is 100,000 each year.
Suppose that the construction of a single house costs a minimum of Rs1 million — the expenditure of building 100,000 houses each year would be Rs100 billion.
The annual cost alone would have been 60 percent of the total development expenditure outside the PSDP during the entire tenure of the government.
How would the government have allocated resources to such a project when it failed to achieve its revenue target each year and consistently cut back on development expenditure?
In the end, there is no proof in the spending budget that shows that the government actually built any of the houses it had promised.
—In order to decrease the fiscal deficit, we will eliminate VIP culture and launch an austerity drive. Expenses related to the presidency, prime minister, governors and chief ministers will be significantly reduced.
Contrary to the promises, the budget for the Prime Minister’s Office went up consistently. In fact, the budget each year had to be revised and increased.
—Investment of about US$20 billion to generate 10,000 MW of electricity in the next five years will stimulate overall growth of the economy.
The government initiated several coal-fired plants in places such as Sahiwal, Port Qasim, Jamshoro, Faislabad, Mianwali and DG Khan; a solar park in Bahawalpur; and wind farms in Sindh.
But despite this show of resolve, a load shedding-free Pakistan is still very much a dream. Not to mention the fact that coal power plants are major pollutants as well.
Claims to bring about US$20 billion for the energy sector were a reach. It is as if the PML-N did not know Pakistan's record and potential for attracting foreign investment.
In 2014, foreign investment stood at US$4.44 billion, with a 36 percent reduction in the subsequent year to US$2.83 billion and consistent declines thereafter.
Over four years, the total foreign investment, including CPEC projects, was at around US$11.7 billion — a far cry from the government's goal of having US$20 billion investment in the energy sector alone.
—In cooperation with the provinces, the PML-N government will raise the total spending on non-pension social protection from the current level of one percent of GDP to at least two percent by 2018.
The non-pension social security and welfare includes expenditures on the Benazir Income Support Program, Social Development Goals and the Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal. The allocations to these remained less than one-third of what the manifesto promised.
According to the World Social Protection Report 2017, Pakistan spends the least among South Asian countries when it comes to social protection.
A new elections cycle brings in new electoral promises. To begin with, parties should present a fair assessment of the needs of the country and make realistic promises that they can more or less keep. This applies to everyone and not just the PML-N.
Pakistan ranks an abysmal 147th on the human development index. Whoever comes to power later this year will have to keep this statistic in mind. It's only by improving the lives of the people does one fulfill a democratic mandate.
Illustration by Nabeel Ahmed
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