A plan for the economy

Updated November 27, 2018


THE time for sunshine is over.

As the curtain drops on the first 100 days of the PTI government, the moment of seriousness is upon us.

The economy is running on borrowed time, and the word emanating from government sources is that a new ‘plan’ is being drawn up.

The news comes after talks with the IMF ended on an inconclusive note last week, and the finance minister briefed his cabinet, the National Assembly and the Economic Advisory Council about the nature of the talks and what lies ahead.

Clearly, the scale of the consultations undertaken by the finance minister, following the inconclusive end of the talks, suggests that something serious is afoot and that this is not a routine continuation of negotiations, as Finance Minister Asad Umar seemed to suggest in some of his television appearances of late.

To top it all, we now have conflicting messages coming out of these consultations.

We hear that a ‘Plan B’ is being worked out, though talks with the Fund will continue.

We hear that the cabinet and the EAC have both been informed that difficult decisions are now inevitable — but the National Assembly was given an assurance that the government would do nothing to burden the poor at this critical juncture.

Whatever it is, it must now become public.

And what we all need to see is a plan, not talk of a plan.

One hundred days into its term, the government should now have specifics, not just a broad and directional statement of intent.

And there is a great deal to get specific about at this point in time.

What are the plans for the state-owned enterprises and for the labour force employed in them?

How do the rulers intend to raise revenues without burdening the poor or squeezing those already in the tax net?

What is their plan to address chronic power-sector recovery and liquidity issues, and how do they intend to settle the circular debt?

Should the exchange rate be free-floated?

How do they intend to boost exports without committing to more subsidies for this crucial sector?

Will there be more import substitution, a trade policy, an industrial policy, or will we move towards an export-led model involving greater market freedoms for investors?

The questions are in ample supply, and words of sunshine cannot answer them much longer.

The 100-day mark gives the government the perfect opportunity to shift gears away from the rhetoric and promises, towards action plans and outcomes.

It is time for the government to show its cards, and let us see the change it intends to bring about, beyond just the promises.

This includes the specific objectives that have been set for the medium term, as well as an action plan on how to get there.

Let’s get this show on the road.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2018