'Asad Umar failed on a key task: controlling the narrative'

From failing to harness the narrative to a structural lack of vision, the blame is not all Umar's.

Updated 25 Apr, 2019 03:30pm

Only days after reports of a reshuffle in the cabinet were rubbished by the government's spokesperson, Finance Minister Asad Umar announced his resignation earlier today and said he would not be taking any other portfolio.

Prism reached out to analysts to give their take on Umar’s decision.

‘He never seemed to have the trust of the PM’

—Uzair Younus, Director South Asia at Albright Stonebridge Group

Umar’s resignation brings to an end a chaotic eight months during which the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government fuelled uncertainty at home and abroad.

His departure also indicates that the reform-oriented wing of the PTI is going to take a backseat for the foreseeable future, and Pakistan’s economic future will be managed by those who don’t want to rock the boat too much.

Umar had his own faults and failures during this period, but the bigger issue lay with the fact that he never seemed to have the trust of the prime minister, whose backing is essential if a finance minister is to succeed in pushing structural economic reforms.

He inherited an economy facing an imminent downturn. This had been predicted months before the elections. However, Umar’s likelihood to succeed was low given that neither he nor Imran seemed to fully grasp the seriousness of the issues until they came to power.

The main challenge was to stabilise the economy and bring certainty to the market, while pushing through tough decisions during the first 100 days. The PTI failed there, and every passing day meant that they owned more of the problem than they should have had.

‘Imran has no vision’

—Zahid Hussain, senior journalist

Umar inherited a difficult situation, but one cannot say it was an impossible one. Basically, there was no direction as far as the economy is concerned, so even if it was a difficult situation, it was mishandled.

Umar, being finance minister, should take the blame, but it would not be correct to put the entire blame on one person. Imran Khan should also accept responsibility because it’s the prime minister who should have given him guidance.

The finance ministry is probably the most important ministry in the cabinet, but it is also something to do with lack of direction this government has in every aspect.

Umar’s main challenge was to stabilise the economy and end uncertainty, as uncertainty is the worst thing to happen to the economy — and that is the biggest mistake of the former finance minister. He could not give confidence to the markets, he could not give confidence to the general public that things could be fixed.

For any other person who’s going to replace him, the challenges are the same. We need somebody who knows the economy and can also work with the team because when we talk about fixing the economy, it is also collective work.

That’s one of the shortcomings of Umar, in my view: he was not willing to work with others. I think from the very outset, Imran made some drastic mistakes that affected the working of the finance ministry.

When he established the so-called Economic Advisory Council, there were some good people on it initially, but under pressure, Imran removed some of them, for example Atif Mian, who is one of the best-known economists in the world

I think after that, nobody was prepared to work with Imran and his government.

It says a lot about the way Imran is running this government. He had ample opportunity to improve not just the performance of the finance ministry but also other ministries.

Again, the major problem with this government is there is no sense of direction, there is no vision. Look at the kind of people he has picked for the two major issues facing this government, on which its future depends: the economy and Punjab.

If you look at them both, they’re not working out. The worst is Punjab and the way the Punjab government is being run — he’s picked somebody who’s completely inexperienced, does not have weight and cannot run a province like Punjab.

Everybody’s now criticising Umar, but I think it is the prime minister who should be questioned about his decisions and vision; he does not have any.

It’s been eight months and the government seems to be in disarray and Imran needs to fix it. The next few months are going to be critical, the new budget is coming. If Imran fails to fix the major issues, this government is in deep trouble.

It doesn’t have a clear majority in Parliament, so I think the government is still in opposition mode. They have to see what’s going wrong; just changing a few ministers is not going to help.

The whole attitude has to be changed. Imran has to take things more seriously; he should go to Parliament and learn to work within the framework of the parliamentary democracy.

In this kind of difficult situation, you need to develop a national consensus on the economy. We all know the tough decisions they have to take, but in a confrontational atmosphere, Imran will not be able to implement that.

There needs to be a national consensus so you can implement tough decisions.

‘He failed on a key task: Controlling the narrative’

—Ali Hasanain, assistant professor of economics at Lums

We have relatively little data on which to judge Umar as a financial manager. The details of the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund are not yet public, and he left before presenting a full budget.

In contrast, it is clear that he, and PTI generally, have failed on a key task: controlling the narrative. When you need the sort of deep-cutting economic reform we are facing, resistance and outcry are a given.

The government needs to articulate for the public precisely what is needed, present a plan and sequence of actions, and inform us of the misdirection of the past. As absurd as Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s resolution to bring back Ishaq Dar was, the PTI committed the greater sin of failing to explain to the public the harm that Dar’s policies caused. His successor will need to fix this rapidly.

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (78) Closed

Arvind
Apr 18, 2019 07:03pm
And take this - Naya Pakistan - the first wicket down.
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Sam
Apr 18, 2019 07:05pm
Get a professional like Rajan(or someone with similar stature) to help turns things around. It does two things : a. You get the expertise b. Markets and investors understand that govt. is serious about fixing the economy.
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Ammar Ahmed
Apr 18, 2019 07:08pm
I think IK is having no clue of what is doing and going to do. Asad Umar leaving Cabinet is such a great loss for the Govt and PAKISTAN. I'm so sad today!!
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Sky is the limit
Apr 18, 2019 07:11pm
"We have relatively little data on which to judge Umar as a financial manager". Then why are you making such tall claims These analysts were the forerunners of the uncertainty related to the economy. @Please hire some professional analysts.
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ahmed
Apr 18, 2019 07:26pm
Any Finance Minister needs full support and guidance from the PM. Has PMIK failed to do that?
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Suryaputra
Apr 18, 2019 07:39pm
Alas running country is not easy as playing cricket on ground.
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Ash Man
Apr 18, 2019 07:52pm
PTI is a victim of its own big promises before the elections. People were expecting miracles and found the actual performance below average.
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brr
Apr 18, 2019 07:54pm
A PM who thinks selling buffalos and buildings can fix an economy, that $200B can be brought back magically from some foreign bank, is not an economist, but a delusional savior. And the rest is clear as to what happens next. People get the governments they deserve.
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vijay
Apr 18, 2019 08:11pm
It seems wrong to say "the PM should give him guidance". A good finance minister will go for the jugular and make deep cuts, and expect the PM to back him, if the situation warrants. There may be some non negotiable things the PM thinks must be there, but otherwise the finance minister is expected to drive the engine and do the hard work of proposing and putting his foot down on spending. It is the finance minister who is approving spending, so he can also propose deep cuts in government expenditure.
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Hassan
Apr 18, 2019 08:30pm
Indians care more about Pakistan's economy than Pakistanis do! Umar probably refused to finance the PM's grandoise schemes so he got replaced. They replaced him in the middle of IMF negotiations which is terrible timing.
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Sat
Apr 18, 2019 08:55pm
@Sam, there are many good economists in Pakistan and abroad who enjoy world wide reputation.
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moeazze
Apr 18, 2019 09:23pm
Just see here a few opinions without any solid facts supporting them.
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Rihaab Fareed Dhariwal
Apr 18, 2019 09:30pm
Too early to give a verdict on Asad Umar. He should have been given more time to prove his mettle. IK made a hasty decision IMO. Who will succeed him? That is the million dollar question.
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Sandeysa aya hai
Apr 18, 2019 09:31pm
Criticism by people who have never been of any use to Pakistan. Asad and Imran should have played hard ball. ignore these fake pundits and carry on taking difficult decisions. A good man down. I hope he stays in the cabinet. an honest man with abilities. need more like him
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Baz
Apr 18, 2019 09:33pm
It is just as important to understand why he succeeded in business. Unlike EXXON , his hands were not tied in terms of bribing people to move forward with the newly names ENRON
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Ahmad
Apr 18, 2019 09:34pm
Yeah controlling the narrative that GDP didnt get halved
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Smirnak
Apr 18, 2019 09:36pm
@Hassan, We were heartened by the enthusiasm of Pakistanis including its Prime Minister in offering suggestions to Indians on whom they should elect as their Prime Minister apart from writing critiques on Indian Economy, security policy & internal affairs. So we all wanted to return the favour!
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Shwetanshu Acharya
Apr 18, 2019 09:41pm
@Sam, People like Rajan and Urjit Patel are all together a very different league. Rajan predicted 2008 US econonic crisis way before it were emminent with US federal governor Laurence Summer calling him a 'luddite'. After crisis, Rajan became an overnight celebrity with documentaries on him. Likewise Urjit Patel is a very distinguished world economist and alma mater of Yale. India has a great track record of appointing the big men of Indian heritage all over the world, even on contract basis for critical positions. Every governor till date has been a distinguished fellow, and I'd not be surprised if current World Bank Chief economist ,also an Indian assumes as a governor later in future. Our diaspora is our biggest strength with all of them willing to help their motherland. Sadly, Pakistan is far away from such culture. It's still very much about feudal landlords and trophy foreign education than about excellence. That shows in the decisions and growth rates of the two countries.
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Shwetanshu Acharya
Apr 18, 2019 09:46pm
@Sam, Rajan was Chief IMF economist. There have been two Indians on that position with current chief and only woman to hold the position, Gita Gopinath. Even is Pakistan has people of such strature (I don't know any), Are they willing to work for Pakistan, their motherland knowing it would pay them way less ?
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Jamshed
Apr 18, 2019 10:13pm
AU proved to be a quitter who could not handle pressure.
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Just Saying
Apr 18, 2019 10:15pm
Team Pakistan is always a wild card!
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Justified
Apr 18, 2019 10:31pm
@Sat, "there are many good economists in Pakistan and abroad who enjoy world wide reputation." The name Atif Mian comes to mind
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Yawar
Apr 18, 2019 11:05pm
A good economist understands that good and able industrialists, and the people who run and maintain industry, can make or break economies. So a good FM is one whose main purpose and function is to allow industry to flourish by establishing policies to promote the establishment of industry (cell phone factories, auto and aircraft plants, heavy machinery plants, etc.) supported by well educated and trained staff. While a bad FM is one whose policies result in increasing interest rates, additional regulatory burden and red tape, with little of no emphasis on improving education including vocational training.
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Safdar Munir Nawaz Awan
Apr 18, 2019 11:08pm
Imran Khan needs proper way of handling economy.Fiance Ministry is portfolio of technocrats but it does not exclude bureaucrats and Prudent experience Politicians.Existing state of affairs of economy warrants some unpopular decision and ripples will be settled down with the passage of time.
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Syed
Apr 18, 2019 11:52pm
When Imran Khan tells opposition that it is too early to judge a government success or failure, then how come Asad Umar was judged based on 8 months tenure.
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Syed Ali
Apr 19, 2019 12:19am
@vijay, Yep, you are right on the money.
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Saifullah Samo
Apr 19, 2019 12:44am
Only the technocrats can pull the country out of deep mire. Appointing technocrats now is a wise decision by IK, although lot of time has been wasted. I thing things ahead can gradually improve hopefully and I believe Hafeez Pasha is the right man for the right job. Let us hope for the best as there is light at the end of the tunnel.
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TM
Apr 19, 2019 01:00am
@Shwetanshu Acharya, There are many Pakistanis like Dr. Mahboob up Haq who are well recognized. Please don't make such bombastic claims and bring in nationalism in everything. Yes Indian professional network is much larger due to its much larger population back home.
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JAhanzEb
Apr 19, 2019 01:34am
Asad was never fit to be FM - he lacks credentials to run an economy that too a distressed one. The right person out to be either an economist or a seasoned banker / central banker. Dr Hafeez Shaikh is good choice given his cv. The economic engine must run despite other ills which out to be fixed via structural reforms.
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Zahid Mahmoud Loan
Apr 19, 2019 01:55am
The sins of the past and the present caught up with Mr Umar since he did not have a clue where to begin. He should have used a mix of fiscal and monetary policies. As a pre-requisite he had to get rid of the state enterprises that could not/will not be fixed and should have been off loaded. The Pakistan steel, PIA, tbe Pakistan Railway and WAPDA can never be fixed and should have been given away to a private enterprenur. Similarly, the perception of PTI government succeeding should have started at the local leve, l for example getting tough on DCs, ACs and TMAs since they do very little in terms of cleaning the streets and laying drains and providing a satisafactory services to the public. Instead we have dummy who is the Chief Minister of the Punjab - the province that informs and formulate public opinion and is the benchmark for success and public support. The streets are dirty and TMAs and DCs are drawing huge salaries with very little to show. Mr Khan need to kick their back sides since their work formulate peoples opinions as to whether the central government is working or not. The Prime Minister needs to fix the economy and learn from those experiemced in economic affairs.
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Danial
Apr 19, 2019 02:26am
Members of the fortune 500 companies have billions of dollars in savings. Apple for instance 700 billion dollars. This only means that an economy of 220 billion people fails to come up with even the meager 13 billion dollars needed to pay interest on its foreign loans. The question is why?
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Imad khan
Apr 19, 2019 02:55am
@Arvind, wow. Such hate from across the border. I dont know why i still get surprised when indians get happy if pakistan suffers in any way.
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Shahid
Apr 19, 2019 06:31am
@vijay, When doing painful reforms, a finance minister would always need a political support from his prime minister and his party. Imran Khan did not support Asad Umar in Public, and the party was already divided in two groups.
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Look
Apr 19, 2019 06:36am
Why worry CPEC is here just surrender everything to China and see they will transform Pakistan's economy the same way they have transformed theirs
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ABD San Francisco, USA
Apr 19, 2019 06:55am
India was exactly in similar financial crisis in 1990, when it had to deposit gold to avoid default on the loan. In 1991 Prime Minister Rao appointed Dr. Man Mohan Singh an economist not a politician as the finance minister when India had $1 billions in foreign reserves, enough to pay for 2 weeks of imports, in comparison to US$283 billion today. Mr. Rao gave Mr. Singh free hand and freedom to implement structural reform mandated by IMF and the rest is a history. Imran Khan needs someone like Dr. Monmohan Singh to implement structural reform mandated by the IMF and make Pakistani Economy grow at 7% instead of predicted 2.3% growth.
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riaz alvi
Apr 19, 2019 07:17am
plck up some from president mushrraf team .we have talent s
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Amir
Apr 19, 2019 08:04am
And the real failure was to call " a spade , a spade " . A revolutionary economic reformer will identify and close loopholes allowing tax theft , multilayer taxation , and corrupt practices . He would identify undeclared businesses , especially those run undercover of welfare trusts , foundations , who's sizes and incomes are unmapped , which enjoy unmatched tax holidays and are run by powerful figures. These organisations are not run at par with legitimate businesses , and enjoy an overwhelming edge. Any business, small or large , has to be documented and under the tax net. But if the cat is to guard the milk , no one should surprised at the result. May Allah have mercy on us. Aamin.
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Anwar Amjad
Apr 19, 2019 09:40am
@Sat, yes, very true. Hafeez Sheikh is an excellent choice. I am sure he will deliver.
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Sameer
Apr 19, 2019 10:20am
@Uzair Younus, Imran went to Asad Umer to recruit him. What else justifies trust I do not know. @Ali Hasanain, I yet have to see any bright ideas from prestigious universities. Whats in it for them. They are in it for the money siphoning off the rich elite. @ Zahid Hussain, let's remember that PTI isn't that competent to bring the country to a standstill in just 7 months. When you ridicule the gov...you strengthen the narrative that PMLN didn't do much either.
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M. Emad
Apr 19, 2019 11:54am
Including the manager the entire Imran Khan Niazi team is incompetent.
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Smart Observer
Apr 19, 2019 11:56am
If Asad Umer was good or bad is not so material at this point. To fire him in the midst of the bail out package with IMF is very bad timing. Unless he really fouled up and lied that an agreement had been reached.
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El Cid
Apr 19, 2019 12:26pm
PM Khan is loosing it.
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umar farooq
Apr 19, 2019 12:29pm
I think its getting too late for PTI to get things on track they have lost precious eight months and opportunity to take tough decisions to get the economy on solid footing. Coming extreme summer in plains of Pakistan, and mounting circular debt will be resulting power outages which will affect people and riots cannot be ruled out. There lies the danger the only difference between PMLN and PTI is that N was better in keeping discipline and expert in Jogar kind of economy and IK team so far do not have any of skill
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AM
Apr 19, 2019 01:42pm
@ABD San Francisco, USA, PVNR was the visionary and MMS carried out his orders. Far from being in the league of PVNR, IK appears close to Kejriwal. As someone pointed out, he seems to know well how to block traffic, but doesn't know how to drive.
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Mashkoor Malik
Apr 19, 2019 02:30pm
Bieng leader IK should be responsible for this failure. They are the group of people without direction and vision.
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shoaib
Apr 19, 2019 02:42pm
IK still needs to understand the graveness of the situation. He definitely has no clue about the direction of his government. He keeps on recalling his promises when he can't deliver due to financial restraints.
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abc
Apr 19, 2019 03:23pm
@ABD San Francisco, USA, Foreign Exchange Reserves in India increased to 414 Billion USD
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Habib Zuberi
Apr 19, 2019 05:19pm
Correct observations.
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Habib Zuberi
Apr 19, 2019 05:40pm
@umar farooq, This a serious observation. Without further delay establish an economic advisory council with fine business and Economic background. Let technocrats deal with IMF and this council Chalk out the course in which country plans to move economy. The PM himself should attend its meetings once in a while to learn what is going on. Economy should be the top priority.
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Habib Zuberi
Apr 19, 2019 05:43pm
@Zahid Mahmoud Loan, good recommendations, but let the Govt. Manage its own budget.
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Masroor
Apr 19, 2019 05:53pm
The guy did not have the required expertise for the job! Period!
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Sami
Apr 19, 2019 08:21pm
This certainly proves that running a company is different than running a country. Hope Hafeez shaikh use his experience to bring back the economy on track.
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Manimaran
Apr 19, 2019 11:46pm
Take some cue from India to fix the problem. India had similar issues 5 years before
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Dr
Apr 20, 2019 01:46am
@Smirnak, get over it mate.. life is too short:D
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:18pm
Leaving a job is not a sign of incompetence or failure, as conjectured. It is a sign of a competent CEO/PM, keeping an eye on the ball. Presumptive assumptions lead to wrong conclusions.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:20pm
@Ammar Ahmed, are you an anti Pakistan person, or not even a citizen?
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:21pm
@Sam, stature has nothing to do with it.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:21pm
@Sky is the limit, agree.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:22pm
@ahmed, it is a matter of perspective. The smartest CEO's make the best choices, not worrying about popular opinion.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:26pm
@ahmed, are you even a Pakistani citizen?
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:36pm
@Rihaab Fareed Dhariwal, time will show if he made sound choices. After 30 years of looting, we can wait for his term to be over to see results.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:37pm
@Smirnak, thank you!
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:45pm
@Shwetanshu Acharya, IMF and world Bank people's chief task is to get and extend US control of world economies by loaning money, like a lifetime drug prescriptions written by US doctors, no thanks.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:46pm
@Justified, one possible individual. There are others.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:47pm
@Yawar, KPKs investments in education, healthcare and police are exemplary
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:48pm
@Safdar Munir Nawaz Awan, are you a qualified economist, or just another armchair quarterback.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:49pm
@Syed, agree
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:50pm
@Syed Ali, one Indian troll supporting another, whoops!
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:50pm
@TM, agree
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:51pm
@JAhanzEb, fair question, now history.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:53pm
@Zahid Mahmoud Loan, fair comments.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:56pm
@Danial, gross past mismanagement and looting like mafia.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:57pm
@ABD San Francisco, USA, fair comment.
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fairplay
Apr 20, 2019 05:59pm
@Sameer, I think he was advised by other capitalists on the PTI team.
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Hope for the Best
Apr 20, 2019 11:59pm
I request Imran Khan to hire someone who can understand and speak English on the seat of Finance Minister. 90% of his cabinet is illiterate, they can not even speak urdu properly. IMF asked Imran Khan we can not give the loan because your cabinet people can not speak English properly.
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Yawar
Apr 21, 2019 04:10am
No. Where Asad Umer failed was that he could not attract foreign and domestic investment. The government needs to give free land, zero tax and other tangible incentives to anyone wanting to set up a production-based industry that can employ people and boost exports. Until and unless this happens, finance ministers will keep on coming and going.
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Wajid
Apr 21, 2019 02:05pm
filers and non filers biggest achievement of Asad umar. All people should be in tax net.
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mah
Apr 21, 2019 02:18pm
Fully agree with Ali Hasnain, there was no strategy to inform people of why what is being done, and no real effort either. The information minister was more busy in criticising oppostion's past then doing his presnet job. I still believe Asad Umar is a better choice, he just needed the right support and good teamwork in cabinet.
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