Political consensus

July 22, 2019

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THE IMF’s resident representative in Pakistan was right to put further emphasis on the importance of consensus for the implementation of the Fund programme. Her remarks, during a recent symposium in Islamabad, were generically phrased to imply all manner of consensus. But the fact that the Fund has specifically pointed out the ruling party’s lack of majority in the upper house as a significant source of risk to the passage of legislation required for successful implementation of the programme suggests that political consensus is at the heart of the matter. More broadly, the government needs to put in greater effort to build consensus among other categories of stakeholders as well, such as the business and trader community, which is not currently reconciled to playing its role in helping the government fulfil its commitment to an ambitious revenue target for the current fiscal year. Without this consensus, the programme faces significant challenges and its implementation will have a question mark hanging over it.

In the present environment, however, achieving consensus is easier said than done. The government is committed to the pursuit of objectives that currently are pulling it in opposite directions. The accountability drive under which leading figures from the opposition parties are being arrested is increasingly being cast as a political ‘witch-hunt’, and is souring relations between the government and opposition whose support will be needed when the time comes to ensure the passage of key legislation required under the programme. Any exercise in persuasion under these circumstances is bound to be complicated by the prevailing political situation. Where the business and trader community is concerned, it may be browbeaten into desisting from further disruptive activity such as strikes, or even from issuing hostile statements. But once the game shifts towards actually extracting the required revenues from their income streams, any use of coercive methods will be counterproductive. In time, the dust has to settle for business to resume, both in the economic and political sense of the word. It is the government’s responsibility and obligation to bring that about. This is not just a moral responsibility but a need of the times. The political risk hanging over programme implementation needs to be taken more seriously because it can potentially negate all the other efforts being mounted by the government to see itself through the challenges that are about to start. A mature approach is needed at this time.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2019