THE bickering started before the weekend was out. While economists, analysts and experts were poring over the budget documents to make sense of the implications of the government’s proposals for the common citizen, our politicians seemed to have spent more time sharpening their tongues.
Not unexpectedly, the PTI and PML-N began sparring over the budget soon after its unveiling, and their attacks against each other will likely set the tone for the coming weeks, raising political tensions and adding to domestic instability.
Consider a recent debate on who took on more debt during their time in power. Responding to criticism over the size of Pakistan’s public debt, former finance minister Shaukat Tarin on Saturday asserted that it grew by ‘only’ 76pc during the PTI’s tenure, not the 80pc as claimed by the new government. This prompted scorn from the PML-N, with the information minister responding with the misleading claim that the PTI had ‘confessed’ to taking on 76pc as much debt as all other rulers of the country put together.
This, in turn, invited another riposte, this time from former information minister Fawad Chaudhry, who claimed that most of the debt taken on was only to retire old loans taken by past governments. In the back and forth, both parties pushed their own line on the matter, which seemed quite at odds with economic realities past and present.
Neither was willing to acknowledge that the other faced situations of considerable adversity — one, the Covid-19 pandemic and the other, the Russia-Ukraine conflict — and had to make difficult decisions to adapt. And neither party was forthcoming about any ideas they may have about how bad decisions may be salvaged.
There is a view that crises offer opportunities for large-scale changes in society. However, the intellectual dishonesty apparent in the allegations and counter-allegations traded in the aftermath of the budget presentation is a blunt reminder that we perhaps should not be expecting much to change.
There is arguably much left to be desired in the budget, drawn up as it was under certain conditions set by the IMF, and in the midst of an economic storm that would give any political party sleepless nights. However hard it tries to appease everyone, it leaves a lot of serious questions unanswered. Even the finance minister, when cross-questioned over the weekend by journalists regarding some glaring discrepancies in his fiscal plans, did not seem too sure that the budget would stay as it is in the coming weeks or months.
This situation is far from ideal, as it indicates that the government’s plans are not firm. Now is no time to be uncertain; yet, instead of holding serious discussions on how to make the best of the economic situation, our politicians are playing the blame game instead.
Published in Dawn, June 14th, 2022