JUST where is the finance minister?
Apart from the bluster we saw in the first few days after he took control, we have heard little from Ishaq Dar even though the economy remains trapped in the throes of a storm of near Homeric proportions.
Last month, prices continued to rise at a breakneck pace, draining household budgets at rates not seen in decades. It is becoming a real challenge for many just to put food on the table, not to mention that the daily commute seems to be becoming more expensive by the day, and the cost of keeping the lights on is pushing the masses to desperation.
Read: For the love of Dar
It is not just ordinary citizens who are feeling the heat. According to a recent survey, business confidence has fallen through the floor, with entrepreneurs increasingly pessimistic about the direction Pakistan is headed in. Two of every three businesses, according to the survey, say they are in trouble.
The decimation of discretionary income by runaway inflation is evident in the fact that 81pc of cloth and garment shop owners have reported facing adversity. While factors like inflation, taxes, loadshedding and reduced spending by customers have been cited as challenges by business owners, the survey also points to the unprecedented uncertainty created by the ceaseless political turmoil in the country.
Things are apparently so bad that business confidence is now lower than it was at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
If the government doesn’t trust those numbers, the finance minister need only compare the offtake of petrol and diesel to last year if he wants an idea of where economic activity levels currently stand. Sales of petrol and diesel were down 18pc and 25pc, respectively, in the first four months of the ongoing fiscal year, an indication of just how much steam the economy has lost compared to a year ago.
Granted that the entire world is reeling from the shock of the Russia-Ukraine crisis; however, it is the responsibility of the person tasked with the finance portfolio to keep inflation in control and safeguard the economy against a hard landing. It has been disappointing to note the incumbent government’s seeming lack of intent in this regard.
Editorial: More than economics
After quibbling within its ranks over whether or not Miftah Ismail had the right ideas about how to steer the economy, the PML-N had recalled Mr Dar amid much fanfare with the promise that he would deliver.
Considering the grave challenges facing the economy, the expectations attached to Mr Dar’s return to the helm had seemed fanciful at best. Given how silent he has gone since then, it appears he may have been unprepared for the task at hand. Pakistan cannot afford inaction at this critical juncture. It is high time Mr Dar lives up to the responsibility that he lobbied and fought for.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2022