Breaking the stupor

Published January 23, 2023

The country’s policy machinery has of late acted not very different from the indolent ass which inexplicably sets itself down in the middle of a busy street and thereafter refuses to budge. Shout at it, plead with it or even threaten it with a stick — it will not be swayed by reason or remonstration. At least, that is the picture that comes to mind when one tries to wrap their head around why the government has resisted letting go of some patently bad policy decisions that seem to have done tremendously more harm than good. Well, the public’s patience is now running short.

The State Bank governor recently got a taste of the people’s wrath when he was brought to task for his role in obliging our finance minister’s exchange rate fixation.

Jameel Ahmad ought to have expected anger when he visited the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry last Wednesday. In setting severe restrictions on who can be issued letters of credit and for what goods, his institution has earned the ire of countless industries and commercial enterprises that rely heavily on imports to keep their businesses going. But even if he did anticipate trouble, nothing could have prepared him for some of the more colourful protests directed his way.

Frustrated by the government policy to clamp down on imports rather than boost exports or woo more remittance dollars in the absence of an IMF lifeline, the businessmen in attendance came prepared with novel ways to humiliate the State Bank chief. The poor man was only able to redeem himself with the promise that the situation would improve in the coming week when ‘dollar inflows’ would improve the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves. For the sake of the country, it is hoped that he finds the dollars we so desperately need.

It is doubtful, however, that any of those promised inflows will offset the country’s troubles. On several occasions, the incumbent finance minister has made promises very similar to what the central bank governor made, only to have the ‘friendly countries’ he had pinned his hopes on make it public that they were no longer interested in providing Islamabad with anymore easy money.

Like a chastened child, the government must return to the IMF hat in hand and accede to implementing everything it had been asked to four months ago if it wants any real chance at averting default. The country, which has paid a steep price for that lost time, can only watch in disbelief as the government comes around to doing what everyone except Finance Minister Ishaq Dar knew all along needed to be done. No wonder those at the KCCI meet and greet were so vindictive when expressing their disgust.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2023

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