FINANCE Minister Ishaq Dar could have kept the Pakistan Economic Survey 2022-23 unveiling ceremony quite short. ‘We blame everyone and everything but ourselves’, would have neatly summarised the gist of most of what he had to say about his government’s report card for the outgoing fiscal year.
It wasn’t difficult to see why he felt a need to be so defensive. The numbers he had to share told a harrowing tale: most key targets were missed, the economy barely kept afloat, inflation had wrecked citizens’ purchasing power, and everything pointed to the prospect of a continuing slowdown in the absence of any unforeseen stimuli.
Perhaps it would have been easier to sympathise had some self-appraisal and reflexivity been on display. After all, even in periods of severe crisis, one can find hope in knowing their future is in the hands of someone who is honest and forthright about the challenges that are being faced.
Instead, Mr Dar’s speech remained politically angled. He mostly kept referring to the good days of his last stint in government, apparently seeking to persuade critics that his ability to manage the economy ought not to be judged on his recent performance but from his ‘achievements’ in his 2013-2017 tenure.
It was a rather facile line of argument, considering he had pushed out Miftah Ismail in the middle of the fiscal year knowing full well that the economy faced conditions vastly different from the last time he was in power.
Interestingly, Mr Dar refused to acknowledge Mr Ismail at all. When he referred to the stalled IMF programme — which, incidentally, he described as the “IMF drama” — Mr Dar conveniently ‘forgot’ that it had been successfully revived by his predecessor.
Instead, he blamed his failure to negotiate with the IMF on the PTI’s decision last year to freeze fuel prices, which he claimed had ‘irrevocably’ damaged the lender’s trust.
By failing to take any responsibility for the economy’s sorry state, Mr Dar insulted the intelligence of those who were anticipating an appraisal of the government’s economic performance in a crisis period.
There is no denying that this was a terrible year, with global crises triggered by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the catastrophic floods that followed last year’s monsoon ravaging our economy in unforeseen ways.
Mr Dar should have at least detailed the finance ministry’s efforts to address the many challenges faced by the country in this period.
By avoiding that discussion, he only reinforced the perception that he has simply been bumbling from one crisis to another. His enduring fixation with the exchange rate — which made a cameo in his speech yesterday — also suggested that he has learned nothing from past mistakes. Is he the right man for the job? Today’s budget may hold a definitive answer.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2023