IT is becoming an increasingly visible trend now that wherever important decisions are being made the person most conspicuous by his absence is the prime minister himself.
At the moment, entire sectors of the economy are landing up in situations that necessitate public appeals and pose potentially catastrophic threats to the continuity of business.
The oil and gas sector, automobiles and textiles are examples — each is saddled with its own peculiar set of problems. Meanwhile, one after another we are seeing fuel and power tariff hikes, in some cases born of genuine necessity but in others clearly designed to compensate for the lack of governance. The hikes in the power tariff recently notified, as well as the increase in the gas tariff, clearly point to a critical lack of governance in the system.
On Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan was in Faisalabad to cut a ribbon for a Special Economic Zone project for the Chinese; he followed this up with a meal at a shelter for the poor and homeless. It is laudable indeed that the prime minister continues to place such importance on the plight of the poor and displays a very genuine concern for how the poor are being impacted by his own government’s ongoing economic adjustment under a stringent IMF programme.
But stopping by for a meal or cutting a ribbon is nothing substantive — it is of ceremonial significance only.
Investors in existing SEZs say they almost regret their decision to invest since the government has violated the commitments it has made to them, whether they pertain to a tax-exempt status for enterprises in SEZs or the provision of infrastructure. And shelters for the poor created in a highly publicised blitz are operating without any commitment by the provincial government of fiscal resources to meet the expenditures, thus casting a shadow over their sustainability.
Today, appeals from industry are increasing, whether against the tax authorities for withheld refunds or non-payment of bills in the power sector, or against the absence of gas or refiners on the point of closing down operations due to the pile-up of the furnace oil inventory.
In every area, there is a sense of drift, a derelict state of governance, and the consequences of neglect are getting to be more and more visible.
The polio virus has made a spectacular return, thanks to the juvenile decision of the PTI leadership to place their social media team leader in charge of the polio programme. Industry is sagging and is reduced to issuing public appeals.
Parliament is prostrate and borrowing is on the increase, while the costs of neglect are passed on to the consumers, whether through power or gas tariffs.
The country is now crying out for leadership at the top, somebody to pull it all together. An absentee prime minister is not working to solve problems and set the direction.
Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2020