Dawn Editorial with topic background, Vocabulary (May 05, 2021)
Path of growth
FINANCE MINISTER Shaukat Tarin finally specified the future direction that the country’s economic policy will take when he disclosed his intention to secure IMF relaxation in some of the harsh conditions linked to the Fund’s $6bn loan. In his testimony before a National Assembly panel, Mr Tarin, an outspoken critic of the IMF-mandated contractionary economic adjustments, was convinced that the country would be in deep trouble if the economy did not grow rapidly. “If we continue with economic stabilisation policies, there will be no growth, the absence of which is creating enormous problems for the country,” he is quoted to have said. According to him, the economy needs to expand by a minimum of 5pc a year to increase revenues, create jobs and check debt accumulation — public and power both. A plan to put the economy on the growth path is ready. The idea is to meet IMF targets and conditions by expanding the economy instead of suffocating it. The plan aims to boost public development spending, broaden the tax net and leave power prices where they are.
This course correction isn’t surprising. The prime minister had been under pressure from his party to break away from the stringent IMF conditions and give some relief to the people battered by inflation and unemployment. The situation worsened when the coronavirus gripped the world though temporary suspension of the programme provided some room for monetary and fiscal stimulus at home. The defeat of PTI candidates in the recent bypolls also bolstered party demands for a change in economic direction. The electoral losses are seen as an outcome of the government’s poor economic performance.
Mr Tarin’s assertion that Pakistan could no longer afford economic stagnation is spot on. With nations everywhere trying to support their economies through generous fiscal and monetary incentives because of the pandemic, it is unfair to think that a country like Pakistan can meet the IMF’s difficult targets without hurting the people and the economy for a long time to come. Continuation of tough adjustments such as a drastic increase in electricity prices and taxes, in addition to the constraints on government spending, at a time when a new Covid wave has deepened economic and investment uncertainty would be disastrous. Although the economy has shown signs of recovery from the impact of the pandemic since last summer, it still remains fragile and in need of a stimulus to return to the path of growth. The present growth momentum should be sustained. However, it is not possible without strong support from the IMF. It is time the Fund showed, in Mr Tarin’s words, “kindness” and afforded the economy and the people some respite. Flexibility shouldn’t be problematic for the Fund given that the government only wants to pursue a different strategy to put its economic house in order, without leaving the programme or abandoning its targets.
Human rights 2020
THE human rights situation in Pakistan, almost predictably bleak every year, was deeply impacted in 2020 by an unprecedented factor — the Covid-19 pandemic. While the contagion has affected all segments of society, it has exacerbated existing socioeconomic inequalities. No ‘great equaliser’, this global crisis has dealt a cruel blow to already disadvantaged sections of society. The recently launched annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan takes into account the ways in which the pandemic led to many of the gains in health and education of the previous decades being rolled back as the economy tanked and people — especially factory workers and private employees — lost their jobs. People suffering from health conditions other than Covid-19 found it difficult to access medical help; and tens of millions of children missed both polio and routine immunisations last year.
The nationwide lockdown in March 2020, though necessary, led to widespread misery among daily-wage labourers and the poorest households. However, the HRCP report notes that the government’s provision of monetary relief through the Ehsaas and BISP programmes mitigated its effects for a number of people. The closure of schools and the extremely patchy switchover to online education left a vast swathe of children unable to continue classes due to absent or unreliable internet coverage. This loss of an entire school year will have long-term consequences for literacy levels, especially where girls’ education is concerned. Meanwhile, the pandemic — with ‘work from home’ directives and curtailed freedom of movement — also threw together victims and perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual abuse in close proximity for extended periods of time, leading to a spike in these crimes. Crammed into overcrowded prisons that are ripe for the spread of disease, prisoners got no relief from the highest court in the land that stayed high court orders to release some of them on a conditional and temporary basis. At least, far fewer convicts were awarded the death penalty last year — down to 177 from 158 in 2019 — and no execution was carried out. In major respects, Pakistan continues to run counter to international conventions. Enforced disappearances remained a blot on this country’s reputation, and the government appeared no closer to criminalising the act of ‘disappearing’ people. In fact, two major national human rights institutions have been without chairpersons since 2019, which raises questions about the centre’s commitment to protecting citizens’ rights. The picture is not a heartening one.