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Thursday Nov 21 2019

The wrong numbers

Adviser to the PM on Finance Abdul Hafeez Shaikh claimed exports grew by 9.6 percent in October 2019. Photo: File 

LAHORE: The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday released numbers which showed exports in October 2019 increasing by 6.75 per cent, after Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, country’s top financial official, in one of his media briefings, bragged with pride the growth was 9.6 per cent.

Now the question is whom should we believe?

The tendency to overstate positives in the economy is common in this regime. What the ruling elite states to media is generally contradicted by official facts. This perhaps is the only government that is trumpeting a turnaround in the economy when the country is consistently posting negative growth.

When this government assumed power the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate was 5.8 per cent. In its first year, the GDP growth reduced to 3.3 per cent and in the first four months of this fiscal year, it is under three per cent. Another tendency that is in vogue these days is bad news is deliberately delayed for as long as possible. The large scale manufacturing (LSM) for instance declined six per cent in the first two months of this fiscal year, but Pakistan Bureau of Statistics has not revealed the LSM data for the month of September and October even in the third week of November.

The delay gives rise to apprehensions the performance in these months has been even worse.

Yes, we posted current account surplus of $99 million in the month of October but this has been achieved mainly because of import compression plus remittances. The contribution of exports on this count is negligible.

So we are regularly posting a decline in imports along with a nominal increase in exports (negative growth last fiscal year and 3.81 per cent in the first four months of this fiscal year). At the same time, we are constantly producing less for the domestic market as well.

When the inflation is in double-digit and the economy is shrinking we call it stagflation and there is nothing to rejoice about it. We should exuberate when the economy starts posting GDP growth.

As far as the people on the street are concerned they are in deep trouble. Almost all of them are unsure if they will be able to retain their existing jobs. More than 90 per cent of those who were rendered jobless in the last fifteen months are still on the lookout and have not succeeded in securing even an inferior one.

The social welfare programmes launched by this government are commendable but given the financial constraints none of them has the ability to address the misery of even five per cent of population. The remaining 95 per cent are wondering what hit them.

The public appeasing schemes like opening governor houses and state rest houses have increased the government maintenance expenditures and destroyed the beauty of these places. These should have been auctioned to overseas Pakistanis and the super-rich living in Pakistan to generate billions of badly needed dollars. The governor house Lahore, a legacy of colonial rule, is not worth retaining and reminding our new generation of former masters. This building alone could fetch over $2 billion in auction. Making it a university is absolutely counterproductive because several larger universities could have been built from the proceeds of the sale of this governor house.

In the same way the Mayo Garden is a relic of colonial days with less than three dozen lavish houses each established on 8-12 canals. The government officers living in these houses cannot even maintain their lawn. These lawns were maintained by Pakistan Railways staff. These mansions could also earn the government around $2 billion. You can build numerous state-of-art hospitals from that money.

We cannot let the Railway be run so inefficiently. The accidents have created records. Once the safest mode of transportation, it has turned out to be the most feared by the passengers. We do not need new passenger trains because our road transport covers all parts of the country more efficiently. After assuming power, this government created euphoria about repossessing thousands of acres of illegally occupied Railway land. Fifteen months later and no one knows what happened to that drive and if some land had been recovered and why was it not being auctioned.

Even in Railways, we have overstated our achievements. The revenues have increased because of increase in fare and increase in number of trains but the Railways deficit is the same as it was during the tenure of the past government.

Pakistan needs true leaders that take the country ahead on real performance and not on rhetoric. It has the potential to move ahead if the governance is rule-based and not whim-oriented.

Originally published in The News