A repeat prescription for Sindh’s economic revival

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Sindh Government
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Sindh hopes to surprise the nation by stellar performance going forward under the rejuvenated Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah-led government that returned to power on the strength of the rural constituency yet again in 2018.

People in government circles believe that despite coming back to power in the province, the election results at the national level and the vote swing in urban Sindh have unnerved the PPP leadership that now talks about polls and performance in the same breath.

Mr Shah’s team, at the start of the new term, foresees a fractious relationship with the centre amidst mounting pressure from the party hierarchy for visible development outcomes. They pin their hope on five key factors: continuity, healthy competition with other provinces, preparedness to widen the scope of the public-private partnership model, focus on district governance and a stronger grip of Chairman Bilawal on party affairs which, they believe, will dilute the adverse impact of multiplicity of power centres active in the past and confusion in the chain of command and control.

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Posturing by Sindh Governor Imran Ismail served to deepen the suspicion in the PPP ranks regarding the federal government’s intentions. They think that Prime Minister Imran Khan and Governor Ismail may collude to squeeze the fiscal and political space for the Sindh team and dread that the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) could play up social divides for political mileage. The provincial government, therefore, wishes to quickly mobilise its team and get down to serious business of improving governance and service delivery.

“If people voted the PPP back in power, it means it must have done something right and is demonised more than it deserves or perhaps the level of beaten people of the province has not been high,” commented an analyst with interest in comparative studies of sub-national economies.

“After a lull of three months, we are heading to another phase of frantic activity to shipshape the finance bill for the last three quarters of the current fiscal in the light of the development strategy of the ruling party,” Dr Naeem-uz-Zafar, a senior member of the provincial economic team told Dawn.

Unlike the last federal government that presented and passed the budget for the full fiscal year, the Sindh government remained true to its proven democratic credentials and did not present the finance bill. It chose to authorise spending for only three months for the unelected caretaker government. The intent was to provide the next elected government with a framework to remodel the budget for the nine-month period (Oct 2018-July 2019) to suit its policies and priorities.

Also Read: Sindh Revenue Board’s collection surpasses target

“I know people find the PPP’s current political conduct disappointing. But no one can deny the legacy of its contributions. It successfully tackled the most contentious but vital components of a working, progressing democracy starting with the constitution,” commented an analyst.

Analysts are hoping for a stronger grip of Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on party affairs that, they believe, will dilute the adverse impact of the multiplicity of power centres active in the past

Naheed Memon, chairperson of the Sindh Board of Investment, believes there is no short cut if the destiny of the province is to change. “Yes, social indicators are important. But for me, it is the base of the economy that defines the status. If anything is to change for the better, it is going to require doses of investment in manufacturing and services in Sindh. Only economic expansion will alter the landscape of Sindh.

“We have broken the ice,” she said, referring to the performance of Mr Shah’s economic team that he intends to keep intact. “I meet old and new investors every single day. Yes, there are problems and complaints. But all those who deal with us know that the provincial government is in for serious business. The current government is keen to assist and facilitate private investment in dedicated zones and beyond. The ball is in the court of the business community to come forward and trust this land and its resources and test the government for its commitment to economic expansion,” she said.

The private sector, which is wary of the PPP for what it articulates as corruption and brazen populism in its hierarchy, has adopted a reconciliatory stance. It now appears inclined to work closely with the government.

“The maiden speech by Bilawal in the National Assembly was lauded not only by jiyalas but also those who are still uncomfortable with the PPP. The decision to continue with Mr Shah as chief minister was also reassuring as old-timers have been sidelined. Is that the beginning of a new PPP?” Employers Federation of Pakistan (EFP) President Majyd Aziz stated while talking to this scribe.

He maintained that his optimism rests on his reading that the PPP chairman is coming out of the shadow of his father as the time for political sloganeering ends and a new order begins.

Mr Aziz advised the PPP chairman to focus on economic issues of Sindh and make the paradigm shift from politicking to delivering on economic demands. “It is time he networked with businessmen, engineers, architects and other segments of civil society. He should now visit chambers, associations etc,” he said, adding that the EFP has prepared Economic Vision 2030 that suggests pathways to get out of the economic quagmire.

Muffasar Atta Malik, president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, expressed trust in the chief minister who, he said, has set the ball rolling after a long phase of stagnation. “He has no choice but to deliver. They have seen the mood of the electorate and the reach of the forces waiting to capitalise on public disenchantment,” he said. He hoped that representatives of the private sector would be kept in the loop to ensure fast-paced development in the province.

Anjum Nisar, another leader of the business community, was not happy. He complained about the PPP-led government in Sindh, saying it ignored the industrial areas in Karachi. “Please visit the SITE area or any other industrial cluster. The situation will speak for itself. How can anyone expect people to commit their hard-earned capital for new projects if old ones underperform for a lack of facilities?” he said. He also emphasised the need for further improvement in the law and order situation and clarity on business-related policies in Sindh to instil confidence in prospective investors.

(This news/article originally appeared in DAWN on September 3rd, 2018)

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