Crawling at the speed of light

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VIAFahd Husain
SOURCEThe Express Tribune
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They are running like the Flash on steroids, flying like Ironman on jetpacks and swimming like Aquaman on Red Bull. They are here, there and everywhere. Speed isn’t just a state of mind; it is here, now, a state of play. PTI Government .

When is 299,792 km/hour not fast enough?

When you’re PTI; when this is your first stint in national power; when your list of things to do is longer than the ability to get them done; and when your ambition may — just may — exceed your capability.

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But wait. It does not need to be like this. It can be doable. But for this, Flash, Ironman and Aquaman will need to take a hike. The rest may want to consider the following:

1. The economy requires an explanation. Yes it requires attention and action and all that jazz, and Finance Minister Asad Umar is already putting in the hours. But there is a gap between what is being done and what is being communicated. Hence the requirement for explanation. This week the Finance Minister shared some numbers: Current account deficit in the last three months is down from $2 billion a month to $1 billion a month, exports in December 2018 are up 5 per cent compared to exports in December 2017, inflation rate in the first five months of PTI is less than the inflation rate in the first five months of the PPP and PMLN governments in 2008 and 2013 respectively, etc. Fair enough. But…

2. But numbers alone are not enough without proper context. And regular context. And easily to comprehend context. It is this context that needs to counter the dangerous narrative that is gaining traction by the day and overshadowing every other thing that the PTI government is attempting to do at the speed of light.

3. The dangerous narrative: a) The government is afflicted with indecision about the IMF which has led to great uncertainty in the market; b) this uncertainty is adversely affecting the investment climate; c) threat of further erosion in the value of rupee is making small and big investors and businesses even more jittery; d) Exports have either not risen or risen marginally despite the massive depreciation of the rupee; e) inflation is on the march and growth is on a downward spiral; f) Bottom line: the economy is not in control.

Also Read: Govt still in talks with IMF: Asad Umar

4. Narratives are made on the airwaves, and on the front and op-ed pages, and on Twitter and Facebook (Snapchat too?). The Opposition PMLN has formidable economic warriors in its ranks: Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Miftah Ismail and Ahsan Iqbal. These three are armed with knowledge, numbers and experience of governance. Plus they command media attention. The three are using PTI novices for target practice. Daily.

5. Who does the PTI have? Asad Umar as the lone wolf cannot be expected to work twelve hours a day and then face the media on a daily basis. Fiaz ul Hassan Chauhan will face off Miftah Ismail on the economy? Seriously? Murad Saeed will argue with Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on growth rate and investment policies? Really? Faisal Vawda will defend fiscal measures and CPEC details with Ahsan Iqbal? Are you kidding me? One can count PTI economy specialists on the fingers of one hand — if that. There is some good work being done in terms of attracting investment and bringing in mega projects, but few people seem to know the details. The PTI’s consumption of media oxygen is being done by those whose knowledge about economy and business is confined to their flight reservations. Who will face off against the fire-breathing Shahid-Miftah-Ahsan trio? And don’t forget there’s Zubair Umar too.

6. The second mini-budget by the PTI is set to be announced on January 23. Expect some economic pain. We know what the PMLN is going to do: between now and January 23, their experts will sharpen their blades by gathering data and information so they can slice the mini-budget into ribbons. Question: what is the PTI doing to prepare the people to swallow this upcoming bitter pill? ‘Ghabrana nahin’ (do not worry) will not do the trick any more.

7. Identifying key priorities in the party manifesto is far different from actually sculpting them into real policy. We know the priorities close to the Prime Minister’s heart are: Education, Healthcare, Agriculture, Tourism, Housing, and Police and Civil Services reform. These are excellent priorities. But in five months, what is the progress? Talk is not enough when you’re in government. First take action, and then talk about the action. In all these areas, what are specific targets and objectives? What is the resource requirement? Have the numbers been crunched? What are the declared goalposts and what are the timelines to achieve them? Five months is not enough to realise all targets; five months is more than enough to map out the details of how to go about doing what needs to be done. Where’s the mapping?

8. For the PTI, starting and ending any conversation with what the PML-N government did wrong will start to have diminishing returns. Perhaps it already has. The ruling party will need to talk performance, talk delivery and talk reform. And it will need to walk this talk, not just talk it. Ministers may hype up random projects to show they are working, but the Prime Ministers will need to ensure all these random performances add up to one big picture drawn with the six words that define Mr Khan and his party: C.H.A.N.G.E.

9. If however this word is flipped and the other side spells ‘status quo’ there shall be trouble in this land of many people. If ‘naya Pakistan’ becomes a pejorative word on the street, the PTI should start experiencing the first pangs of worry.

10. Five months in a five-year mandate isn’t much. But it is enough to recognise patterns, trends, habits and the onset of governance inertia weighed down by the hulk of bureaucracy. If the government continues to travel at the speed of light, it will shoot way past its targets. Or it may fumble the lift off. Aim to sprint — but first, learn to crawl.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2019.

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