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Caretakers and the election pledge.

The interim administration headed by Mr. Moeen Qureshi which is more or less two months old in office was inducted to hold elections in Pakistan to man the country's Legislature both at the Federal and provincial levels within a period of three months from the date of relinquishment of charge by the outgoing prime minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif. Mr. Moeen Qureshi and his associates in the interim government have been quite emphatic from the very outset that their task is to accomplish the holding of fair and impartial, in fact transparent, elections in the country within the stipulated time-frame; but with passage of time it is becoming increasingly clear that the interim government has much more in view than meets the eye; and people at large are becoming increasingly aware that all is not well with the Interim Government.

Possibly, they are not going to confine themselves to their defined mandate; rather they are going beyond it. It is, however, a fact that Mr. Moeen Qureshi enjoys the reputation of being an eminent economist of Pakistan with the IMF and World Bank background; but those who had worked to bring him in, had evidently chosen him for this high office, even if on temporary basis, under the impression, or assumption, that he was a nondescript as a political worker, and as such had no ambition or pretensions whatsoever in the field, which has been the happy hunting ground of politicians alone for the past so many decades. But what has followed in the recent weeks in Pakistan has more or less left them (the people) thoroughly disillusioned. For after Mr. Moeen Qureshi was in the saddle, he soon went to the United States under the plea of a health check-up; but obviously, he had gone out for consultations from his colleagues in the international financial institutions, past and present, to give practical shape to his ideas on the economy of Pakistan, and ways and means to achieve his ends.

Soon after his return from the U.S., he started selling his 'economic package' idea which began to be avidly awaited. In broad outlines, Mr. Qureshi had already hinted that he wanted to expand the tax base in the country, and would in the first instance bring into the tax net the so-far-spared agricultural incomes, which evidently sent a ripple of jubilation in the circles of course other than those of the landholders and the agriculturists of high order. But simultaneously, he announced that he contemplated that the tax base of Pakistan economy should be broadened: More importantly he was on the lookout for augmenting the resource-base of the economy as well. Before embarking on this, he came to close loopholes on the spending side, and started with the suspension of the Yellow Cab scheme, as this according to him caused a drain on the already acute foreign exchange resources of the country. He also held in abeyance the Tameer-e-Watan programme. This was done to control the budgetary and foreign situation without loss of time. In the context of the improvement of the resource base, the Interim government took to increase electric power and gas tariffs, gearing side by side the recovery and collection systems of the dues in respect to the utilities.

The Caretaker government also contemplates introduction of the process of documentation of economic transaction without which they said the tax administration cannot proceed with efficiency; and without proper documents, the tax-payer also cannot protect himself against arbitrary or unscrupulous behaviour of the taxation authority. To add to the people's misgivings, the Caretakers went ahead with their reform measures which include raising the procurement price of wheat along with a raise in the price of vegetable ghee at the rate of Rs. 3 per k.g. These two increases directly and indirectly hit the commonman, and tend to deprive him of his bare necessities of life to a substantial degree. By way of an eyewash, the Administration sought to increase the wages of low-paid government servants by a minimum of Rs. 100 p.m. so that he has less ground to grumble, and keeps away from the common row over the price spiral.

This much of shilly-shallying by the Caretaker government on the economic and financial side was bound to have repercussions in the country at all levels and the politicians were quick to fish in the troubled waters. The Muslim League of the Nawaz Sharif group were the first to express their concern on the situation arising out of the Caretakers' over-stepping their limits, and expressed the view that the set-up had a bigger programme than what was assigned to it. Widespread resentment in the general public is in evidence over the threatened price-spiral in the country giving people reason to think that some thing fishy is up the sleeve of the caretaker administration, and there are signs of growing unrest in the country. Shrieking headlines appear in newspapers depicting the people's plight following government's announcement of increases in the utility rates, and those of commodities of daily use. While one headline in a front-rank daily reads: "Faisalabad angry over Price Hikes"; another refers to "Exorbitant Rise" in the prices of RBD palm oil and soyabean oil, (two chief components in the manufacture of vanaspati), from Rs. 4200 to Rs. 7200 per ton, and from Rs. 3200 to Rs. 6200 per ton, respectively, just in one day of the official announcement of the economic package by the prime minister. "Bitter pill may be difficult to swallow" is another headline of a news-story datelined Karachi. Ominously, strike threats by a number of political and labour organisations are looming large on the horizon. There is already a strike in the provincial metropolis of Sindh, viz. Karachi as this article is being written. Chief of Jamat-e-Islami Qazi Husain Ahmad gave a call for strike on the 2nd of the ensuing month, viz. September preceded by a protest campaign of countrywide proportions if the "caretaker government did not withdraw the recent increases in the prices". Qazi Husain Ahmad went on: "The imported Prime Minister will have to withdraw the increases in the prices or we will launch a countrywide movement, and force you to do so". He said so while addressing a big public meeting in Rawalpindi on August 24. "The people of this country are not deaf so as to allow you (Moeen Qureshi) to keep on following the dictates of the IMF and World Bank", he remarked.

The recent price-hike in the context of increases in the prices of petroleum products, vegetable oil, wheat, and levy of agricultural tax had also reverberations in the Senate, the country's upper House where two Senators Fasih Iqbal and Hafiz Husain Ahmad, came down heavily on the government of Prime Minister Moeen Qureshi for "going beyond its limits". In a resumed discussion on four identical motions by various Senators regarding increase of prices of the aforesaid commodities, the Senate belaboured the Government saying that increase in the prices of essential commodities has caused "unrest among the people". Senator Fasih Iqbal blamed the Caretakers for freezing the funds for development protects in Balochistan, which had in consequence put in cold storage such projects as Gawadur Port, electrification projects, Saindak Project, Highway project, and educational projects. Another Senator, Hafiz Husain Ahmad said that the present government had no constitutional or legal authority to enforce the 'economic package' in the country. He alleged that the entire country had been mortgaged to the World Bank and the IMF, and the Caretaker government should have left the economic issues to the incoming elected government. The steps taken by it in the meantime create doubts in the public as to its intentions in the future, he added. Hafiz Husain Ahmad urged upon the government to make public names of persons who have taken loans from the indigenous banks, and other financial institutions before the elections so that the nation could see them in their true colours.

Recent reports have it that a comprehensive list of beneficiaries and defaulters has been released by the Pakistan Banking Council following issuance of the Ordinance amending the Banks Nationalisation Act. Top-ranking politicians, and prominent business groups have defaulted (or got their loans written off) to the tune of Rs. 62 billion. These had been borrowed by those concerned from 1986 onwards. These and such other measures are bound to cast shadows on the political horizon of the country, and lead people to impute motives of sinister nature. They are of the view that the caretaker government has intention to stay longer at the helm than claimed.

From all accounts, it seems, the emphasis is shifting from the oft-repeated assurances of holding free and fair elections and at the appointed dates, to rectifying the nation's economic ills, and leaving a better and sounder economy to the successor government that would emerge from the October elections, as stated by the Caretaker Prime Minister, Mr. Moeen Qureshi, at a press conference he addressed in Quetta recently. A change in the order of priorities is in evidence for all practical purposes.
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Title Annotation:Moeen Qureshi's interim government
Author:Ali, Syed Abid
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Previous Article:Defaulting on promises.
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