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PML-N’s unimpressive economic scorecard

The democracy’s essence lays as much in accountability as in representation. However, holding the elected responsible for their promises is something Pakistanis usually do in the run-up to elections, rather than during the electoral term.

But, thanks to the devolved governance structure manned by different political parties in provinces, the public behaviour seems to be changing as political parties face an unprecedented level of public scrutiny right from their first year in office.

It was a testament to that change when the Islamabad-based free-market think tank, PRIME, released a tracking report on the PML-N’s economic performance (Jun-Dec 2013) in light of its manifesto promises. The report, supported by the Center for International Private Enterprise, developed a scorecard based on 26 goals identified in the Party’s manifesto on economic revival, energy security and social protection.

Each goal was measures in terms of policy and legislative developments, institutional reforms and implementation. Based on its own homework and feedback from business community, politicians and economists, PRIME assigned an overall score of 4.45/10 to the Nawaz Sharif’s Party.

That score conforms to the generally bad perception of economic management in first 6 months. No wonder then that ‘Economic Revival’ received the worst score: 3.17/10. Within that, the PML-N scored somewhat better due to progress in privatisation process, LSM resurgence, Award of GSP+ status, low-income housing, and some measures on zeroing the export tax and duty on non-essential imports.

But, the Party fared badly in this scorecard due to GST hike, budget deficit deviation, inflation spike, and high government borrowing.

For ‘Energy Security’, the central government earned 4.16/10-–mainly due to its failure to follow through on promises like creation of one Ministry of Energy, reforming the power generation and distribution companies and restricting the transmission and distribution losses to below 10 percent. While policy focus for gas imports and Thar coal field development was recognised, their implementation received poor scores.

The government received relatively better scores for its efforts for bills collection, narrowing down power subsidies, earlier gas diversion to power plants, moving towards rationalising energy tariffs with international fuel prices and blanket ban on new CNG stations.

The Party’s ‘Social Protection’ promises scored the best, 6 out of 10; thanks to the continuation of the BISP scheme and providing electricity subsidy to only those consuming 100 units a month.

Despite a gloomy scorecard, PRIME concluded that the PML-N government’s promised economic agenda is “moving in the right direction”. But, it rightly cautioned the political leaders to “avoid the zigzags which may lead it astray from the targets it set for itself”.

That being said, such analyses must be read with caveat and caution. For one, while 6 months may be time enough for the government to create policies and announce priorities; it takes more time for policy changes to reflect quantitatively.

Secondly, one cannot delink the current security situation from any economic analysis, for the gains may be ephemeral and losses may deepen if militancy is not tackled urgently.

Moreover, the problem with election manifestos in Pakistan is that they draft a slew of promises without any implementation timeline. That ambiguity means that technically a promise, especially of economic nature, is not broken until the political term is out.

In addition, the fact that economic indicators like discount rate, inflation, budget deficit and GST will go up and down during the 5-year term (depending on the budgetary and economic situation) makes it difficult to say whether these targets are kept, and for how long!

In any case, one appreciates this work in the hope that such informed analyses will continue to find root in the national political discourse. Now that provinces are the major spenders post-18th Amendment, it would be interesting to see similar analyses on provincial performances-–though that kind of manifesto evaluation will be harder to do given all political promise are Federal, not provincial, in nature.

Source: Policy Research Institute of Market Economy (PRIME) *Selected from amongst the 26 targets studied


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