Alarm bells


Power sector: For the first time ever in our long chequered history, receivables in the power sector have crossed Rs684 billion. In 2012, when the OPEC Basket Price stood at $109 per barrel, the PPP government claimed that the multi-billion rupee circular debt was because of the high price of oil. In 2013, the newly formed PML-N government, after paying off a colossal Rs480 billion, claimed that the menace of circular debt has been buried for all times to come.

OPEC Basket Price, a gift of God for the PML-N, now stands at $45 a barrel, a decline of nearly 60 percent. Clearly, our power sector terror has little to do with the international price of oil. Clearly, our power sector terror is a domestic governance issue – and the PML-N has not been able to control it. Lo and behold, no one in the official circles is alarmed.

Remittances: In July 2015, overseas Pakistani workers remitted back $1.66 billion. In July 2016, the same went down to $1.33 billion; a hefty 20 percent decline. Our economy literally dwells on hard currency remittances by our workers aboard. A 20 percent decline should, therefore, be ringing alarm bells all over but the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) remains complacent.

An estimated 1.5 million Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia send back nearly $6 billion a year. The Bin Laden Group, the largest construction conglomerate in Saudi Arabia, has laid off 25 percent of its work force. Potentially, a couple of hundred thousand Pakistani workers could be sent back amounting to a $2 billion yearly loss from Saudi Arabia alone.

The SBP’s July remittance data is scary. Remittances from the UK are down 38 percent, perhaps a Brexit fallout. And remittances from the US are down 34 percent (yet unexplained). Lo and behold, no one in the official circles is alarmed.

Exports: In July 2013, the first month of the PML-N government, our exports stood at $2.1 billion. Last month, our exports amounted to $1.5 billion; an alarming 30 percent decline. Lo and behold, our export target, set under the Strategic Trade Framework 2015-18, is $35 billion (remember, we failed to achieve the $24 billion export target set for FY 2016).

Foreign Investment: In 2014, total foreign investment was recorded at $4.4 billion. In 2015, the same fell to $2.7 billion and the SBP’s provisional figure for 2016 stands at a paltry $952 million. That’s a decline of 77 percent since 2014. Lo and behold, no one in the official circles is alarmed.

Debt: In June 2015, our total debt and liabilities stood at Rs19.8 trillion. The SBP’s figure for 2016 stands at Rs22.4 trillion. In dollar terms, our total debt and liabilities have gone up by an alarming $26 billion in just one year. To be certain, this trend is not sustainable. Lo and behold, no one in the official circles is alarmed.

Ring ring the bells/ Wake the town

Everyone is sleeping/ Shout at the crowd

Wake them up/ This anger’s deeper than sleep

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.