Without the US? | Farrukh Saleem

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We are not beggars; we have been conscripted into begging. We are not poor, wealth has been sucked out of us. We are a fertile nation – both land and minds. We are the sixth largest country in the world – and the youngest – with 63 percent of the total population under the age of 25. What this means is that a very large segment of our population has the potential to take Pakistan towards financial independence and prosperity.

The only missing ingredient is political intent. From political intent to an actionable plan, to an implementation team; and herein, lies financial independence and prosperity, both within our reach.

Our primary vulnerability is economic – and the two evils are budgetary deficit and trade deficit. The two evils have turned us into beggars. The two evils have sucked the wealth out of us. Red alert: Both the evils are manmade, not God-given. Budget deficit is the amount by which government’s expenditures exceed its revenue. And a budgetary deficit means conscripted begging (in order to fill the gap). Budget 2017-18 shows a man-made budgetary deficit of Rs1.5 trillion. This means Rs50,000 worth of begging for and on behalf of each and every Pakistani family for a year’s survival.

Every donor-sponsored Pakistani government focuses exclusively on revenue generation but fails at it year after year. Just add up the following four items: power-sector losses=Rs400 billion a year, public-sector enterprises (PIA, railways, steel mills etc) losses=Rs400 billion a year, public-sector development programme commissions=Rs600 billion a year and commodity operations debt=Rs400 billion. These four items total up to Rs1.8 trillion. This is no rocket science. All these losses are man-made – and that is no conspiracy. All that is needed are reforms, power sector reforms, PSE and PSDP reforms.

On the more symbolic side of things, we have four other expenditure items. One, why do we spend Rs8 million a day every day of the year on the cabinet division? Two, why do we spend Rs5 million a day every day of the year on foreign tours of the PM? Three, why do we spend Rs2 million a day every day of the year on the PM Office? And four, why do we spend Rs1.3 million a day every day of the year on the presidency?

Trade deficit is the ‘amount by which the cost of a country’s imports exceeds the value of its exports’. This is the other evil that has made beggars out of us. Never in the financial history of Pakistan have we had a five-year period of falling exports. Never in the history of Pakistan have we had a $35 billion trade deficit. The long-term issue is that our cost of inputs – electricity, gas and taxation – has gone through the roof.

Over the short term, we need to manage our import bill. Pakistan is the third largest milk producing country in the world, then why do we import $250 million worth of milk products? Why do we import $2.5 billion worth of vehicles? Why do we import $2 billion worth of edible oil? Why do we import a billion dollars worth of pulses? Why do drink $550 million worth of imported tea?

Our poverty is man-made, not God-given. Our debts are also man-made and not God-given. All we need is political intent. There is enough talent in this country that can put together an actionable plan. There is enough talent in this country that can put together an implementation team.

The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad.