The Economic Advisory Council, in its session chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, took numerous crucial suggestion and recommendations into consideration, with increase in the salaries of the government servants up to 10 percent and to maintain the market prices of the daily use commodities being the most important ones. However, final decision on the matter was postponed to the time right before the announcement of budget.
This second economic budget of the incumbent government has matchless importance. It is true that when the PML (N) government announced the last Budget (2013-14), the situation was really uncertain and alarming and this fact can be gauged from the fact that one of the senior leaders of the party said that when their party took charge, they were startled to see the gravity of the situation. But the government took the challenge, and after prioritizing the maladies, started working with commitment and dedication. The net result of these efforts was that the government successfully brought the Dollar down from 109 to 98 rupees. Moreover, it also signed many Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with many countries to initiate power production projects, including Hydel, Solar, Nuclear and Wind, to immediately meet the energy needs of the country. Although this objection is also raised that these MoUs are of no legal value and will prove useless, this is also an undeniable fact that to reach some formal pact, the MoUs are the first steps to create an atmosphere of affability.
The main three serious ills Pakistan is facing at the moment are energy crisis, soaring inflation and the remorseless increase in poverty. As far as energy crisis is concerned, the government is making serious efforts to meet this challenge and many a projects have been started in this regard. Many new licenses have also been issued for the discovery of oil and gas reservoirs. It is hoped that after the first three months of this summer season, load shedding will be abated. There seems no urgent solution to this problem.
The uncontrolled inflation and rapid increase in poverty has made the lives of the common people deplorable and they are deprived of their unalienable rights. In the aforementioned session of EAC, it was conceded that over 50 percent unfortunate population of Pakistan was languishing below the poverty line. The increase in poverty is so rampant that now situation has reached to the level that not only the lower, but many well-off people of lower-middle and middle class are facing serious difficulty in keeps body and soul together. The unnerving increase in the prices of sugar, flour, vegetables and fruits depicts as if there is no price control mechanism existing in the country altogether. In this situation, the finance minister’s proposal for 10 percent increase in the salaries of the government servants was really a welcoming and comforting omen. In the established democracies and welfare states, the governments give such incentives and reliefs to their salaried class so they could keep pace with the rest of the society with absolute ease.
However, on the other hand, even a cursory look into the recent history will reveal this undeniable fact that from the past seven years, the salaries of the government employees had been increased up to 150 percent, but then inflation was also allowed to soar on almost the same pattern. This is another fact that no government ever took some serious step in increasing salaries of the workers of private sector, although the number of the people working in the private sector is far higher than that of public sector. The owners of private ventures do not even bother thinking of increase in the wages of their staff members.
This is a promising sign that the Foreign Exchange Reserves have reached $ 12 billion. Even opponents cannot deny this fact. The people at the helm of affairs too cannot deny the reality that despite this increase in the Foreign Exchange Reserves, nothing substantial could be done to alleviate poverty. According to a report, the annual income of the country’s employee class is between 360 and 512 dollars. This unfortunately means that majority of these employees of Pakistan is earning between 5 and 7 thousand rupees per month. As in Pakistan those with 200 rupees income per day will be considered below the poverty line, so, over 50 percent people are rotting below the poverty line.
This is true that mostly the people having feudal background reached the powers corridors and the further heaped their treasures without even bothering about the plight of the poor people. The rich is getting richer, while poor is getting poorer. It is hoped that the new budget will be people friendly and the deprived ones will be the first priority of the government. The announcement of the incumbent government should not be limited just to the lip-service, but there should be practical steps in this regard. Let’s hope for the best!
By Zia Qureshi, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, May 12, 2014