The year 2014 began in Pakistan with business as usual but closed rather dramatically with a paradigm shift in our way of politics, state governance and split of society into those struggling for a change and the ones adamant to maintain status quo. In between were happenings much of which never witnessed before.
The political climate much heated up in the first half of the year with the trial of General Pervez Musharraf invoking a friction between the political leadership and establishment compounded by other issues between the two.
By mid-year, people lost patience on the performance of the government primarily related to power shortages, resulting in wide-spread street protests. At about this time, the delivery and creditability graph of the government took a major dip from which the government was not able to recover by the year end.
Also by the middle of 2014, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) belatedly discovered that they have been taken for a ride in the May 2013 election on the basis of some hard facts on the subject provided to them and some of it discovered by themselves. On 14th August, PTI opted to go public and staged dharnas and jalsas for four months all over the country — a new phenomenon in the history of Pakistan. Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) somehow complimented the protests of PTI against election rigging and the election procedures and system. All of this did bring on surface the public awakening on sanctity of people’s votes and perhaps the next elections will not be allowed to be swept under the carpet.
The year 2014 witnessed the emergence of the power of the civil society never witnessed before. Civil society’s demonstration of organisational skills, comradeship, determination and courage at Lal Masjid Islamabad is unparallel and on a smaller scale booting out a former federal minister and a sitting MNA from PIA plane being responsible for flight delay on account of their late arrival is also unparalleled.
Pakistan scorecard 2014 for economy is a mix of pluses and minuses. Financial discipline improved. The IMF confidence improved and it extended fund facility aprogramme; and there were two World Bank development policy credits to restructure the energy sector, foster private and financial sector developments and improve social protection and revenue mobilisation. The risk of balance of payment was minimised with a significant strengthening of the reserve position resulting mainly from strong remittances.
Process of privatising public assets re-started after a lapse of six years. The year witnessed the sale of government shares in UBL and PPL and the appointment of financial advisors to accomplish the task of privatising public sector power distribution companies.
As per the World Bank Group Snapshot 2014, Pakistan’s energy sector is in serious crisis resulting from constriction in the supply of upstream gas and downstream generation of electricity. These are two high-visibility challenges draining national accounts, undercutting growth of economy and exacerbating poverty in hardest hit areas. The energy shortage has reduced GDP by 2%. The cost of generation due to uneconomical supply mix, high losses and low collection rates, increasing gap between power tariffs and supply costs continue to dent the operations and the financials of the energy sector.
The issue of circular debt, which is a symptom of inefficient system, remained unresolved at year end with circular debt touching a peak of nearly Rs 600 billion — the highest ever accumulated. Pending address of underlying causes for the same, the issue is not likely to be solved and will haunt us even in 2015.
Also, as per the World Bank report 2014, in the field of primary education, Pakistan during the year has generally performed worse than other South Asian and similar developing countries. Based on current poor trend Pakistan is unlikely to meet the UNDP’s Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education. The access and quality of education at the post-secondary level has also been recorded as an issue, whereas, in tertiary education Pakistan’s Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) is at 6% comparable with India at 13.5 % and Malaysia at 30%. The main reasons recorded for Pakistan’s continued poor performance in the public education sector include inadequate funds, poor teacher quality and performance and weak governance and accountability in the public education system being the dominant provider of education to the masses. Whereas, Pakistan’s private sector has emerged as an important alternative to government schools even for the poor and has shown a promising increase in 2014.
On the health side, the total health spending is reported to be extremely low. While the infant mortality rate and under-five mortality rate have fallen, the decline is far slower than in other South Asian Countries. The main reason for the poor performance of the public health sector is inadequate fund allocation, weak governance inclusive of institutionalised staff absenteeism. Whereas, in healthcare too, the private sector and NGOs played a significant role in providing health services even to the poor and this sector during the year recorded a significant growth.
The year experienced the launch of the Zarb-e-Azb — a decisive crackdown on forces out to undermine the sovereignty of Pakistan — with determination, courage and strategy never witnessed before by the nation.
Characterised by the tragic happenings at the Army Public School in Peshawar where many innocent lives were lost, December 16 marks the paradigm shift in nation’s strategy to deal with the forces out to destroy Pakistan. Armed forces and political leadership got on the same page to confront the mega crises as one nation.
The year 2015 will be one of the most challenging year for the government and above all the people of Pakistan. There is much of carryover of negativity from 2014 into 2015, which will have its own challenges. Only with brilliant leadership with much of statesmanship and par excellence state governance can the nation move out of the crises. The state leadership has no choice but to succeed as failure is an ugly option equally for the state leadership as well as the nation.
Written by: Farhat Ali
Courtesy: Business Recorder