No honeymoon for Raja!
13 July, 2012
By Azam Khalil
"No man undertakes a trade he has not learned, even the meanest; yet every one thinks himself sufficiently qualified for the hardest of all trades - that of the government."
In any democratic country, there is a tradition where the Prime Minister is provided some breathing space when he or she assumes the reins of government. However, in Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf's case, there will be no honeymoon period, since he is facing many challenges and, that too, at the same time.
Prime Minister Raja was chosen as a new leader of the house by the PPP-led coalition government because his predecessor, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was disqualified by the Supreme Court.
As mentioned above, Raja was not given any space or respite from severe criticism after his appointment as PM, which had earlier resulted in his removal as Minister for Water and Power. Despite the fact that whenever he had promised to end loadshedding and announced a specific date, it was purely on the advice of experts. In addition, there were other reasons that were beyond the government's control, such as rising oil prices, which defeated its resolve to generate enough electricity to stop the unscheduled power outrages.
Only on this issue, PM Raja had to face the people's wrath even though he was not solely responsible for it. However, now he has to face additional challenges that may have greater consequences not only for Pakistan, but also the region. While he will be walking a tightrope till the government completes its tenure, he has started cautiously and has been successful to a certain extent. After a long period of time, for example, the international market has allowed the government to bring down prices of petroleum products that have resulted in the reduction of gas charges, providing the much needed relief to people already burdened by rising costs.
According to an estimate, the present and last cut in oil prices announced by the federal government may have a cumulative effect of Rs 25 to Rs 30 billion on the state's economy, leading to the regeneration of job market. However, since the power generation sector is not working efficiently much more needs to be done before the economic indicators jump from a sluggish 2.7 percent to a healthy 6 to 7 percent per annum.
How the PM will resolve this crisis is yet to be seen. But if he makes an effort to improve the working of the Ministry of Petroleum and the Ministry of Water and Power, there is hope that the situation could change for the better. For instance, there are several oil and gas wells that are non-operational due to multiple reasons. In case swift action is taken to make them productive, there is no reason why the supply of gas and, to some extent, oil cannot be improved. The provision of gas to the power sector would automatically result in increasing electricity supply.
Next, lady luck has smiled on PM Raja because Washington has agreed to release $1.18 billion from the Coalition Support Fund within 45 days and clear the remaining $2.5 billion held up due to various reasons within one year. Indeed, this will cushion the Pakistani economy. Further, the controversy between Pakistan and Nato on the reopening of supply routes has been successfully negotiated.
Also, one of the priorities announced by PM Raja is to improve Balochistan's communication and infrastructure. If done, it would allow early transit of trade and commerce activity, ensuring that Gwadar Port makes a productive contribution to Pakistan's economy. However, there is a danger that he may be entangled in some cases pending before the judiciary and if they are not resolved, the 'good start' that he has made may fall short of the objectives set by him.
Indeed, the passage of the Contempt of Court Bill by the National Assembly has removed certain lacunae that existed in the previous law. A majority of people want the organs of the state to strictly follow the Constitution. It must be remembered that this is the election year; a period that retards economic growth due to unstable conditions and fear of the outcome. Therefore, it is important that every state institution errs on the right side of the law, as confrontation between them will severely damage the country's economic prospect.
The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.