The Budget Boom!

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Amidst lofty claims of ‘zestful efforts to do a lot for the poor masses’, Pakistan’s national Budget stands–unveiled with a typical trend of playing with the figures-to the eventual benefit of a specific set of class, by n’ large placing the ‘have-nots’ where they virtually exist.

Though no direct tax has been hammered over the populous, an intellectual effort is insight via increase in levies on imports of multiple items–with edible oil atop.

Since the budget–though rejected by the opposition-is yet to face a brainstorming session in both the houses of the parliament-perceptibly with usual cut-motions with a debate in the National Assembly n’ the Senate, it may be probable to offer a candid view-point at this stage.

Yet the fact remains that the budget shall get through-as it is-resulting into price-hike, a drown which the people of Pakistan have been facing almost every year-ever since the emergence of this fabulous country on the world atlas.

Pragmatically, the people have either become accustomed with such a setting on the monetary horizons, they will have to accept it either as a sweetie or a spicy shell–as they are left with no switch-over choice. Thus the new budget is nothing unique-in nature-for the impecunious category which stands proverbial with such a scenario.

Ample raison d’étre, elucidated by the pecuniary connoisseur, Shaukat Aziz portray the de facto perceptions of his evolutions-which will have to be believed by the nation–with a past perceptive in mind. Its’ no covert that the national exchequer has been pillaged in the pre-Oct 1999 epochs-literally taking the national reserves-to almost a diminutive n’ elfin size.

The brisk n’ bouncy ventures of the pre-Oct 2002 era of Musharraf rule undeniably gave a dazzling impetus to the national economy-which is evident, if one goes into microscopic details of the angle-the finance minister took to shield his viewpoint for persuading the nation-in a credible way. One can just anticipate that the episodes of the gone-by ‘egalitarian regimes’ shall be kept away n’ in no case be allowed to be replicated-to avert perils to the state’s financial system in times ahead.

Though the budgetary allocations–with relief to employees n’ pensioners is commendable, the poor class-simultaneously-did merit a conjure for empathy with identical measures by striking the parameters of equilibrium vis-é-vis the national wealth. Hence the eyebrows being lifted towards the new budget may see a sigh of relief-before the advent of the dawn of July 1-the runway of the fiscal year.

A notable feature-which the budget-beams is that no raise has been built-in on defence expenditure-despite the on-going hazardous settings in South Asian-overtly due to a hostile n’ antagonistic neighbour-India, which though, now-a-days airing ‘icons of friendship’ has to-date not pragmatically depicted its acquiescence to the establishment of Pakistan by heart. It is evident-as clear as crystal-from the day-to-day fly-by-night outbursts of the New Delhi warlords. No doubt, the restructuring and reforms-initiated by President Musharraf-have started paying dividends.

Prior to the Budget, the Economic Survey 2002-03, released by the Finance Minister illustrates the factuality that Pakistan’s economy showed impressive performance despite global recession. It is a matter of pride for the nation that the country achieved a growth rate of 5.1%, which is highest in South Asia and fourth in Asia after China, South Korea and Thailand. It was for the first time in many years that we have been able to meet almost all economic targets é exports, imports, inflation containment, budgetary deficit and revenue collection.

The marvelous achievement is not jugglery of words and statistics as the entire donor community including IMF, World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have praised our successes. It is because of the satisfactory performance that Pakistan has not only secured rescheduling of bilateral and multilateral debt but the international financial institutions are more than willing to finance different projects to help the country improve its socio-economic conditions.

The credit for this, no doubt, goes to the economic managers who have followed prudent policies during the last three and a half years. However, Mr Shaukat Aziz, in his usual free and frank manner, has also made some confessions.

We have been emphasizing that the ultimate objective of the gains in different sectors of the economy is to improve the lot of the common man but the ground reality is not yet supportive of this fact. The Minister himself has admitted that despite several programmes launched to address the crippling problem of poverty, over one-third of the population is still living below the poverty line.

Similarly, tax administration and enforcements were selective and skewed in favour of those with ability to defeat the system. Accumulating debt is another issue that needs to be tackled on an urgent basis and the fiscal space we have got in the shape of rescheduling should be utilised in a manner so as to be able to pay off the entire debt easily without dislocating the process n’ accelerated tempo of development.

We hoped the Minister would unfold comprehensive plans to deal with these issues when he presents the budget for the next financial year–which paradoxically exist with a wait for some real n’ alluring measures before the budget is okayed by the parliament.

Continuation of the policies is a key to success and this in turn demands political stability and regional peace. Though there are some prospects of resumption of dialogue with India but at the domestic front the situation is not that satisfactory as the Government and the Opposition are entangled in a serious battle over the issue of Legal Framework Order-the LFO.

National interest demands that the issue should be handled with care and resolved in a spirit of mutual understanding and give and take–to eschew the trends, envisioned by the nation in meticulous n’ world at large via the budget presentation, which was marred n’ magnified by an atypical scenario of a non-stop rumpus n’ desk-beat mélée with gripe by the combined opposition.

This can perhaps be made sure via resolute concessions for the masses-with the removal of miscellaneous duties like the one-put on the edible oil, an explicit requisite of every soul-irrespective of his or her status in the segments of the society.

Else a discomfiture for the Jamali government shall continue to stick with, as opposition-due to its bona fide right-would leave no jiffy to punch with optimal bang every measure-it contemplates for the future n’ eventually eroding the lofty impact of the upshot of the reforms-the Musharraf regime had initiated to put the country on muscular economic toehold with an all-inclusive true-life zest.

There are manifold ways to spawn funds to give a boost to the national economy-with a spotlight on the privileged class as the podium. Such a vision [for maximum relief with let-up to the needy] can-conveniently-be forecast from an erudite, copiously familiar with every gadget of fiscal enlistment n’ mobilization-the marvelous-Shaukat Aziz to gratify n’ delight all-especially the blistering emotions of the Opposition.

The author is a noted journalist, political analyst and ex-Director News Pakistan TV.

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