A precursor to dozens of mini budgets and eventually the elections
Islamabad: A ceremonial budgetary presentation to calm down the international monetary players was seen as the best opportunity by the opposition to kick off its election campaign as once the friendly opposition finally turned colours with outmost cautions (of course under-hand deals as well) and was seen marching up and down the parliament halls and corridors to make the last year at least look more challenging for Mr. Gilani and his team.
Since budget is something which hardly matters to the common people these day due to the very fact that after getting dozens of mini budgets throughout the year, it remains a constitutional as well as an exercise of the financial gurus to show their mastery of fictitious figures and fudging the books. Given the international monetary situation where oil prices and world stock markets continue to maneuver (if we may call it fleecing) not only the big economies but also meager ones like ours, and of course the natural disasters like the unprecedented flooding of 2010, one factor which remained constant throughout these past three odd years of this government is that despite shuffling of the borrowed economic wizards, it spent more time on surviving the political cum judicial jugglery then planning the budget and making life less miserable for the common people.
Yet again amidst many soothing announcements like raise in salaries, cutting down the GST by one per cent, eliminating the special regulatory duties, our imported finance minister and his entire team failed again to give a speech which an economist (which he claims he is and his credentials do support his claim, otherwise how can he be chosen by Mittals to run his hedge funds) his caliber should have given to not only put the economy on track of recovery by ignoring the political compulsions of the government. If opposition was eyeing this budget as an election budget so was Hafiz Shaikh and his costly team of experts which he has flown in from world economic institutions like Nadeem ul Haq, etc.
Had it not been the case than he would have given a budget which should either help an agrarian country develop its potential as an exporter of edible items or else he could have defined the parameters to make this resource-rich country into a developing industrial nation. By giving the dolly of no taxation and promising to net over three billion rupees of extra taxes from new ten thousand earning entities or personalities, he neither gave us any indication of the agricultural tax nor anything about the ability of the corruption-designers sitting in Federal Board of Revenue to at-least develop reliable and workable data-banks of the country’s economy.
If by telling the nation that out of 180 million population, only 15 lakh pay taxes, and another seven lakh have been identified as potential new tax paying customers, is he trying to defend those big sharks who have minted millions in foreign banks while serving as chairmen or members of FBR or is he feeling himself too weak to challenge those political authorities who share these bounties with these corrupt bureaucrats? Only by netting these sharks in FBR, I am sure that Hafiz Shaikh can collect more than what he projected as the shortfall between collections and expenditures (around Rs. 304 billion while fiscal deficit is at whopping Rs. 850 billion).
Everyone, including those villagers or semi-urbanities (70 per cent of our population) whom these gentlemen of FBR in branded suits (some of them like Haroon know even how to dance while wearing these expensive outfits) don’t even want to meet, know that no government can turn things around overnight because they don’t hold any magic wand. But all they want from these expensive babus and their hostage political leadership (from both sides of the divide) to at least show some intent and will to transform not only themselves but the country as well and that’s what was completely lacking in this budget speech and the entire budget document.
Governance, which can best be dubbed as a combination of political will, maturity, ability and vision remains all but elusive to the ruling elite as well as to those who know much better about Washington streets and even ghettos than their own country and yet they occupy the decision making roles in this country thanks either to our Khaki establishment and when they are weak (which at most of the times they remain due to heavy dependence on foreign assistance) it’s the Americans (though all other demi-gods of this country like Saudis, EU, Britain and some others who consider it their birth-right to meddle in our affairs because they not only give us funds or oil and sometime oil-for-food but also become the custodian of the looted riches of all their beneficiaries).
Certainly a borrowed team of financial experts will be more worried about their paymasters than about the commoners living and facing hardships in this country, therefore one can only hope that instead of listening to these filthy-rich-babus who very recently urged one of their ‘friend’, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to raise the suggestion of introducing another NRO for whitening the black money, government should come up with the law of giving exemplary punishment to tax evaders, financially corrupt and those living on kick-backs. Let it be a dream of a common man these days but those who believe in the survival of this country (leaderless and mostly penniless commoners) will sure bring this change either through ballet or may be by using the means which may not suit the oligarchy. This stop-gap sort of budget which helps status quo for the time being and gives enough material for the drum-beaters to rejoice is nothing but a precursor for dozens of mini budgets to follow.
Opposition leader in the assembly, Ch. Nisar and his political boss, Mian Nawaz Sharif knows it very well that as for the number game is concerned, government is already in the safe havens after getting good bargain deals with Que Leaguers and Bhai Logs of MQM but what they want to get out of this rumpus is some relevance as well as some nuisance for the forthcoming general (if not snap) elections. The race for the next election seems to be already underway especially when government has agreed to give free hand to MQM and Chaudhrys to run-riot on Sharifs’ vote bank in Punjab’s urban and rural centres alike and respectively.
Whereas Sharifs, thanks to their own topsy-turvy policies, backtracking on issues ranging from Hazara to cooperation with the government and repeated absence from national scene due to their engagements (both medical and financial) abroad, seem to be always looking for an opportunity to keep them alive either by riding on the shoulders of tactical judiciary or on issues which satisfy their egos with regard to Army (read Gen. Musharraf and his core team which of course included some of the serving Generals). Everyone knows that Sharifs shy away from committing themselves on issues involving both US and Taliban for reasons ranging from their love-affairs with Saudis to their inhibition to challenge what they believe is the real mover and shaker of our politics.