Promises Undelivered in First Nawaz Budget

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IIsaq Dar

Last week, the world saw violent protests and rioting in Sao Paulo, one of the two major cities of Brazil, where several thousands of protesters gathered against the hikes in bus fare tariffs. Reportedly, the demonstrations had shown signs of turning ‘into communal cries against poor public services in Latin America’s biggest nation’ (Source). The riots could only be contained with a quick reversal of the tariffs by the authorities.

In the last 5 years of democratic rule by the Zardaris, the Pakistanis have seen innumerable demonstrations like these; on undue load-shedding of electricity, gas and CNG; upon price-hikes on basic commodities; and tariff increase on fuel, gas and electricity. For 5 years, the blame had been put on the Zardari regime; and CM Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, had innumerable maligned with insulting words the PPP for failing the poor of the country. These insults became severe in the election campaign, and the people were fed with high-raised promises that the Nawaz League will deliver the poor from their plight, decrease the prices, and undo what the acutely corrupt PPP government had done to the people and the state of affairs.

And the people were hopeful, they remembered the Nawaz League for their slogans of breaking the beggars’ bowl of the IMF and the USAID, and they remembered a Nawaz League standing behind the Nuclear Tests of Chaghi. But what has the Nawaz League done to the people in their very first budget? Withdrawal of subsidy for the power sector, resulting in a Rs 2.50 per unit hike in power tariffs from July 1; increase in general sales tax (GST) from 16 to 17 percent.

Perhaps the people will reckon now that on the one hand, pretending to be breaking the ‘Kashkol’ and one the other, making policies to facilitate loans from IMF are self-contradictory. As it is the IMF package that actually requires such conditions as decreasing subsidies and increasing tariff. Perhaps it is time to remember that those who signed the ‘Charter of Democracy’ in Britain, before returning to the country 5 years back, had signed off the pride and independence of the people to a willful subjugation to the IMF’s global program.

Right after getting into power, the Nawaz League has changed its rhetoric from taunting allegations to a self-pitied one; when Nawaz Sharif remarked, in contemplation upon the budget, saying that ‘the federal budget would make the common man to further buckle under the burden of price hike’ – as if somebody from Mars had presented the budget and he just saw it. Where is the responsibility, where is the urgency, where is the deliverance that was to come with the mandate they were so begging for in the campaign?

With all the price hikes and no increase in the salaries of government employees, protests started in different parts of the country. These types of demonstrations are not specific to Pakistan only. From one end of the planet to the other, wherever the IMF is playing its game, we are seeing more and more of such protests and riots all the time, though they are scarcely reported on the mainstream media.

Within a day or two of the demonstrations, the government announced a 10% increase in the salaries. Does this show a carefully thought composite budget, or a budget with many open/adjustable ends? Another odd act was the attempt of the government to change the title of the Benazir Income Support Program, with some other – perhaps the Nawaz Income Support Program. This is a clear attestation upon the Nawaz government’s full ideological agreement with the PPP thinking, and the approval of a program rife with corruption and based on the ideals of dependence and slavery.

Those who voted for the Nawaz League, or did not, should keep their eyes open and be ready for ‘no change’ in the coming 5 years. The only change will be in the faces that sit in the front row, shuffled with those that sit in the back ones. And yes, perhaps there will be change towards a skyrocketing cost of living; terror more rampant in the streets of our cities; and more appeasement of the IMF and the World Bank, for being so kind as to let the reins of power in the hands of the Nawaz Party, while the strings of puppetry remain safe in foreign hands.

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