It has now been 3 years since the PTI government came to power in 2018, in elections that were for the better or worse, as impactful for the country as the ones held in 1970 albeit for different reasons. The party came into power promising much like the PPP in 1970, sweeping reforms that were meant to change the face and future of Pakistan altogether, moving it from a third world country into an Asian tiger and an economic powerhouse, as well as promising to reform the civil services and judiciary such that it would become at par with those seen in the Scandinavian countries. Similar reform in overall public spending, deliverance by government departments, devolution of power, media freedoms and employment opportunities were also promised as part of the election manifesto in 2018. Let us attempt to analyze how much PTI has delivered upon its promises so far and expected to do in its remaining two years in power.
Involving and empowering people at the grass root level were at the heart of governance model trumpeted by PTI throughout its campaign. PTI stalwarts were blaming MNAs and MPAs for the abuse of power and misuse of development funds at their disposal in connivance with the bureaucracy. It promised swift reforms to empower people at the grass roots level through strong local governments which would allow people to decide on matters most important to them on their own rather than rely on those who did not even live in their neighborhoods. Three years on this promise so far has failed to materialize and decision making as well as development funds continue to remain in the hands of MNAs and MPAs including those belonging to PTI together with the district administration. In fact constant changes to civil administrative structure both at the centre and in Punjab during the three-year rule of PTI government and a long list of issues like sugar and wheat scandals points to further decadence of the existing order.
But the most trumpeted promise was one of accountability and eradication of corruption which had been at the heart of political struggle waged by Imran Khan throughout his career. A task force force was promised for recovery of looted wealth shifted abroad as well an across the board crackdown against corruption at home. This Special Task Force was to launch a drive for recovery of looted national wealth parked in offshore tax heavens by leveraging recent changes in the Tax Information Agreements, Unexplained Wealth Orders and Illicit Assets Acts by foreign governments and international organizations. However no significant recoveries could be made with regards to return of money parked in offshore tax heavens and the task force made under Barrister Akbar Shahzad has now largely become redundant. As far as crackdown on corruption in government departments is concerned one only needs to apply for a gas connection or try to register an FIR to see how far that initiative of the PTI government has gone. Even in the Corruption perception index published by Transparency international, Pakistan has actually slipped down by 4 places in 2020 and is now ranked at 124 in the list of most corrupt nations.
Fixing the circular debt and power crisis in the country is one area where the PTI has performed in a better manner though overall issues still remain. Circular debt overall has doubled since 2018 and is also expected to continue to rise further in the remaining two years in power of the government despite electricity prices having been increased several times in the past 3 years in order to reduce the burden of power producers. In 2018 it was hovering around 1 trillion Pak rupees but is now close to 2.2 trillion as per government sources. The promise to resolve transmission and distribution losses as well as focus on making cheaper energy have so far failed to materialize. The only saving grace is that load shedding has not yet returned on a regular basis to urban areas even though sporadic power outages in rural areas have been seen and in some cases in major metropolitan areas like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. The rate of increase in circular debt has shown a downward trend largely due to rising energy prices and that is also a welcome sign though much work needs to be done in halting the increase altogether.
Perhaps one of the biggest promises made was of providing 5 million homes and 10 million jobs to the nation which during election days was the single most highlighted part of the manifesto. “We will ensure the development of 1.5 to 2 million urban and 3 to 3.5 million rural housing units. Pakistan is currently facing an overall housing backlog of between 11-12 million housing units. The urban housing shortage is estimated to be 4 million housing units, while rural backlog is between 7 to 8 million housing units,” said the manifesto in 2018 but not even a fraction of this number has been achieved to date and little hope remains of it being achieved even in the remaining 2 years. However the government is at least working towards low cost housing and even if it achieves only 5% of its promised target, it would still be a commendable achievement. Similarly with regards to employment, statistics have shown that the rate is around 10% and has increased since the PTI came into power. The total number of unemployed is hovering around 7 million and the credibility of the official statistics is up to the reader to interpret.
It can only be hoped that these shortcomings are overcome by Prime Minister Imran Khan and his team so that he is able to deliver upon his tall promises and people of Pakistan see the day when Naya Pakistan promised to them becomes a reality. Otherwise tough times lie ahead for him and tough questions would need to be answered by those who elected or selected him to power.