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Saturday, January 25, 2020

View From The Neighbourhood: Two Budgets

In Pakistan as the prospects for the economy are far more bleak, and the “government has presented a harsh budget and must now perform the high-wire act of keeping its balance while adhering to its targets.”

Updated: June 17, 2019 12:52:00 am
Pakistan, Imran Khan, Pakistan Madarssa, Pakistan Army, Muslims in Pakistan, education in Madarssa, World news, Pakistan, Indian Express Khan had asserted that the country wanted stability and hailing the concept of ‘Naya Pakistan’, he said in a pre-recorded message. (File photo)

Two Budgets

Last week, governments in both Bangladesh and Pakistan presented their budgets, and a look at the editorials on the subject in leading newspapers in both countries presents the contrasts in their economic trajectories and political structures. The June 16 editorial in The Daily Star, for instance, appears somewhat disappointed at the Sheikh Hasina government for “failing to address old concerns”. Dawn, on June 13, on the other hand, calls the Pakistan budget “ambitious and risky” since the “the real GDP rate is set to fall by 2.4 per cent next year”.

In Bangladesh, the fact that a government which has had “the luxury of seven continuous budgets” did not use the opportunity to address the “ issues from past budgets and make use of its budgetary intervention to now address some of the more burning economic concerns — such as lack of employment generation, rising non-performing loans and others — that we have. That, however, does not seem very likely from the budget proposal.” In a rising and successful economy, Bangladesh’s media appears to be impatient for a more aggressive reform agenda from the government.

In Pakistan, meanwhile, as the prospects for the economy are far more bleak, and the “government has presented a harsh budget and must now perform the high-wire act of keeping its balance while adhering to its targets.” With inflation rising and revenue falling, the ambitious targets set by the Imran Khan government will be tough to meet. The austerity measures may bring “a smile on the face of the IMF, but the people of Pakistan have very little to cheer about”. The finance minister, according to the editorial, “Having made the choice to let Pakistanis feel the pain first, the government has asked they make a large sacrifice for the sake of the macroeconomic health of the state. Now it must wait for their answer as the budget measures are implemented.”

Home and the world

The June 14 editorial in The Himalayan Times touches upon an issue of increasing significance for young Nepalis, both in the country as well as around the world. Many students go abroad to study and work, given the paucity of opportunities domestically, and “Recently, even students who have not passed XI and XII, which have been categorised as secondary school education, are opting for diploma and language courses, hoping to get good jobs abroad. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) assists them by providing a No Objection Certificate (NoC) along with foreign currency exchange facility.”

The Nepal government’s decision to impose a ban on issuing such NoCs especially to those opting for non-academic courses in Australia and New Zealand, according to the editorial, is in principle against the constitutionally-guaranteed right to education.

It is also an example of the government trying to cover up its own failures by acting in a parochial manner. The editorial demands that the order be rolled back: “Going by the number of students opting for non-academic courses abroad, it is a clear indication that the government has failed to offer similar courses which could provide more jobs within the country. These courses are very popular and practical in developed countries to drive their economies forward. The ministry has not given any convincing reason as to why it took such a radical move. It also did not consult the stakeholders and experts before taking this decision. It will affect a large number of youths, especially from the rural areas, who find it hard to get past the foreign language tests (TOEFL or IELTS), which are necessary for tertiary education. Evidently, every move taken by the government recently has landed in controversy, be it the Media Council Bill or Guthi Bill. It appears as if it wants to take everything in its grip. The only way to correct the mistake is to roll back the decision.”

Broken government

According to the June 12 editorial in The Island, the Sri Lankan government is divided and bickering over the parliamentary select committee (PSC) setup to probe the Easter Sunday bombings. This is in keeping with the newspaper’s line since the bombing, from when it has consistently pointed out that the government has been unable to handle the crisis presented by terrorism and, in fact, has often blamed it for negligence. It says: “One need not be surprised if the blame for ignoring intelligence warnings of impending terror attacks is laid at President Sirisena’s feet. The PSC process has been abused under successive governments, and the President’s fear is not unfounded.”

The editorial’s disappointment at the cabinet borders on despondency, as it highlights the differences between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: “Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has said the Cabinet has no control over matters concerning PSCs. What he says is true, but it is not the whole truth. The President cannot be unaware of what the PM says; what he is trying to do is to leverage his position as the Head of the Cabinet to pressure the government to suspend the PSC. Parliament does as the Speaker says, and the Speaker does as the PM says.”

Curated by Aakash Joshi

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