Policy reversals during PTI’s first year

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By Ahmed Bilal Mehboob

August 17 will mark the completion of the first year of the PTI federal government in Pakistan, with the performance of the government being discussed at various levels. The public’s expectations from the PTI government were high and people eagerly awaited the new ‘Naya’ Pakistan promised by the party.
But now that the first year of the federal and two provincial PTI governments in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is coming to a close, some key policy initiatives either taken or planned by the PTI are being debated widely in the media and other public forums.
First and foremost, PTI’s most popular electoral slogan: accountability. In all PTI rallies and election campaigns, it was the corruption of previous governments that was projected as the biggest reason for holding back the country’s development.
A populist impression was created that huge amounts of perceived wealth stashed away by corrupt politicians, businessmen and government functionaries would be brought back after the PTI came to power and be put to use in the country’s economy.
A special ‘Assets Recovery Unit’ was established under a special assistant to the Prime Minister for this purpose. Despite the lapse of a year, no meaningful progress was made in the actual recovery of the perceived stolen assets.
Although a number of former senior government officials, including a former President and two former Prime Ministers, are behind bars and many others are facing investigations or court cases on charges of corruption; and despite the fact that government spokespersons devote huge amounts of time criticizing the alleged ‘thieves’ and ‘plunderers,’ the dividends of accountability have yet to be realized.
There is a mounting belief gaining support, that the accountability process is not fair and even-handed, and that persons affiliated with the ruling party or its allies are not being investigated or prosecuted with the same vigor as those associated with the opposition.
Since ‘corruption’ and ‘accountability’ were the two most important policy planks of the PTI, mere arrests of opposition figures will not keep people satisfied for long unless some of the ‘stolen wealth’ returns to the national exchequer.
The PTI had also committed to depoliticizing the police and providing operational autonomy to the department. Sadly, there has been no greater disappointment than in not keeping this promise over the past year.

A number of police chiefs in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federal capital were arbitrarily changed and in most of these changes, political considerations seemed to be the primary reason.
A district police officer in Punjab was transferred and made practically dysfunctional in the middle of the night because he had tried to deal with a family associate of the Prime Minister without giving an extra favour. Islamabad Police Chief was summarily removed at the complaint of a Minister in a purely personal matter.
PTI leader Imran Khan had taken a very strong position against seeking IMF assistance and floating a Tax Amnesty Scheme before the election but the Government took U-turns on both the issues and opted for an IMF program as well a Tax Amnesty scheme. 
Creation of a separate South Punjab Province was also promised by PTI. Although one may understand the delay in delivering on this promise because the party doesn’t have the required numbers in the parliament for a constitutional amendment but even the creation of a separate South Punjab Secretariat through a purely administrative act could not be accomplished.
Although creation of 10 million jobs over 5 years was promised, the country is experiencing shrinking of economy and loss of jobs during the first year. 
Reforming tax administration to expand tax net and improve tax collection was one of the key policy commitment of PTI. Sadly, not only the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) has not been reformed in any meaningful way yet, the actual collection of taxes has experienced a shortfall of around Rs. 440 Billion during the first 11 months. 
Although some progress has been made in passing new Local Government Laws in Punjab and KP and expanding Benazir Income Support (Safety Net) Programme, there are several promised key policy initiatives such as ‘Transformation of Karachi’, Turn-around of loss-making State-owned enterprises and provision of Clean Drinking Water to the people which have not yet been taken in the earnest.
It is understandable that the government has 5 years to deliver on its promises but it seems that the PTI government has taken a step backward on a number of policy issues during its first year. 
(The writer is the president of Pakistan-based think tank, PILDAT.)