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Archive for March, 1992

Mid-term review of the economy

Pakistan’s economy is in a state of rapid transition from a regulated and controlled environment to a completely free and market oriented operation of economic forces. Whenever there are such drastic economic reforms as has been carried out in Pakistan, there is bound to be a period of uncertainty and we are on the “self-doubting curve” where the reformers themselves become under-confident because of the difference between projected goals and actual targets achieved. While there is reason to be careful and apprehensive, there is no need to take to panic stations.

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Accountability as an economic asset

It is gratifying to see that our leaders are impressed with Singapore’s economy as a role model to emulate, symbolized by a welcome visit from the architect of the Singapore miracle, former PM (and now Senior Minister) Lee Kuan Yew. Pakistan’s prime objectives in organising the tour, other than honouring this great man, was to place the whole gamut of the privatisation programme as well as the far-reaching economic reforms effected by the Govt of Pakistan (GoP) before his critical eyes to analyse, an occasion to solicit his advice to increase the pace of economic amelioration of the lot of the masses. The tour itinerary and the exhibits, human and material displayed, did give a fleeting feeling that perhaps the exercise may have been staged to impress the great man and his lady. This base thought was discarded in the belief that trying to impress pragmatic Lee Kuan Yew had as much chance as a snowflake in Sibi in the month of June.

Singapore’s economic miracle stems largely from being geographically placed at a convenient crossroads among the world’s shipping lanes. When Sir Stamford Raffles selected this marshy island for a staging post, one could never imagine that it would, by the beginning of the 20th Century, become one of the world’s great ports. The prime Japanese objective in World War 2 had been to use Singapore as a springboard from where to militarily dominate the sea lanes to Australasia, South East Asia and South Asia. However, it was in the 60s that Lee Kuan Yew’s far-sightedness made him pull out of the Confederation with Malaysia and then proceed to transform Singapore’s geographical potential as a military base into a commercial success by converting Singapore into one of the world’s primary free trade areas. Singapore invited investment from all over the world by minimising bureaucratic inter-action and providing all the Services required by industry and commerce willingly and immediately without being subjected to paperwork, subsequent inordinate delays and harassment, ending in extortion by corrupt bureaucrats.

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A state of flux

Re-paraphrasing Mark Twain, “The rumours of the demise of Jam Sadiq Ali have NOT been greatly exaggerated.” Months of speculation, positive and negative about the state of Jam’s liver, ended at 0105 hrs on Thursday March 5, 1992. Some newspapers gleefully reported that no tears were shed for the Jam, this was not the representative truth among his friends or his constituency. It may be true that he had possibly an equal number of enemies, his dominant personality may have evoked diverse emotions, those who admired him mourned his passing away with great grief. Those who had reason to hate him should have had the grace to respect Death as a great equaliser. Jam Sadiq Ali was one of the two real politicians in Pakistan, now only the Great Survivor remains.

While it is not easy to silence the Jam’s detractors, they being shrill and in some numbers, he did bring about a political miracle of sorts in restoring urban peace in the Province. This may have been at the cost of rural peace, in retrospect the priority had to be given to the cities and towns so that the machinery of commerce and industry did not come to a stop, particularly in the city of Karachi. He forged a disparate coalition of such diverse groupings that it was mind-boggling that he could manage to get them together in a single Cabinet Room without a shouting match ending in a shooting fracas. The enduring image that comes to mind is that they seemed to be willing participants, he did not drag them there, their unity may have been out of expediency and a little frail perhaps, but effective nevertheless politically. What better legacy can the late Jam have than that his hand-chosen person, Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah, has been elected Chief Minister, not only by the support of his crafted Parliamentary Group but by complete unanimity in the House? There may be an element of self-interest insofar as an open display of disunity may have resulted in the dissolution of the Provincial Assembly! Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah has now obtained an unambiguous mandate from Sindh’s Parliamentarians to build upon, as the incumbent it will be his to lose.

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Playing dangerous games

Nature seems to be angry with Pakistan. The recent overnight storm in Lahore must have been the most severe in recent history and defies adequate description, the city of Lahore looks like it has been subjected to a low level nuclear strike, the aftermath of a firestorm. The tragedy at Ghotki that left over 50 dead and 300 injured was preceded by the blast in one of the ammunition dumps at Nowshera that inflicted scores of casualties. Somewhere in between, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Mustafa Jatoi, came up with a sophisticated bug in his Holiday Inn room in Islamabad. With an odd killing here and there, a bomb blast or two, the whole situation has been building up to a crisis. To add to this is the spate of rumours floating around Islamabad about everything under the sun, so much so that Nawaz Sharif has talked about “conspiracies” and the taking of action against the “conspirators”, giving truth to the fact that something is rotten and it is not in the State of Denmark.

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The Present Scenario

The year 1991 saw a great boom in the stock market in Pakistan. This was a natural result of the far-reaching reforms made by the present government in opening the shackles from the economy. Among other measures, as the restrictions governing movement of foreign exchange regulations diminished, there has been a net inflow of foreign exchange into Pakistan, mostly from Pakistanis living abroad. With growing confidence in the seriousness of GoP to go further down the road to economic emancipation, money that had been domestically hoarded has also come back into the market. With bucketfuls of money being pumped into the acquisition of shares, the stock market became extremely bullish. This has been further accentuated by the wide ranging reforms in the financial market, resulting in the opening up of many financial institutions, among them Modarabas, leasing companies, private banks, etc. Every new offering in the stock market obtains a premium for a unit share, now anybody who has some money salted away (and has the time and inclination) and applies for shares in new public ventures, manages to clear a profit of between 150-200% on his/her original capital if the application is successful in the computerized drawing of lots. In a manner, it is legalized gambling.

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