Pakistan On Sale!

Jawaid IqbalIt is claimed that Pakistan’s economy is moving forward at ‘Shahbaz Speed’. The only problem is that instead of easing the economy in its almost 4 months of governance, the Shahbaz government and its large number of allies have made life even more difficult for the common man. A recent development is the ordinance to sell government assets to save the country from default. Through what is known as the Inter-Governmental Commercial Transactions Ordinance 2022, the cabinet has given approval for bypassing of all procedures for selling assets to foreign countries in order to prevent Pakistan from default. All regulatory checks would now be abolished in this desperate move to save the country from default as key state assets are being sold to foreign countries on an emergency basis. To start with, a decision has been made to sell two LNG-fired power plants to the UAE.

Through the ordinance, the Centre has also empowered itself to issue binding instructions to the provincial governments for land acquisition. The federal cabinet has approved the ordinance to sell stakes of oil and gas companies and government-owned power plants to raise up to USD 2.5 billion to avoid the looming default. The UAE had in May refused to give cash deposits due to Islamabad’s inability to return previous loans and had instead asked to open its companies for investment. The government has also barred the courts of the country not to entertain any petition against the sale of assets and shares of the government companies to foreign countries. The ordinance makes the federal cabinet so powerful that it can even issue binding instructions to provinces to hand over any piece of land and enter into a transaction with a foreign state. The cabinet committee’s decisions cannot be challenged in the courts and no investigation agencies can open the deals. According to the ordinance, no court in the country shall entertain an application, petition or suit against any process or act of sale of assets to the foreign entity.

It is worrisome that a situation has arisen for a country of the size of Pakistan – world’s 5th largest country with a population of over 22 million and a nuclear state to boot – that it cannot control its economy and has to bow down to dictates of such small countries as the UAE. Instead of these tactics, all Pakistan needs is a tightening of the lifestyle of its citizens. The nation finds itself in the midst of an ‘elite capture.’ If Mr. Shahbaz Sharif and his associates in the government could find ways for the nation’s elite to adopt a simpler lifestyle and cut down on unnecessary imports (luxury goods, cars, etc.), it would have a more respectable way out of this rut than selling profit-making government assets. However, if a decision has been made to resort to the route of GtoG (government to government) sales, to solve the country’s economic problems, then the future can be said to be bereft of any bright spots. In the present circumstances, it seems, all hopes of a respectable economic recovery have been dashed to the ground.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal
President & Editor in Chief