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The Express Tribune Editorial 17 January 2020

Low consumer confidence


While the government insists that it has achieved economic stability and the year 2020 will be the year of economic prosperity, the common man is not convinced at all. According to a recent survey, the degree of optimism that consumers feel about the overall state of the economy and their personal financial situation is miserably low. The survey — conducted across the rural and urban areas of the country during July-December period of this fiscal year by Ipsos, a global market research and consulting firm headquartered in Paris — shows that 79% of the consumers are pessimistic in their outlook for local and national economy. They fear the economy is likely to become weaker over the next six months, believing that the country is moving in the wrong direction.
The worryingly-low consumer confidence can be gauged from several findings of the survey: only one in 10 have described their current economic situation as strong; only one in 10 are optimistic about their well-being in near future; nine out of 10 feel less comfortable while purchasing household items as well as major items like car, houses, etc; and four out of 10 claim to be personally knowing someone having lost his job.
Inflation, additional taxes and job insecurity are the three most troubling issues for the consumers that have been surveyed by Ipsos. And why not? After all, inflation has crossed into double-digit territory from just 3.9% at the end of the PML-N government’s tenure in June 2018; the burden of taxes has grown by 39%, from Rs4,398 billion in FY19 to an unrealistic Rs5,555 billion for FY20; and while no official employment statistics are available, renowned economist Dr Hafiz Pasha estimates job cuts in FY19 to be no less than one million.
The government — given that it is abiding by the IMF programme which, by definition, is anti-growth — may not find it easy to really turn things around in year 2020 as promised by the PM.


Search for competence


The NAB’s often overzealous pursuit of suspects in graft cases is being blamed for the government’s failure to find a competent official to take charge of one of the country’s largest state-run utilities. SSGC has failed to find a suitable candidate to take charge as its MD, despite initially shortlisting nine people. This is apparently because top professionals are reluctant to apply to join public-sector companies for fear of frivolous NAB inquiries. The reports of reluctance to join SSGC come just a few weeks after the government ostensibly clipped NAB’s wings by reducing the scope of financial malpractices that the bureau could investigate. But despite criticism from some quarters that the government had made NAB toothless, the watchdog can still bite hard enough to scare off even decent folks. Maybe that is because four former SSGC MDs are facing inquiries.
Also, Adviser on Commerce Razak Dawood had some time back told the PM that the same fear of NAB was keeping the Commerce Division from convincing competent professionals to take over as chairperson of the State Life Insurance Corporation. In the case of SSGC, the shortlisted candidates, including the current acting MD of the company, were required to secure at least 75 points in the nomination committee’s assessment to get the job. However, according to reports, none of the candidates could even get 50 points. Even SNGPL struggled to find qualified candidates to fill the post of MD. After starting their hiring process at the same time last year as SSGC and using similar criteria, SNGPL’s board shortlisted 15 names. Only three of them cleared the evaluation. While SSGC will begin the hiring process anew, expecting a different result would be foolhardy, considering that any competent potential applicants would still have the same concerns that they did last year.
Professionals need to know that any bad business decisions will be treated as such. Good people are willing to take risks that may taint their resumes, but few will risk their personal reputations.


India’s hubris over Kashmir


Despite India’s efforts to block out information from occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the illegal annexation of the state on August 5 last year is increasingly receiving international attention. The United Nations, the United States, and the European Union have regularly been taking notice of the Indian repression in the occupied territory. The UN Security Council reviewed the situation in India-Occupied Kashmir at a meeting on Jan 15. Foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who is on a mission to defuse tensions between the US and Iran, also met UN leaders in New York on Jan 15 while on way to Washington.
The UNSC meeting was held behind closed doors. The Chinese Ambassador, however, told reporters that the UNSC had reviewed the situation in the occupied territory. He said the council heard a briefing from the secretariat on the situation. He recalled that recently Pakistan’s foreign minister had written letters to the UNSC to pay attention to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. He said the Kashmir issue was always on the UNSC agenda. He reiterated China’s stand on IOK that it is a disputed territory and China believes a plebiscite should be held in IOK to ascertain the wishes of the people there.
The UNSC had also considered the situation in IOK at a meeting on Aug 16. That meeting too was held at China’s request, which asked the world organisation to act to defuse tensions between Pakistan and India. A meeting of the five permanent members of the UNSC was also held in December last year at China’s request. The UNSC meeting asked the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan to submit a report on the situation in Kashmir.
Saner voices within India itself have been asking the Indian leadership to give up hegemonic designs in Kashmir. It is not only the annexation of J&K but the fascist Modi regime has opened many fronts simultaneously that can only lead to self-destruction. There is a saying in Sanskirt, “As (one’s) doom approaches, the (person’s) intellect works against (his/her) best interest.” Pride comes before a fall.
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