A friend of mine asked me about the whereabouts of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
I showed him a running TV ticker that Ishaq Dar says that the dollar will be soon brought to under Rs200.
The friend was not impressed. He pointed to an October inflation rate and the imminent rise in petroleum prices.
“So, where’s Ishaq Dar?” he said.
This reminded me of a Minute Mirror editorial published on September 27, which welcomed Ishaq Dar in these words:
Dar took office at a time when the nation was facing serious difficulties, but he might anticipate a potential reprieve from the IMF. The Fund has granted Pakistan’s request to relax a few important requirements under the Extended Fund Facility Program.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is all set to apply the Ishaq Dar formula to turn around Pakistan’s debilitating economy. There is every possibility that former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar will take the oath of the Finance portfolio today. For weeks, there has already been speculation that Dar would replace incumbent Finance Minister Miftah Ismail. The PML-N leadership was publicly attacking and disowning the policies of incumbent Finance Minister Miftah Ismail, in particular, the inevitable reversal of the costly fuel subsidy introduced by the previous PTI government. So the matter of induction of Mr Dar into the present cabinet is a matter of hours now. All hurdles to his safe return have already been removed. The NAB ordinance has already been amended while the accountability court has also suspended an outstanding arrest warrant against Dar, paving the way for the former finance minister’s return from London, where he has been living in ‘self-exile’ for the past five years or so.
The truth is that Ishaq Dar’s initial days in the ministry were full of bluster, but in the ensuing days, he has not been in their true form and the glooming facts and figures speak volumes. Prices continued to soar at a fast clip last month, depleting household budgets at rates not seen in decades. For commoners, it has become an ordeal to put food on the table, while power bills have become a nightmare. The expense of keeping the lights on is driving many people to despair.
According to a recent survey, business confidence has plummeted, and two out of every three enterprises are in the struggling phase. Reasons for such declining vibes are high inflation, taxation, power shortage, and so on.
In a nutshell, the confidence of business people has waned while the problems soar. This despair was not even seen during the height of the Covid-19 outbreak.
What should the finance minister do?
First, he needs to bring down the prices of petroleum prices. Although the entire globe is reeling from the shock of the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the minister should not forget his prime task of keeping inflation under control and protecting the economy from a hard landing. Second, the finance minister should show his strong intent to improve the economy.
People have started comparing petrol and diesel prices and their usage to last year to get a sense of where economic activity is now at.
Petrol and diesel sales came down 18 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively, in the first four months of the current fiscal year.
To be frank, I have cut down the petrol consumption, and try to restrict my car’s spending one tank a month. I have cut down my travelling to outside cities to promote the newspaper. I often rely on Zoom meetings, which are not free of communication gaps.
Mr Dar has spent enough time in the ministry and after confronting the economy, he should be seen asserting his Dar wits. The people cannot afford his silence and inaction.