Facts rubbish Shehbaz's claims, but some promises ring true
PML-N chief inflates economy claims, but practical on water, garbage
Nawaz Sharif's eponymous faction of the Muslim League, which recently completed a five-year term in office, has its sights set on Karachi. The new party chief, Shehbaz Sharif, chose to kick-start his election campaign from the city, addressing public gatherings, meeting politicians and notables, and interacting with senior journalists and opinion makers over his four-day sojourn. Shehbaz cited meticulously-rehearsed statistics as he talked about his party's performance and promised a better future for the nation's commercial hub.
Sharif, who until recently remained confined to Punjab, struck a conciliatory note befitting a national politician. Striking was a statement that he would prefer a 'national unity government' even if the PML-N secured a simple majority in the forthcoming general elections. "Pakistan is faced with myriad challenges, and it is not possible for one party to surmount them alone," Sharif said before qualifying it as a personal opinion that may not receive party endorsement.
It was a different Shehbaz. Missing was any rabble-rousing or inflammatory statements. "If our party is not re-elected to power, we will fully cooperate with whosoever wins the elections in the larger national interest," Sharif said. He did not express any doubts on the free and fair conduct of the elections, though. "We sincerely wish that the elections are free and fair."
The interior ministry has said that "foreign and domestic fringe elements" may disrupt electioneering by targeting politicians and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) staff. When asked about this possibility, Sharif said that if the interim government considered the threats to be real, a meeting of all stakeholders ought to be convened.
Sharif laughed off a question on who could be behind the threat to bomb the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) headquarters. "How would I know? I'm not the MI chief," he said. Police were tasked with securing the NAB headquarters on Monday after the bureau chief confirmed the threat.
With the PML-N chief making many lofty claims about the performance of his party's government in Punjab and at the Centre, The Express Tribune gauges the merit in the assertions.
"We saved billions of rupees in different projects in Punjab during the last five years. Good work should be appreciated; otherwise, those delivering would be demotivated. We have nothing to fear because our hands are clean."
The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) fears billions of rupees have been embezzled across Punjab-wide projects. "Corruption has been detected in the affairs of 50 or so companies in Punjab. Billions of rupees were spent on consultancies [in Saaf Pani Company]. I am thankful to the chief justice of Pakistan for taking notice of this scam and reposing his trust in NAB," Chairman Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal said on Monday. The nation's premier anti-graft body arrested Raja Qamarul Islam of the PML-N in connection with the Saaf Pani project. Islam is a former chairman of Saaf Pani and the PML-N candidate against estranged party stalwart Chaudhry Nisar from NA-59 (Rawalpindi).
When we came to power in 2013, we had two main challenges: Terrorism and load-shedding. Today, terrorism has been defeated. And if not 100 per cent, 95 per cent of the electricity crisis has been addressed. Prolonged load-shedding is a thing of past.
The energy shortfall peaked at a record high of over 9,000 megawatts (MW) on Monday, resulting in prolonged power outages nationwide. Demand stood at 25,044 MW on Monday against a supply of 15,766 MW, according to data gathered by The Express Tribune. The shortfall had resulted in two-to-17 hours of load-shedding in parts of the country, with citizens across Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa being the worst-affected.
Queried on the flagging economy and a declining rupee, the former chief minister referred the question to ‘fleeting’ finance minister Miftah Ismail. “Over the past few months, Pakistan’s exports have gone up by almost 20%, while the imports have slowed by 2%,” he claimed.
While the numbers cited by Miftah may be authentic, the underlying reasons are not positives. Exports received a push due to the recent devaluation of the rupee against the US dollar. Before devaluation, the monthly import bill was around $5 billion. This rose to $5.8 billion in May, the highest-ever registered over a single month in the nation's history. On a year-on-year basis, Pakistan's exports grew to $2.14 billion in May over the same month of the previous fiscal year. Before devaluation, the exports were between the $1.7 billion and $1.8 billion per month range. Overall, exports in July-May were up 15.28% to $21.4 billion, equal to 92.6% of the annual export target of $23.1 billion. Imports stood at $55.23 billion, 14.1% or $6.83 billion higher than the import bill booked during the first 11 months of the last fiscal year.
The former finance minister also claimed that the recently-launched tax amnesty scheme would generate enough money to bridge the trade deficit and avoid a new bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). "I don't think Pakistan will need another IMF programme, but a decision to this effect would be taken by the next government."
Pakistan has no option but to approach the IMF. In its latest assessment, the fund has projected Pakistan's gross external financing requirements at $27 billion for the next fiscal year. The requirements have been worked out after taking into account all possible external receipts and outflows. Against these requirements, Pakistan's gross foreign exchange reserves stand at just $10 billion, sufficient to foot only two months' import bill. If Pakistan doesn't return to the IMF, the Asian Development Bank and World Bank will not restore budgetary support, which has already been suspended for over a year. This means Pakistan will have to arrange the $27 billion from elsewhere. Issuing sovereign Euro or Sukuk bonds or taking expensive foreign commercial loans – two of the possible alternatives – have already been tapped to a great extent. Without an IMF umbrella, even floating bonds at competitive rates would be a challenge, given that the national economy is in distress.
"If voted to power, we will resolve Karachi's perennial water shortage issue in three years and solid waste woes in six months."
Clearing waste in six months is easily doable. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)-Pakistan People's Party (PPP) tussle has reduced Karachi to a dump. "Solid waste management has become a political issue," Urban Resource Centre joint director Zahid Farooq said. Former Sindh Solid Waste Management Board managing director Taha Farooqi concurred. "Less than six months if provided the resources," he said. "Currently, the city produces around 12,000 tonnes of garbage daily. We can only dispose of 10,000 tonnes." Farooqi said a contract for waste management should be awarded to a company that had the wherewithal.
Farooq said Shehbaz's pledge to remedy Karachi's water woes in three years was not a tall claim. "The federal government can do this by releasing more water to Sindh. Any resultant increase entails a rise in Karachi's water share. Mega potable water projects like K-4 can also be initiated."
This story is a part of The Express Tribune NewsLab's election fact checking initiative