LAHORE: Pakistan has entered the new fiscal year with more uncertainty than ever and higher challenges than this polarised nation could probably handle. Economy handlers do not realise that failure is not an option, but failure is certain if we remain divided.
A fair assessment of the economic targets set in the new budget reveal that the projected expenses would over shoot by a big margin and the revenue collection would be much below the targets fixed. Industrial revival will remain elusive.
Locust attacks would dent agricultural productivity. The major service sectors would feel the heat of Covid-19 impact for years to come.
Hotels would operate on low capacities, transporters would continue to struggle, marriage halls will have to operate with low capacities, parks and recreation centres would lack visitors.
These are the realities that would stay at least for a year or so if the pandemic starts receding now. Currently, it looks that we might have reached the peak, but after affects and precautions would be observed for at least six months.
We have generally ignored the devastating impact of Covid-19 on education. School, colleges and universities are still not operational.
So called e-learning is limited to high profile private schools and private colleges or universities. The students of government schools have no access to virtual learning.
They lack the gadgets to take lessons through the internet. Government schools lack the technology to impart e-learning to their students.
They have virtually been deprived of education during the last four months. Learning gap between the children of affluent class and those of poor community that was already very high has further enlarged.
Yet opening schools is risky for the health of children. Covid-19 has at least clearly highlighted the flaws in our elitist education system where poor cannot even dream of moving ahead. Let us see what our educationist do to remove these flaws after normalcy returns.
Health without doubt is the greatest casualty in pandemic. In its endeavour to control and manage the pandemic, the health planners have neglected all other health-related problems.
They have managed to provide better facilities for Covid-19 patients, but have terrified the medical fraternity. Government and the private hospitals are operating at very low capacities on all other ailments be it heart, kidney, liver or diabetes.
The orthopaedic operations have slowed down, eye operations have dried. Doctors in government hospitals are seeing very few patients after observing all precautions.
Private practitioners are not coming to their clinics. Even in private hospitals 70 percent of the consultants prefer to stay at home.
Telemedicine and virtual consultancy is flourishing but it is for the rich and affluent. Poor patients are suffering badly.
Post-pandemic we will see a large unhealthy poor population suffering from advance stage ailments that could have been controlled had timely treatment been provided. This will impact our labour productivity as well.
Industrial sector has the greatest desire to operate in top gear, but the subdued demand both at national and global level is a major impediment in this regard. Even in textile the global demand has gone down in fashion garments, but has surged in Covid-19 related safety clothing.
The stay at home regime has given boost to home textile products. The bottom line is that though textile factories are operating, they have shifted from high end products to low value masks and gowns.
This may work in the short-term but to boost exports we need to surge ahead in high value apparel. It is unfortunate that there is no unified stand from the private sector to protest the cancellation of confirmed orders by many reputed brands and withholding of payments of the supplied goods.
Bangladeshi exporters confronted the foreign brands. They gained sympathy of the public in those countries by highlighting the plight of unpaid garment workers as the confirmed orders were suspended and payments of goods supplied were also withheld.
In fact, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister herself contacted the heads of states of developed economies to bail out its garment exporters. We have done nothing officially in this regard either at prime minister or commerce ministry level.
This is a time for national reconciliation and not to delay justice by keeping dissenters of government policies in jail on one pretext or the other.
The case of Mir Shakeel Ur Rehman is a glaring example. He has been behind bars for almost four months now.