ISLAMABAD:

The members of the Prime Minister’s Economic Strategy Group on Thursday advised Imran Khan to set up a war room to build a positive narrative of the government on the economic front.

The members suggested bringing improvement in media management amid prime minister’s dissatisfaction with the performance of the government’s representatives at the public platforms.

Some of the members who publicly criticise the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s three and a half years rule privately praised the government over its economic achievements, at least two participants of the meeting told The Express Tribune after the meeting.

Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired the meeting of the Economic Strategy Group, which has nine members from the private sector – the nine wise men that Imran Khan has picked to seek their advice on critical economic issues.

At least two members told the prime minister that a war room should be established to build the positive economic narrative of the government. The sources said that the PM was of the view that his economic achievements were not properly highlighted in the media.

When contacted, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that the meeting participants were of the view that the government’s positive stories were not highlighted in the media. To a question, the minister said that the war room was already established to build a positive narrative.

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The nine private members of Economic Strategy Group consist of former central bank governor Syed Saleem Raza, former Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) vice chancellor Dr Rashid Amjad, former finance minister Dr Syed Salman Shah, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Executive Director Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, Dr ljaz Nabi, Dr Ashfaque Hassan Khan, Principal and Dean NUST, PIDE Vice Chancellor Dr Nadeemul Haque, Sakib Sherani and Tahir A Khan.

The sources said that the purpose of the meeting was to build a positive narrative of the government in the midst of growing criticism against the Rs375 billion mini-budget and the controversial State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) autonomy bill.

Sakib Sherani praised the increase in exports, better handling of Covid-19 pandemic and termed the expected economic growth of 4.5% in this fiscal year as excellent achievements, said the sources. Sherani did not respond to a message for a version.

But there has been a clear division between harsh ground realities and the government’s perception of the economy that sees increasing number of tourists as a sign of prosperity.

Going by the Labour Force Survey, graduate unemployment is very high in Pakistan. Over 31% of the youth with degrees, including professional ones, are unemployed with females at 51% and males at 16%, according to a paper jointly written by Dr Nadeemul Haque and Durr-e-Nayab. Rural graduate unemployment is much higher than urban, begging the question of mobility.

The paper further underlined that the sub-optimal nature of employment for those employed can be gauged from the fact that some 23% of the labour force is involved in unpaid labour, 13% of males and a huge 57% of the employed females. Thus, unpaid labour is prevalent across all industries in both rural and urban areas.

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However, it seems that instead of focusing on bringing improvement in governance and economic performance, the government seems more concerned about building narratives.

The premier was advised that he should start his morning with a briefing on the stories published and give directions to address the problematic stories accordingly.

Another member suggested that the government should propagate that the solution to inflation was increasing wages and an aggressive media campaign should be launched.

One of the members informed the meeting that inflation would increase further to 13% next month, which would mark the fifth consecutive month of constant upward surge in the inflation index. The premier was advised to take weekly briefing on the movement in prices of important items.

The issues of adverse impacts of the SBP autonomy bill on the government’s ability to borrow from the central bank and adverse impact of retaining profits by the SBP were also highlighted.

Some members also highlighted the problem of ballooning trade deficit that has already crossed $25 billion in just six months, while pointing out that the increase in exports was largely because of a surge in commodity prices in the international market.

The adverse impact of the steep currency devaluation on the remittances and exports was also emphasised, as the exporters and overseas Pakistanis have already started holding back their money in hope of further depreciation of rupee that will ensure better returns for them.

One member suggested that the rupee-dollar parity should be restored to around Rs163 to a dollar as against Rs177, aimed at sending signals to those who are holding back dollars in overseas markets.

These members had met with Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin at the weekend and assured him that his mini-budget and controversial SBP amendment bill were defendable in the media.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2022.

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