Red zone files: Virus and govt inertia

In the times of coronavirus, why is the government looking relaxed?

coronavirus and government

coronavirus and government

In the times of coronavirus, why is the government looking relaxed?

coronavirus latest update is that the answer may lie in what transpired in January of this year. Or perhaps, more importantly, what did not transpire. The first month of 2020 struck the PTI government in Islamabad like a thunderbolt from Mount Olympus. A perfect storm of quasi-existential crises darkened the skies over the Red Zone and triggered panic within power corridors”.

“The allies — all of them — were suddenly and inexplicably up in arms and parliamentary numbers teetered on the brink. Then the figure of 14.6 per cent inflation lit up the dark economic sky like a flare shot from the Finance Ministry“.

“Meanwhile, informed rumours swirled across the fertile capital landscape that important people had had important meetings in London and important headway had been made to melt the ice. The PML-N, it seemed, was negotiating its way back into the game at the expense, of course, of the PTI about coronavirus latest update”.

“In those days, ministers roamed the streets of Islamabad with long faces and sullen expressions. That was then. Today the long faces have been replaced with reluctant smiles about coronavirus latest update”.

ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

Why?

“There’s the inflation. It’s creeping down. There’s the allies conundrum. It seems solved, for now. There’s the IMF problem. The agreement is nearly done and the next tranche will be forthcoming”.

There’s the opposition problem. The PML-N appears lost and struggling to find its feet. “The January threats for the government have receded one by one, allowing the prime minister and his cabinet to heave a sigh of relief — howsoever temporarily about coronavirus latest update”.

Round two begins now. Here’s how the arena looks:

“The government has to tax to keep afloat. But excessive taxes threaten to drown it. How will it manage this contradiction? The IMF has not reduced the revenue target that the government must collect. There are four months to go till the close of this financial year. The outstanding amount the government must recover as revenue — as per the IMF target — is Rs2.5 trillion. This is not mission impossible. It is just impossible so don’t worry about coronavirus latest update”.

“And yet an attempt will need to be made by the FBR to show performance. Except there’s a problem: FBR doesn’t have a chairman. The prime minister has been talking to former PML-N minister Haroon Akhtar to join him and lead the revenue side as an adviser”.

“Many within the government are grumbling about the PM bringing on board a PML-N man. The appointment of the FBR chairman may be pending till a decision is made about Haroon Akhtar’s appointment. The prime minister has to make the call. Till he doesn’t, FBR will remain headless at a time when 2.5tr rupees need to be collected in 120 days”.

While this dilemma plays out in town, another one is unfolding on the other side: will the real PML-N please stand up?

But which is the real PML-N? In fact, what is the real PML-N? The party is undergoing silent convulsions as it grapples with an unfamiliar situation both in London and in Islamabad. When the party decided to vote in favour of the army chief’s extension.M

“any people inside and outside the party figured a strategic re-orientation of PML-N politics was unfurling itself. Something had been given and something would be taken in return. Then key leaders like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal and Rana Sanaullah got bails and relief seemed coming to the party”.

“Silence echoed from the party leadership and everyone awaited the clarion call for the next step. The call is still awaited and there is unrest within the second and third line of leadership”.

“The most frequently asked questions within the party today are: “What is our plan? What have we got in return for supporting the extension? Why is the leadership not communicating with us?”

While PML-N tries to solve these internal riddles and find its footing, the government has found some space to flex its performance muscles. Or so it thinks. Welcome to the world of coronavirus.

“Two aspects came to the fore as the threat of virus grew: first, the government did not take it as seriously as required; second, bureaucratic inertia and organic inefficiency kicked in. There are multiple failings on display in the fight against coronavirus, informed officials say. Lack of political urgency from the top has translated into weak inter-provincial coordination and poor inter-agency facilitation”.

As an example, one senior official of a district administration was ordered by his superior to go to a busy airport in a rush to check on the monitoring of incoming passengers as per the procedures adopted by the government.

The official was denied access by the airport authorities and made to wait outside for three hours because he did not have the airport entry pass.

That pass had to be issued by another agency which had to get approval from another authority which in turn had to clear its own approvals. This is what happens when the top leadership is not knocking heads together to bulldoze inertia.

There’s more. Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan wrote a letter to a relevant ministry in February to amend the export order and ban the export of masks.

The letter was received by the intended recipient in four days when, in fact, the recipient’s office was in an adjacent room! Then it took another eight days for the section officer to move it to the next competent authority.

This is what happens when the top leadership is not knocking heads together to bulldoze inertia.

There’s more. Coronavirus broke out in China two months ago but Pakistan compiled a list of medicines and equipment we need just recently.

A summary was made to the federal cabinet to amend rules to procure the essentials and deliver them to the provinces to save precious time.

The cabinet said the provinces should do the procurement themselves. Now all four health ministries will have to follow their procedures and wait till things come through whenever that happens.

And then there’s the small matter of funds. So far not much has come through Finance Ministry for such emergency measures.

The government is looking relaxed. It shouldn’t. Really.

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