15 years, 6 governments, 5 prime ministers and one direction. Does this slogan ring a bell? Yes this is how the newly founded India Brand Equity Foundation is marketing the Indian economic success story. The IBEF has been established about a year back in public-private partnership by the Confederation of Indian Industries and the government. Notice the emphasis on one direction.
When I saw the slick presentation by the IBEF at the International Communications Consultants Organisation (ICCO) Global Summit early this month, it triggered a thought process about my own country. (Please don’t think that I’m obsessed to compare Pakistan with India, my problem is that I envy only two things – countries doing better than us and personally, people who are intellectually superb and write well).
So first let’s see what the Indian’s are doing to project their economic progress image. The 15 years they talk about saw the governments of Chander Shekar, P. V. Narsimharao, Atal Behari Vajpayee (twice), H. D. Deva Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral and now Manmohan Singh. Only two governments completed their term, all others were short lived. And yet the world is not talking about instability. It is not unsure about their future policies. Why? The major comfort level is that all these governments changed democratically and constitutionally and political parties’ policies were well known even when they were in opposition.
Now let’s come back home. In the last 17 years we have had 5 governments, 4 prime ministers, (of any significance) and one direction. (I have not counted the interim governments, which were there for three months to hold the elections). The downside of our story is that none of these governments were changed in a civilized, constitutional and democratic manner. All were removed through extra-constitutional methods with direct or indirect interference of the establishment. This indeed is a bad story that can’t be scratched out from our history.
But if we leave the heavy political luggage of the country aside for the time being, I think we have failed to cash in on the fact that all governments since the 1988 elections had one economic direction, with the slight difference of style and nuances. All had pursued market economy reforms.
Just take a few examples. Benazir Bhutto’s first government started the process of undoing her party’s previous policy of nationalization by talking about privatisation and sold PIA shares in the market. She attempted to privatize Muslim Commercial Bank and opened up the sacred field of telecommunication by allowing three cellular companies. Nawaz Sharif’s government stepped up the process of privatisation and deregulations. Returning back Ms. Bhutto again moved ahead with the privatisation of power generation plant (KAPCO) and PTCL shares, opened up the doors of power generation to the private sector and attracted US$ 3.5 billion foreign investment in less than three years. Nawaz Sharif came back and continued with market reforms with major success in restructuring the banking sector. Then came General Musharraf with his two PMs – Jamali & Shaukat Aziz – and with no major change in the direction of the economy.
Let me give here another good example. The singular achievement of Ms. Bhutto’s second term was the power policy, which was used by the World Bank as a model. Had her government not taken this issue boldly and broken the WAPDA resistance, we would have been sitting in hours of load-shedding. The Independent Power Producers (IPPs) contribute, today, around 30% of the country’s energy needs. People like General Zulfikar misled even the present government. Everybody grudged 6 cents rate per unit of electricity and people were victimized for that. Today faced with the electricity shortage the government is willing to sign deals for 9 to 11 cents, under the same BB’s policy with minor changes. This shows that there may be hiccups because of the dramatic changes in the government. But they still come around the same path.
The question is then what went wrong? Why is the world not willing to believe us that we are following the same philosophy of private sector led growth and market economy? The creation of this misperception is unfortunately led by each of the governments, which have been in office in the last 17 years. All of them without any exception came and shouted at the top of their voice that the previous government was wrong on all counts. All tried to undo the projects started by their predecessor. All claimed that Pakistan was on the verge of bankruptcy. But all stood by IMF recommended economic reforms. As they say with friends (government bosses) like these, does Pakistan need enemies to maul its perception?
Will the government perception managers, I believe they have hired quite a few, advise the bosses to stop maligning every deed of their predecessor and build on a few points of strength the country has. On their part the government should invite its perception managers to guide them on their behaviour so that Pakistan can repair its image. Remember image is based on behaviour and not on just projecting statements of the government top bosses.
Tailpiece: A witty quip from my friend Wajid Jawwad at a meeting during Nawaz Sharif’s last government says it well: Just when a former State Bank Governor was lashing out at the private sector for corruption and the atmosphere was getting tense. Wajid told the PM, Sir, if our daughter is ugly, we don’t have to announce that she is corrupt too and then expect to find a suitor for her. (firstname.lastname@example.org)