The ongoing great debate on the cost and benefit ratio of the CPEC projects gives a loud and clear message that the nation is not willing to put blind faith either in the wisdom of the federal government or an ‘all-weather friend’ who may need to be briefed in perspectives other than those sold by the country’s central policymakers.
But this debate has not deterred the federating units from seeking a greater share in the expanding list of CPEC projects and the business community in trying to secure maximum possible participation in this ‘game changer’.
However, much of the significance of this national debate on the CPEC lies in challenging old ways that have not worked very successfully and finding better alternatives. This is a part of a worldwide movement for cultural change — more fundamental than the highly talked about fiscal and monetary reforms — that embraces economic, politics and social values.
It is a question of bottom-up approach seeking a robust equilibrium with top down approach.
The debate on cost-benefit-ratio has not deterred the federating units from seeking a greater share in the expanding list of the CPEC projects and the business community from trying to secure maximum possible participation in this ‘game changer’
Coming back to the CPEC issues, it cannot, however, be denied that diverse interests are at work and some of the negative comments on the CPEC are not well grounded.
In the macroeconomic field, experts and economists fear that Chinese loans and investments will further add to the mountains of debts the country has already accumulated and result in heavy financial outflows in the shape of surging debt servicing cost and repatriation of profits. An analysis by Topline Securities shows that Pakistan will have to repay $90bn on $50bn of Chinese investment. That translates close to $3bn repayment per month
Finance Minister Dar says that borrowing for current expenditure ‘has been brought to an end’ and ‘now borrowing should be only for development purpose’. That is the basis on which he wants the next year’s budget to be formulated.
Pakistan has so far been borrowing for balance of payments support, debt repayments (debts are rolled over or repaid by fresh loans) and for funding development. And the IMF says the CPEC will help raise the GDP growth by 0.4pc per annum.
The underlying issue is: how to implement the CPEC programme to remove structural imbalances and put the economy on a sustainable growth trajectory. Here minimising, or closing the balance of payments and infrastructural gaps, are of paramount importance. In short the CPEC’s real success will be judged by the improvements it brings about in fundamentals of the economy on a durable basis.
So far short spurts in economic growth, fuelled by injection of foreign money, have been followed by economic downturn once inflows fall or dry up. There is a need to reduce heavy foreign dependence by making the economy stand on its own feet. Something that is possible only if every borrowed dollar is spent prudently and completed projects earn enough to service their debts.
In the absence of upgrading and revamping infrastructure facilities, the economy’s efficiency and productivity have suffered. The CPEC projects will provide some of the needed relief but it is not clear whether utility services will be provided at competitive, affordable prices.
It may be recalled that Ayub’s debt-driven ‘development decade’ of the 1960s — industrialisation achieved with subsidised foreign exchange, liberal cheap credit and bridge financing etc — was followed by a prolonged downturn of the economy — for reasons so well-known.
While the Field Marshall’s grip on power was still strong he wrote in his book ‘Friends, Not Masters’ that ‘our present fate is to move from crisis to crisis’. He was removed by those who brought him in power with the help of street power.
The current ongoing national debate on the CPEC, it may he hoped, will help in steering a course that will put Pakistan-China cooperation on a surer footing with a common, mutually beneficial agenda. This includes the provinces desire to get more of their projects included in the CPEC and the maximum possible participation of local trade and industry.
The corporate world is not immune from this great debate which is trying to redefine corporate responsibility to the society. Brexit and Donald Trump have jolted the existing arrangement though without showing a clear path to shape the future.
The cultural movement has yet to gather a critical mass to be a real harbinger of change. Surely, sooner or later, this too shall happen. With social and economic exclusion, the citizens are gradually becoming more assertive.