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Inflation surged last month, hitting a 12-month high. The 11.1% increase was of particular concern as it was mainly due to food inflation rather than increased economic activity. At the same time, non-food inflation has also been disproportionately influenced by factors such as rising energy prices rather than increased demand for manufactured goods. Reports suggest that profit before Ramazan is at least partly responsible for inflation. Prices for several items associated with daily meals during the month spiked. Another sad finding is that some food items did see their prices drop in the days leading up to Ramazan, but increased as soon as the holy month arrived, suggesting a lack of forethought on the part of economic planners.

Although Ramazan is not the only factor in the high food inflation rate, the other factors do not absolve the government. Remember that many products are imported due to a combination of poor harvests and poor management of domestic stocks. It is also concerning that high inflation is associated with rising unemployment – the IMF predicts both will rise this year. Meanwhile, the IMF and the World Bank have both released growth estimates well below the government’s already pedestrian target of 2.1%.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has made constant changes to his economic team in order to respond to growing criticism on the economic front. This created a situation of half empty or half full glass. On the one hand, he is ready to change ministers for failing to restore the economy. On the other hand, none of his choices fell short, raising questions about the selection criteria. The recent viral video of Prime Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan’s special adviser and Sialkot’s deputy commissioner during a market inspection sums up the problem. Instead of investigating the root cause of the problem, Awan decided that yelling at a young bureaucrat was the best answer. This bureaucrat, by the way, won her job, unlike Awan, who was appointed to his. Like Awan, the government is running out of reasons to deserve people’s trust when it cannot even control food prices. Shouting will not solve the problem. Further reflection on the reforms needed at the macro level could be considered.

Posted in The Express Tribune on May 4, 2021.

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