THE bleak economic picture that comes out of the State Bank's annual report for 2007-08 should not surprise anyone, the least of all the people of Pakistan; they have been living through its frightful impact. And as things stand, it is not hard to concur with the Bank that little improvement should be expected in the foreseeable future. The main concern of the poor, lower and middle classes is the gnawing effect of the high rate of inflation, which, unfortunately, the report forecasts at a backbreaking percentage of 20 to 22 for 2008-09, down from 25 percent during October this year. The man in the street, who has been forced to trim his shopping list figuring hardly anything but food items, suffered the most with the 31.7 percent price-hike in these items. In fact, the SBP correctly assesses the situation on the ground when it says that a majority of the population hovers around the poverty level. Other indicators - the GDP growth rate, investment, remittances, fiscal and current account deficits, the fall in the value of the rupee, the government borrowing, the tax-to-GDP ratio, the import-export scenario, the commodity production sector, the cost of inputs, poor infrastructure and so on - are no less depressing. The GDP growth stands revised from 5.5 percent to 3.5-4.5 percent, while the fiscal deficit at between 4.3 and 4.8 percent of GDP and current account deficit from 6.2 to 6.8 percent of GDP. Remittances will fall by around $200 million from the earlier expected $7.7 billion. Similarly in other domains. The unappetising scene has been put down to the dismal law and order situation, prolonged political uncertainty and falling investment. But one must also underline the point that the global economic crisis rendered the conditions at home all the more unenviable. Now that the IMF has come forward with a package of $7.6 billion, one would hope that Pakistan would have more access to funds from international financial institutions and friendly countries. That should pave the way for the government to reclaim the situation, provided it ensures that the basics of macroeconomics are properly managed and the security and political climate shows a marked turnaround. But under no circumstances should the interests of the common man be ignored. The worldwide fall in commodity prices has not been reflected in the local market. And it would be a great pity if the government were not to take adequate measures to relieve the people of their misery. Free market economy is not a licence, nor is the government meant to remain inert in the face of citizens' exploitation.