Constant sectoral management gaffes by the PTI government are not just becoming a source of embarrassment for the Pakistani nation, but by now are also posing a serious threat to Pakistan’s sustainable engagement with the outside world. First, it was that nearly all Pakistanis are thieves or tax dodgers, and how this new set of puritans will cleanse the system by making everyone pay their due share of tax. Second came how corruption is embedded in the Pakistani environment and the new paragons of virtue will hold the corrupt accountable in a transparent way. Third was the wave of branding the locals as incompetent and how the Non-Resident Pakistanis (NRPs) will be inducted to resurrect the dwindling economic fortunes of the country. Fourth was how the entire governance structure of Pakistan is flawed, from sports to education to health to administration, and therefore in order to get better results it needs to be completely dismantled and changed 180 degrees. Fifth was some kind of an alleged astronomical figure of more than $200 billion parked in Swiss and other foreign banks, which was to be used to pay off national debt, and the list goes on. In the process destroying the national image and creating a global perception about Pakistan where people are thieves, the system is corrupt, degrees and certifications are fake, institutions stand crumbled, money laundering is rife, corporate houses are gangsters or mafias, people are carriers of diseases and viruses, economy is on the verge of collapse, and last but not least, lawlessness is the order of the day where even the government is at times helpless. Who needs enemies?

Now no one is implying that all is well and the government is completely wrong in pointing out a flaw when it sees one, but why wash one’s dirty linen in public? More importantly, why assume a crime has been committed without even conducting a proper investigation? Especially when it comes to a national corporation and its reputation, discretion is always the better part of valour, because the fallouts from even a single reckless statement can be very far reaching. This is exactly what we have witnessed in the case of PIA. Whether or not all the pilots are guilty of cheating/falsifying exams, if the involvement of PALPA truly compromised certifications through a clear conflict-of-interest, and whether CAA was also complicit in the supposed scam are all aspects that still need to be thoroughly probed, albeit discreetly. Pilot certifications may not be the only process where the respective associations oversee the qualifications procedure, as there are quite a few others as well. For example, Boiler Engineers Association controlling Boiler Engineering Certification, the Association of CAs that qualifies Chartered Accounts is yet another one, meaning, that if this becomes the sole criteria of ascertaining nepotism, then tomorrow, one may even end up discrediting the entire audit authenticity of financial documents in Pakistan, thereby simply (financially) disconnecting ourselves with the entire outside financial world. And this is exactly what has happened owing to the gross mishandling of the PIA case: The airline has lost confidence in itself and the world in the airline; PIA-trained personnel, from being an internationally sought after human resource, have instead become pariahs; the entity net worth stands significantly eroded, as any remaining goodwill was just wiped off in minutes; and perhaps with this, the very fate of the iconic national entity stands prematurely sealed. As if this was not enough, the event of inviting the bids for PIA’s New York based Roosevelt Hotel couldn’t have been more poorly-timed, naturally lending credence to innuendos and conspiracy theories!

An elementary Management-101 course will teach you two most basic principles of sound economic governance: One, no decision should be taken in haste and without doing a complete SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) analysis and Two, to protect institutional image and integrity (of being ethical to ‘all’ stakeholders) at all times. Ironically, these two are the very elements that we see are missing in almost all economic and administrative decisions over the last two years. A habit of sheer hastiness: We act first and think later; we shoot off our mouth first and contemplate its repercussions later. Whether it comes to playing musical chairs with the key post of the FBR Chairperson or changing bureaucratic top slots in police, finance, commerce, food, etc. or hurriedly deciding the business case of steel mills or giving subsidies and regretting later or raising interest rates and dropping currency value post haste without calculating the long term implications on inflation, raising debt through parachute inflows, investment, unemployment, poverty, growth and basic macroeconomic instability or adopting an oscillating strategy to fighting the corona pandemic that leaves people confused between practicality and fatalism or reducing fuel prices without thinking things through, only to be raised back again within days or stubbornly asking for more and more taxes without conceding that Pakistanis are already paying their fair share of tax contributions in many different ways, are all hastily taken steps that only go on to expose the government’s lack of understanding and unpreparedness as it assumed power. The writer has touched upon this quite a few times in previous articles presenting data and regional comparisons to depict the rightful level of taxes paid by Pakistanis every year. No rocket science required in realising that instead of creating panic by pointless witch hunting or by stoking corruption through setting ill-advised revenue targets, governments often do well by simply rationalising any excessive or counter-productive taxation in the system (e.g. super tax, unnecessarily high tax slabs; corporate & GST, the futility of collecting and then refunding instead of adopting zero-rating, etc.) and by separating the revenue collecting apparatus from the management team responsible for reforms.

In essence this government so far lacks tact and maturity—“Tact consists in knowing how far to go too far”, Jean Cockteau. Also, it appears that an ever-increasing weight of some fast evolving challenges, almost on every front, both at home and abroad, is pushing the government towards a syndrome referred to as ‘governance fatigue’ that these days is now referred to as ‘ government burnout’—a phenomenon now officially recognised by the WHO from 2020 onwards, in a country’s national policymaking. WHO defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic management stress that has not been successfully managed individually or collectively. An interpretation, which places the responsibility firmly on the ruling leadership, leaving the onus entirely on it to take stock of the situation and improve. One can only hope and pray that this indeed also happens to be the case with our decision makers, in that they can rise to the occasion, so that for the struggling Pakistanis, the coming three years turn out to be better than the previous two!