Being in government and having to take difficult decisions can often mean being stuck between a rock and a hard place. When taxes rise, the target of public outrage is the government, but what are our elected representatives to do when the economy is at risk of crumbling due to the deficit?

This is the conundrum faced by the Punjab government on the matter of subsidies. Programs launched by the previous government have been widely popular and accessible to the middle and lower-classes of Lahore, yet the financial plan for these infrastructure programs are poorly thought out and subsidies leased to make the programs affordable are a drain on the budget. Lahore’s Metro Bus has caused Rs1.64 billion loss to the government in terms of subsidy- an amount that the current government, with its already limited budget, finds difficult to sustain.

Yet removing the subsidies would mean burdening the customers by increasing fares. Currently, a ticket on the Metro Bus is maintained at Rs. 20, while the real value is calculated at Rs. 200. This value would make the public transport program inaccessible to the lower classes, for which they were inducted for in the first place.

Unfortunately, the Metro Bus is not the only government program that Punjab needs to make viable- looming ahead is the formidable prospect of setting fares for the Orange Line Metro. Subsidies on wheat, agriculture inputs and export of sugar are other areas that worry the provincial government. These programs, developed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, may have provided temporary relief to the public but their poorly thought out models and inefficient financial plans are a menace to the current government, which has to deal with the wreckage.

Anybody can see why the government fears reducing subsidies. Increasing fares would be suicidal from a popularity perspective- the Metro has proven a haven for the lower-classes who often have no other easy mode of public transport. The government has previously been the recipient of a fierce backlash from the public, who were burdened with hikes in gas and electricity prices. The dilemma is made worse when considering the government is sure to receive no sympathy from the opposition, which will delight on pouncing upon restriction of their programs.

All in all, it is quite a mess, one which seems difficult to wade out of. Whatever decision the government decides on, it is advised that it should make its mind quickly. The subsidy issue was stalled earlier for the precise reasons- it can’t be put off much longer.