The government is hardly a month old and sadly the criticism on its economic performance has already started to flow. Rather unfair, but then more than anyone else the economic managers themselves are to be blamed for the confusion and uncertainty they continue to spread all around.

All parties at the time of contesting elections knew that if voted into power, they will inherit a very troubled economy, which will be extremely challenging to manage, i.e. to put it mildly. Also, they knew what the main problems were: low growth, energy crisis, inadequate revenue collection, wasteful spending, corruption, mismanagement of state-owned or state-run enterprises and growing inequalities in wealth distribution and that in economic opportunities.

The PML-N’s economic manifesto was ironically one of the best in this regard, as it presented a very holistic view of the economic malaise confronting Pakistan and argued for a comprehensive approach for fixing the situation by aiming at evolving collective solutions, instead of resorting to ad hoc measures; to address underlying structural issues, rather than indulging in surface cosmetics. Wonder what happened to the authors of such a fine document!

The art of swimming to survive in the deep sea is to coordinate your movements and purpose, instead of indulging in frantic and disjointed strokes - the more you splash, the more you go down. This is precisely what we are witnessing from the government quarters. Whereas the overall strategy remains unclear, isolated actions that belie all logic continue to roll in, thus rekindling an old but negative perception about their management style.

The problem is that if once such an image sticks, it tends to stay glued. For example, who advised them to tax used clothing? These are obviously meant for the poor and the lowest income bracket public (especially the youth), who use this sector to dress well. Governments around the world in partnerships with charitable organisations like the Salvation Army, Red Cross, UN, etc support such endeavours, but we instead tax them?

In an age where the emphasis is on minimising interaction between the taxpayer and the tax collector by using help from informational technology, how will providing FBR with a direct access to savers’ personal bank account details help, other than, of course, promoting corruption and eroding savings? Why unnecessarily tamper with the key elements - the slab itself, input-adjustment and the zero-rating in export sectors - of a prevailing sales tax system without first thinking through its implications?

As a result, the wave of inflation and corruption has not only been a dampener on legitimate businesses, but has also been instrumental in creating damaging impressions like the new government policies being anti-poor and aimed at punishing existing taxpayers, instead of netting tax dodgers.

The way the management of the state-run enterprises is being approached is also nothing, but a new scandal in making. For example, in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), they are making a complete hash of sound management practices. As if it was not bad enough to place a new handpicked board of directors without first explaining their credentials and addressing conflicts of interest (if any), we are now hearing of a fresh bailout package of Rs16 billion being given to the airline without following due process.

The funds (not originally benchmarked in the budget - the IMF will not be too thrilled) are required for meeting immediate payment obligations and for acquiring a fresh fleet of narrow bodied aircrafts. One learns that the Ministry of Finance has agreed to release the amount, despite neither being satisfied with the quality of the summary (justifying the requested funds) moved by the PIA management, nor having received it through the mandatory due process of prior clearance from related departments in the flow chain. However, even a bigger flaw points towards the lack of ownership of this proposal by the new board, indeed, because now the onus is on them to provide a professional vision-cum-strategy to get PIA out of the woods and, more importantly, to be accountable for all managerial decisions.

After all, we do not want to see a repeat of some previous privatisation sagas where entities were sold at far less than what the government invested in them only a few months prior to their sale transactions? And if, indeed, privatisation is being considered - one heard the Minister of Planning remark the other day on television that unless the PIA employees (like in the USA and Europe) come up with a plan to turn around their organisation, the government will have no option, but to sell it - then the new board members need to file declarations clearing them under the principles of conducting all current and possible future transactions at an ‘arms length’.

Also, just for the Minister’s information, in the corporate world the onus for devising a turnaround plan is always on the executive management (and ultimately the board), which then has to convince the employees to also assume the ownership of the proposed plan, and not the other way round (cases in USA and Europe were no different).

Just like the terms terrorism and security stand redefined after 9/11, so has the concept of economic management changed sharply, post 2008 financial crisis. Markets are no longer considered to be self-regulating and self-correcting, and there is a renewed focus on oversight, delegation, due decision making process and grossly expanding the very scope of the word ‘stakeholders’.

An inflation of 30 percent in food items leading to the holy month of Ramazan is simply inexcusable. A lesson here, perhaps, from the Chinese style of management would be helpful for the rulers on how to use the might of the state to tame inflation stoked through hoarding, cartelisation and black marketeering. The Chinese state demonstrated this successfully in the mid 80s, mid 90s and recently in 2005. A recent study at the Harvard University by Laurie and Harreld reveals that governance falters when economic managers:

i   Fail to provide the right kind

    of oversight;

i  Do not put the most competent

    and experienced talent in-charge;

i   Assemble the wrong team;

i   Staff up prematurely; and

i   Fail to govern properly at

    the ‘start-up’.

On the other hand, talk to the government quarters and they cite the example of Punjab over the last five years as ample proof on their ability to deliver. Make no mistake though that while the province of Punjab may have done well when compared to our other provinces, it also failed to live up to its full potential - individual brilliance can never be a replacement for a sound management structure. Let’s hope the same mistake this time is not repeated by them at the centre.

The writer is an entrepreneur and economic analyst.