Faced with a balance of payments crisis and rising debt levels, the newly elected Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) decided to implement a regime of fiscal austerity – it was a hard pill to swallow, but at the time a necessary one. Yet no one was prepared for the extent of developmental slowdown that policy would lead to. Along with unnecessary projects the PTI government has halted many necessary ones, many more remain frozen in time; halted the way they were when the party came into power.

The government’s greatest ire was reserved for infrastructure projects. Anything from roads, bridges, municipal work, to public transport and housing societies were lumped together into one category and their funding significantly cut. Pre-election rhetoric seems to have played a big part in this decision; the Lahore Metro Bus project – started and finished under Shehbaz Sharif’s administration – was held up as a symbol of indulgent waste. PTI assured the public it would focus on schools and hospitals instead.

While this made for easy electoral arithmetic, applied in such literal terms this policy has led to serious damage; especially to previously fast growing urban centers. Housing schemes, such as those operated by Lahore Development Authority are moving at a snail’s pace and prospective residents continue to wait. Unfinished roads and bridges are a traffic nightmare and unfinished structures are degrading over time along with being safety hazards.

The knock-on effects on the economy are even worse. Contractors have not been paid in months, supplies are gathering dust in warehouses and layoffs are a constant menace. Unless completed quickly, a plethora of lawsuits for breach of contract also await the government.

Austerity is a sensible policy, but it must be applied sensibly too. The government needs to finish all projects that are already under construction, even if it doesn’t plan to start any new ones of its own.