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Out of my head

October 25, 2018

Home, sweet home

Opinion

October 25, 2018

Ayub Khan had his five-year plan and industrialisation. Bhutto (Z A not BB) had his nationalisation and Roti, Kapra Aur Makaan, Zia had his Islamisation and jihad. BB (Benazir, not Bilawal) had her energy and power policy. The Sharifs had their highways and metro systems. Musharraf had his enlightened moderation and his grand strategy (running with the hares while hunting with the hounds).

And now we have Imran Khan’s mega housing scheme. Like all leaders, the Kaptaan wants to leave his mark on history (political, not cricketing) and, not uncoincidentally, get his supporters all excited and win some new voters over quickly ie before the next elections roll around.

Fine. That’s politics for you. But, really, come on. He’s gone from criticising the Sharifs’ two-billion-dollar Orange Metro project (actually, rightly so – the real cost of the Orange Line is incalculable due to the environmental damage it is causing and the accompanying loss of our heritage) to announcing a $180 billion five million housing scheme – 90 times the Sharifs’ baby. That’s also like 60 percent of our GDP. Six-Ty Percent. How is this going to be financed?

Nobody’s quite sure. Supposedly, it’s all going to be private investment and the government’s not going to put up a cent (not even prime acres and acres of real estate? Are we sure?). According to the recently appointed government spokesman on the economy and energy affairs foreign banks (could we have the name of one, just one, please?) are falling over themselves to invest in the scheme. He also says that any subsidisation from the government (wait a minute – I thought the government wasn’t putting in a single paisa?) will come through that magic bullet of “looted money from money laundering and tax evasion stashed abroad”. Yes, just like that looted money stopped us from going to the IMF and the Saudis.

But according to the Kaptaan’s close friend and adviser to the government’s task force on housing, UK-based Anil Mussarat real-estate developer (no conflict of interest there, surely), 10 thousand new property developers will enter the market (supposedly out of the goodness of their hearts because he doesn’t talk about how these developers will get paid) and everything will take care of itself.

And according to the finance minister (magically) increasing deposits in banks will provide about two trillion in funds which can be utilised towards the housing scheme. Has he looked at the ADR (advances-to-deposit ratio) of Pakistani banks closely? How much lending are they actually doing as opposed to buying treasury bonds? Why will increased deposits suddenly make them go for providing mortgage financing at low rates (supposedly one of the main thrusts of the PM’s scheme) to a demographic which they usually shy away from (the poor and the lower middle class) as it is considered too risky?

Somebody’s smoking something somewhere, and all that smoke is clouding people’s judgement and thinking faculties. This is another example of the Kaptaan playing like the batsman who’s gone to open the innings and wants to hit a six first ball. But he refuses to inspect the pitch, scout the opposing bowler, or wear a helmet or a pad or a guard. He just believes he’s going to blast the ball out of the ground by sheer force of will.

I get it. It’s all about rallying the electorate around a catchy slogan and it is about a political legacy. Providing homes for the homeless is also a good cause. But have we thought things through? Are we possibly looking at the problem all wrong? More on this next time.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz

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