The budget presented by Naveed Qamar on June 11 needs to be dissected and analysed in the context of the post Feb 18 positions adopted by the respective coalition partners in government today. A detailed scrutiny would also be in order of the measures announced and visible fiscal initiatives proposed in the budget document outlining the future economic roadmap of the government as pledged in their manifestos and subsequent election promises. The political scene since the elections has become even more complex and thereby no wonder muddier. Those amongst us expecting levels of polarisation to dilute and good governance to become the hallmark, enabling our managers to set their priorities in order of their oft-professed commitments have had a rude awakening to unexpected harsh realities. The euphoric pronouncements immediately after the elections of historic mandates, led the nation to believe and logically expect from the new coalition partners of another fresh beginning, wherein, they, true to their election promises, would commit and deliver. That how much of real delivery this new political experimentation has been able to offer to its people can be gauged by the steep nosedive the economy has witnessed since the last few months, shattering the dreams of those over optimists who were nourishing hopes of a complete turnaround with a new "democratic" dispensation. The first budget of this government therefore, was eagerly awaited by all segments of our population, in the hope it would bring them the much promised rewards of a "true democracy." The finance minister (FM), no doubt, a gentle soul, had his day in the sun on June 11. Frankly I was hoping, having known Naveed Qamar for years that it would be an objective, innovative and professional presentation. But my optimism was not to last too long as the FM found it hard to rise above political prejudices and conveniently shifted all the blame on his predecessors for the poor state of the national economy at this juncture. It certainly comes as a surprise that in his over exuberance to criticise his predecessors that he forgets, maybe in that one moment of political passion, that he is presenting a budget of nearly Rs 2 trillion and a projected revenue of around Rs 1.25 trillion, a size 20 percent higher than that of last year and revenue earnings projected at almost 25 percent higher than the current year collection... The record size of the 2008-09 budget is in itself manifestation of the acknowledged fact of the strength of an economy founded on a strong revenue base. However, highly irresponsible statements of top economic managers hit us like a giant tsunami and one of the many fatalities were our capital markets which from being one of the best performing markets in Nov/Dec 2007 as rated by Credit Suisse, turned into the worst performing in May 2008. As custodians of our economy and captain of the ship they literally trumped the Pakistani economy as a sinking Titanic through uncalled for statements, in the process also getting the negative attention of the WB, IMF and other leading financial institutions. Baseless charges of fudging when made unsubstantiated only tend to make your economy more vulnerable. In the last few months Pakistani debt has been downgraded. There is a lack of leading economists and therefore the WB and IMF has cast serious concerns. To have a brief overview of the positive performance of the national economy of the last eight years we see that Forex stood at an all time high and unprecedented $16.5 billion Oct/Nov 2007 against $10 billion today and fast depleting. Revenue projections as already mentioned above are four times higher.1997-99 GDP 1.7-3.7 percent.2005-06, at a record 9 percent second only to China. A sustained average growth of 7 percent has been achieved throughout the last eight years and it is a universally recognised fact that our growth performance during these years has surpassed many developed and emerging market economies. Even the growth rate of 5.8 percent achieved during this year in the face of extremely difficult circumstances clearly suggests the solid base of our economy. We have today handed over an economy which is far bigger. Market capitalisation alone was $75 billion. While analysing growth figures one must always keep in mind the primary baseline upon which respective growth levels are measured. That would then portray the actual and real national growth registered annually and the fast ballooning size of the economy. As evident from the above figures which incidentally are also mentioned in the Economic Survey. The economy of a country, including the value of its currency and performance of its stock exchanges heavily depends upon the overall policy environment. It thrives on stability and consistency of policies .The transition is now over and time is fast running out for this government to set its house in order. Their is an urgent need to come out clearly on key policy issues. Global economy today needs clarity of direction, vision and confidence which all are lacking in our economic system for the last several months. No one really knows who is in charge and if this phenomenon fails to be arrested immediately an economic meltdown in the foreseeable short term could be around the corner. The phenomenal expansion in our economy over the last eight years can be attributed to a number of factors. For the greater part of the 90s, our tax collection was amongst the poorest in the region. The tax base was significantly expanded during our period. In the last eight years, nearly 33 percent increase has been recorded in nominal total collection which increased from about Rs 308 billion in FY99 to Rs one trillion this year. This policy stance particularly helped the export sector. From a base of $7.5 billion in FY99 it reached $17.1 billion in 2006-07 which is a substantial leap. Export growth throughout this period remained in double digits. The exceptional performance was, however, overshadowed by unprecedented hike in petroleum prices that have disrupted balance of payment positions of all oil importing countries including Pakistan. Had we not expanded the export base, the oil shock would have completely destabilised the country. We face problems today in our balance of payments regime with a large gap between exports and imports. To overcome these it is imperative for the government to spell out its policy clearly. Both the foreign investor and local entrepreneur are sitting on the fence. The foreign investor needs to be assured of the safety of his investment with no further surprises in the form of policy reversals etc. Foreign direct investment is crucial at this juncture. In FY 2006-07 a figure of $7 billion was achieved in foreign investments due to the then economic teams untiring efforts and clear policies of encouraging investment in the country. It can be done again but we need to be consistent, improve law and order and ensure a favourable business climate. In addition as stressed above, the government needs to provide a conducive and favourable policy environment to the local investor. Trade and Industry are already in a slump due to the massive uncertainty fuelled by the government itself and further compounded by its inept management of the energy resource. The rising trade deficit can only be countered by increased local production not only for local consumption but for exports as well. This can only be achieved through devising a long-term plan to not only boost production but making it more competitive by bringing down the cost of doing business in Pakistan. The size of the PSDP announced by the government is also not as big as it would like us to believe. The Rs 541 billion PSDP includes Rs 45 billion operational shortfall that effectively means that the original projects do not exceed the level of Rs 496 billion. Development, particularly in infrastructure, is a key to GDP growth and poverty reduction. I would like to clear another invoked misperception that the previous growth in economy has been primarily on account of consumerism and luxury goods. This is far from true. In the last eight years, 70 million Pakistanis have added onto the list of people who have mobile phones and have connectivity to the world. This communicative mobility to the world is the best gift a nation can give to its people. This is a world where distances have died. Economic activities are governed and thrive through connectivity. To term this huge increase in IT and communication revolution in Pakistan as a "luxury" reflects minds that have not realised the global potential of the economy. Billions and billions of dollars in the communication infrastructure in Pakistan has not only benefited the tech industry, but also real estate, retail, trade and multiple other sectors of the economy- a new level of economic activity, directly and indirectly resulted in millions of new high tech jobs. The real challenge is to use the potential and have the imagination to take it to the next level, to make Pakistan the hub of international communications and business. When economic tsars lack the imagination, they kill the potential and growth prospects. We have 100 million people under the age of 25.We have to create 4-5 million jobs every year. Unfortunately, the budget fails to respond to this challenge too. Imagine the effect, millions of educated unemployed youth would create in a society already reeling with economic and social inequities. Political parties are supposed to be prepared with comprehensive short, medium and long-term economic strategies, based on the aspirations and needs of its electorate. How close this fiscal roadmap is to the party's manifesto is anybody's guess. That it will provide the much trumpeted roti kapra aur makaan to those urgently in need of the same will continue to remain an illusion, for those, harbouring dreams of deliverance. Far from providing the much promised relief to the poor, lower middle class and the middle class the harsh new tax and non-tax measures imposed, will be extracting Rs 26,300 from every single citizen this year, a sharp jump of 40 percent over the Rs19,450 of the previous outgoing year. Food subsidies and cash cards for the poor are no substitute for creating jobs for all and ensuring judicious distribution of national resources amongst all sections of society. This budget shows no thinking or plan for re-distributive social justice and in making Pakistan a true egalitarian state. Leadership is the key to steer us out of the predicament we find ourselves today, as what has been discussed above, the failures, the mishaps and the inaction all point towards lack of that elusive mantle. Someone has to stand up and come to grips with the real issues. This drift cannot go on. These challenges need to be met head on and that would require decisive leadership where someone, soon, has to deliver. Not doing so is not an option anymore. Let us hope that happens or as so often in the chequered and volatile history of our beloved rnotherland, democracy will at best remain an illusion. The writer is PML-Q's parliamentary leader in the National Assembly