Advice from a Pakistani official in the midst of an economic crisis: drink less tea

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan’s government has come under fire after an official urged people to drink less tea to help the country’s struggling economy.

As Pakistan, the world’s largest tea importer, grapples with runaway inflation and a plummeting rupee, Ahsan Iqbal, the minister for planning and development, told reporters on Tuesday that his compatriots should ” reduce tea consumption by one to two cups because we import tea on loan.

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His comments were met with a mix of memes, mockery and harsh criticism in the South Asian nation of 220 million people, which bought more than $640 million worth of tea in 2020, according to the Observatory of economic complexity, an international trade data site.

“The problem is that the Pakistani elites will impose heavy taxes on the masses and snatch our cup of tea from us, but they will never quit their lavish lives,” Hameed Khan, a 45-year-old journalist from the city of Peshawar, told NBC News. , in the north of the country. Wednesday.

Pakistan has been in political and economic turmoil for months, with sharply declining foreign exchange reserves and rising food, gas and oil prices putting further pressure on the country’s already struggling economy. country. A devastating heat wave added to the challenges as temperatures hit 124 degrees Fahrenheit last month.

“There is no electricity or drinking water in this scorching weather,” said Gohar Ali, 47, a civil servant from Mardan city.

He added that his monthly salary ran out after two weeks and he did not know how he would cope for the remaining fortnight.

Handling the economic crisis is a huge test for Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took power in April after his predecessor, Imran Khan, was ousted by lawmakers.

Khan, a cricket star turned Islamist politician, had faced mounting criticism for his performance, including his handling of the country’s finances.

Image: An employee pours tea for customers at a restaurant in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 15, 2022.
An employee pours tea for customers at a restaurant in Islamabad on Wednesday.Aamir Qureshi / AFP-Getty Images

Last week, Miftah Ismail, the country’s finance minister, announced a new budget which he said would raise taxes on the rich, tackle tax evasion and privatize government assets when it comes into effect on 1 January. July. He also banned government officials from buying new cars. for personal and official use to reduce fuel consumption.

The measures appeared to be designed to encourage the International Monetary Fund to reinvigorate a bailout package worth $6 billion that was negotiated in 2019 after years of stagnant growth. The program was put on hiatus amid questions about Pakistan’s finances.

One of the key steps towards meeting IMF conditions, the removal of costly fuel subsidies, has already been implemented by the Sharif government, with fuel prices rising by 40%.

IMF staff and Pakistani officials are due to meet this month.

Although reducing tea consumption is not an official policy, financial analyst Mohammad Irfan Khan, 35, from the Mohmand tribal district, said he was not only surprised by the demand but also hurt.

“In my life, Pakistan has never come out of an economic crisis,” he said.

Reuters contributed.

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