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Announcement sparks debate over holiday in straitened circumstances

Zebunnisa Burki
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

KARACHI: With Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announcing a public holiday on Youm-e-Takbeer (today) to mark Pakistan’s 1998 successful nuclear tests, there was a refrain among social media users that the country can ill-afford taking days off given its precarious economic condition.

The State Bank of Pakistan, the Supreme Court, and the Pakistan Stock Exchange also announced today as a public holiday following the central government’s notice. The same is the case for the provinces -- which are also officially observing today as a public holiday.

So does a holiday like this -- or any public holiday, really -- affect the business community or commerce or the economy significantly? This is all the more important because over the years some business leaders have expressed concerns about the economic impact of prolonged closures, especially during consecutive holiday periods.

Macroeconomist Ammar Habib Khan tells The News that the day doesn’t really hold much impact in economic terms. He reasons that “any consumption or services demanded will inadvertently be deferred to the next business day, so net effect to the overall activity will be minimal, as pent-up demand will get adjusted”.

In a conversation with The News on Monday night, Chairman Supreme Council of Anjuman-e-Tajran Pakistan Naeem Mir too seemed to dispel any serious notions of the holiday today taking a toll on the business/trader community.

Before anything though, Mir first clarified that in his opinion today’s Youm-e-Takbeer holiday should already have been on the calendar as a “national holiday” given the significance of the day.

Echoing Ammar Habib Khan’s theory that the pent-up demand gets adjusted, Mir also said that while business does get somewhat affected during the holiday, that is made up for the following day. The traders’ body leader did, however, say that industrial production would be impacted by a holiday but then also added that “in a time of depression [as is right now], this hardly makes a difference”. Per Mir, it may even transpire that “industries and malls etc stay open” today while it will probably mainly be government-related officialdom that shuts shop for the day.

For the more curious, there are standard Rules of Business that determine how federal (or provincial or local) holidays are to be determined and announced. The government of Pakistan officially releases a list of federal holidays at the end of each year for the following year. On December 20, 2023 as well the federal government had issued a list of federal holidays for 2024 including religious holidays such as Eidul Fitr, Eidul Azha, and Muharram. There are also national holidays and optional holidays on the list.

How does it all work, and who gets to declare a day as a holiday in the country? Senior journalist Rana Ghulam Qadir explains that at the end of the day, the main authority for declaring a federal holiday rests with the prime minister. Qadir explains that since usually the government declares a list of gazetted holidays before a year starts, today’s public holiday seems to have been an afterthought and may have been done for political reasons.

Coming back to the process, do amendments or sudden holidays crop up regularly? Qadir says that “occasionally, the federal government may adjust holiday dates in response to unforeseen circumstances”. He also says that, in the past, holidays have also been reduced in number.

If the federal government announces federal holidays, as under the PM, do provinces announce provincial holidays under their chief ministers? Qadir says technically that is true “but it would be rare to go against a holiday designated by the federal government -- though that would technically not be an illegal move.”