November Issue 2008

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 11 years ago

The Pakistan government is reported to have ordered 10 bullet-proof BMWs, each costing approximately between US$ 80,000 to 90,000.

Does this sound like the government of a country that is on the brink of default, and that is most likely to seek a five to six billion dollar IMF loan facility after being shown the door by ‘friends of Pakistan’? Why, even Pakistan’s best friend China looked the other way when President Zardari pleaded for help.

But why are we so surprised/disappointed? Why do we expect China and our friends in the Middle East to bail us out every time our economy is in the doldrums — which, incidentally, it is most of the time. Especially, since the governments of the day continue to live like Maharajas, even as they pass the begging bowl around.

Only last September, the president took an entourage of 60 people to attend the UN General Assembly session in New York. The trip must have caused a huge dent in the public exchequer as the hotel rooms alone reportedly cost $600 each a night. Do we sound like we are a poor country?

The opulence of those at the helm continues unabated — luxury homes, luxury cars, luxury travel, and even Umrah at state expense; gas, electricity, phone bills, medical expenses and servants all paid for. No minister will agree to a cut in these perks and privileges. It is the already starving who are being asked to tighten their belts. Some subsidies have been withdrawn, and if the IMF loan facility comes through, the programme for the elimination of subsidies will be further intensified.

There is more distressing news in store: the cabinet has been expanded to include 40 new ministers. This expansion defies logic. You don’t need a rocket scientist to tell you that crunch times call for downsizing, not expansion. The need of the hour is to stop all wasteful expenditure, exercise financial discipline, especially at the government level, expand the tax base to include the stock and real estate markets plus all those rich feudal landlords sitting in the assemblies who are scuttling any attempts to draw them into the tax net.

And that’s not all. Instead of looking to friends abroad, one needs to tap our rich Pakistani friends who have minted their billions in this country and who now, like rats deserting a sinking ship, have transferred their wealth to ostensibly “safe havens” — Dubai, New York and Kuala Lumpur — exacerbating the crisis back home. Then there are all those top-ranking politicians with swanky homes abroad, who have spent their days in exile in the lap of luxury.

They could set the example by transferring some of their billions stashed away in Swiss accounts to banks in Pakistan to shore up the country’s foreign exchange reserves. That’s the least they can do for a country and a people who have given them umpteen chances to honour the pledges they made to the “ghareeb awam” at election time — and redeem their lost honour.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.

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