Pakistan continues to borrow and squander billions of dollars. The only beneficiaries of these rip-offs are the officials, consultants and contractors. A $100 million World Bank loan for cleaning the streets of Karachi, a $442 million WB loan for Punjab’s water and sanitation infrastructure and a $350 million ADB ‘Access to Justice’ loan are just a few examples of our insane penchant for plundering foreign loans.
Suffering from ‘imported goods disease’, Pakistan spends almost one fourth of its total loans on import of luxury goods for its elite. Around $10 billion were spent in last 3 years for importing SUVs, mobile phones, cigars, animal food, exotic fruits, chocolates and cosmetics. Pakistan could solve its balance-of-payments problem simply by eliminating this completely avoidable indulgence.
Pakistan has invented clever techniques to enhance poverty and inequity. Consider the real beneficiaries of the recently announced 10% increase in pension of all government employees. Those getting a pension of Rs1 million (such as the judges) begin receiving an extra Rs100,000 a month. Those already receiving a pension of Rs200,000 (such as senior bureaucrats) will now be richer by Rs20,000 pm. Those living on fringes of life and getting a pension of Rs30,000 will receive only Rs3,000 pm. Those 9 million workers who receive a pittance of Rs8,500 (through EOBI) will not get a single penny, while the 65 million workers who are not enlisted in any pension scheme will continue to be ignored as if they never existed.
The government has devised numerous ways to disguise the ‘charity’ it gives to the rich. Consider the recent Punjab government’s decision to grant Rs358 million housing loan to 12 judges of the LHC. Would the government do the same for a junior clerk? Likewise a grade-21 officer, whose average basic salary is Rs111,720 pm, actually receives Rs979,594, when you add all the perks and allowances. Compare this to the pittance (Rs14 -18000 pm with no EOBI or Social Security) paid to the contracted sanitary workers of over 700 Municipal Committees across Pakistan.
Pakistan spends billions of rupees on purchase of official cars. There are 22,000 government vehicles in Sindh alone and likewise many more thousand in other provinces. Typically they are engaged in private chores or misused by friends and families. In stark contrast, a rich nation like Britain maintains only 81 government cars, that too in a central car pool while Sweden maintains only three. Pakistan may also be the only country whose government servants spend half of their official time watching television in their offices. Why must the taxpayers pay for office televisions and such other insane luxuries? This may best explain what makes Pakistan ‘poor’.
Pakistan can begin to shed its debt and poverty only by adopting exceptional austerity measures and eliminating the numerous luxuries (considered entitlements) of its entire civil and military bureaucracy. There ought to be no further foreign loans, no import of luxury goods, no official cars and no TVs in offices. Inequity and poverty ought to be address by raising the minimum wage to Rs30,000 while slashing the salary and pension of all BPS 17 and above government officials to half. The DG Punjab Organ Transplant Authority has become a role model by voluntarily reducing his salary package of Rs1 million to half. That is the only route left for Pakistan if it wishes to unplug the ventilator and the tubes it is so stubbornly attached to.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2022.