All Is Not Well, Mr. Prime Minister

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The sovereign state is saddled with coercive power but the citizens have no safety and security of their lives, properties and livelihood. Inflation, excessive taxes, and rising cost of the utilities have reduced bigger chunks of the population to abject poverty. The distribution of cash support to the poor under various schemes is too little to avert starvation that threatens the heavy population at the lowest rung of the societal pyramid. Education, healthcare, livelihood, counted as the fundamental right of every citizen, have suffered from chronic criminal neglect and continue to be accorded the lowest priority.

The budgetary proposals for the fiscal year 2024-2025 include 22-20% increase in salaries of the state employees and a meagre raise of 15% in the pensions. Well and good. Within a week, the euphoria of the state employees and pensioners over this increase was dampened by the increase of 20% in the cost per unit of the electricity which combined with fuel charges and other taxes would come to Rs.70 per unit. The cost of the gas is also expected to be increased to meet the conditionalities imposed by the International Monetary Fund for the bailout of $6billion. This increase in salaries and pensions was a great budgetary gimmick played by the financial mandarins of the country. They gave it by one hand and took it back with the other.    

In all the civilised societies, the senior citizens enjoy certain rights for healthcare, travel, banking, old age benefits, social welfare etc. for the services rendered by them to the country whereas in our society, the most neglected and oppressed segment of the population is pensioners and old citizens. We treat them as people of no use for the country. Some of them have important liabilities to shoulder. Some are still engaged in promoting social welfare and dissemination of education by maintaining schools. They keep enlightening the society by their intellectual work too.  

The Finance Minister, in one of his recent press statements, well said that the governments cannot be run by aid and assistance. We do agree that the government has to streamline its revenue resources and expenditures particularly taxes gradually raising them to the ratio of 12-13% to the GDP as compared with some regional countries. But the taxes should not be extractive in nature and should be levied on the well-off class, collected and spent in fair and transparent manner. The public should have confidence in our tax system. While increasing the cost of the utilities like electricity, gas and petroleum products for ordinary citizens, and allowing extraordinary subsidies to the high ups in the civil and military bureaucracy and cabinet members, agricultural farms and industrial units would not inspire the public confidence.  

The agricultural incomes that go into several millions annually in some cases have eluded income tax as our legislatures are filled with landlords who have been ever ready to kill such an initiative at the initial stage.  A landlord with a holding of 500 acres of irrigated land averagely earns over Rs.15 million annually and saunters around in SUVs but has no liability for income tax. We simply say so much so far is good for the agriculture sector as it provides for 23% of the GDP. Have we ever looked into the lives of the peasants who till the lands of these tax-free landlords? No, they barely survive starvation. Every year, the basic wages are increased. This year also, the minimum wages have been increased to Rs.37000. The private school teachers don’t even get this minimum salary.  

The Finance Minister should have also enlightened the public how a cash-starved country could afford to have an outsized cabinet of about 100 Ministers with all privileges and subsidies with ever increasing governmental expenses. In 2010, the governmental expenses were Rs.2500 billion. Today, these expenditures average at Rs.11000 billion. According to a World Bank report, subsidies to elites claim $17 billion annually from the cash-stripped Pakistan. Have we ever considered how much we are squandering on the purchase and maintenance of official vehicles that include expensive bullet proof cars for the civil and military bureaucrats and Ministers. Until recently, the Indian cabinet Ministers were using the locally produced small vehicle (Maruti).

A report suggests that there are only 85 vehicles in the official pool of the British Government which are made available to a bureaucrat or a cabinet member on demand for an official errand. Here in our country, we cannot keep count of the official vehicles in the federal and provincial governments which remain in the exclusive service of the concerned officials for 24 hours. A few years ago, the Government of Sindh was engaged in frantic efforts to locate 700 missing official vehicles which the worthy bureaucrats and cabinet members had not returned to the official pool. We have just lost our self-respect while feeding on foreign aid and assistance and borrowings. We don’t see any prospect of a lean government and decrease in non-essential governmental expenditures or any accountability for wastage of precious resources.           

The law and order situation in the country has almost broken down. The citizens do not feel safe and secure in their own houses. The snatching of valuable items including cell phones, cash, jewellery, and cars, forcible occupation of plots and properties has become the most common feature of daily life. The loss of precious lives during mugging, lynching of muggers by mobs and other cases of mob justice have astronomically risen during the past six months. Our own well off and influential people transfer their hard-earned or ill-gotten money to safe places abroad instead of investing it in this country. How can we expect foreign investors to come and invest in this country? The Chinese are sitting back and seeking foolproof safety of their citizens. 

Mr. Prime Minister, we still have time to go for real, earnest and tough belt tightening for the survivability of this country. We should not wait for any divine miracle.     

 

M. Alam Brohi
M. Alam Brohi
The author was a member of the Foreign Service of Pakistan and he has authored two books.

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