Where is the Ideological Defense of Privatization?

Source: channel24.pk

Source: channel24.pk

In Pakistan, the intellectual superiority of the center left is almost taken for granted. The legacy of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is considered a holy cow without which the idea of democracy could not have existed in the country and without which the middle class could not have possibly existed. Of course, in order to achieve these much necessary goals, it was necessary to nationalize some industries and to initiate others a la Soviet Union. Ah, what a wonderful place Soviet Pakistan would have been, oozing with social justice and equal opportunity misery.

Why blame the center left political workers for their passionate ideological beliefs from high school years? It is misguided criticism. These are merely political positions after all. Our civil and military bureaucratic philosopher-kings are great believers and pushers of these opioid myths themselves. The only difference is that unlike the well meaning socialist political workers who seriously want to change the world for the better, they want and extort welfare for their own ruling class. This has been the story of the Pakistani welfare state for six odd decades.

In the tradition of the allure of the distant social welfare state, which happens to be as elusive as the Jannat-ul-Firdaus itself, the people of Pakistan continue to be hooked on myths about the role of the government in their lives. It’s more like a theory of everything in terms of solutions. Somehow these stories always help enable the establishment and expansion of bureaucratic agencies, even at the cost of avoidable billions on the debit side of all sorts of financial statements. However, only a diabolical neo-liberal without a conscience could dare question these excesses and stand by wasteful luxury urban mass transit projects at the same time.

Many of us would have thought so, but members of PML-N are certainly not made of any such material. Supposed to be center right fiscal conservatives, because you have to label the other side with something, they are nothing of the kind. Pretty much like their opposition. They probably far outspend any other liberal or center left parties who have ever had the chance to present a fiscal budget. They also pretty much don’t care about the national debt. They are happy to add on external debt as much as possible, not that anything is wrong with that, probably because they can actually get hold of the money from international donors for a change.

What the heartless part of this very heartless political party does get right about governance, and let’s not even get into the economy, is their alleged commitment to Privatization. An evil word that brings out the Che Guevara in every sophomoric philosopher in Pakistan. Releasing schools of red herring, pun intended, about the slippery slope of crony capitalist takeover and rants about selling off the law enforcement. How dare you speak of selling our mother’s jewelry to crony capitalist burglars? Especially if they happen to be Arab or Jewish.

In a country with army generals and civil bureaucrats constantly aspiring and conspiring to become business tycoons, who can blame them for being so cynically skeptical? It’s simply common sense. This is why it is indeed important to appreciate their opposition to privatization to national liabilities such as the PIA and the Steel Mills. This is why I am such a fan of the bicameral legislature. For political parties such as the PPP, it is the last thread of relevance that they are hanging by.

Nevertheless, substantial ideological opposition to the intellectually bankrupt center left political parties is almost absent in Pakistan. The slightly-right-to-the-center-of-left PML-N has managed to win repeatedly in Punjab on the basis of perceived performance, but they would hardly stand up to them because most of them don’t even believe in privatization themselves. Primarily disciplined by the autocratic Sharif brothers, most of them would be jumping up and down the Constitution Avenue if the opposition party were proposing similar terms when set loose.

It would be such a relief that instead of defending their pathetic departmental record as a solution, (you have to pander to the voters) they would try explaining that the government simply does not have business running some corporations. Also, nationalizing industries is not how you prevent crony capitalist monopolies, it is how you ensure them. This bit of ideological purity could have been ignored if the corporations in question were not such living pictures of the failure of government administration. Even most apologists for nationalization agree on remedial action and the impossibility, if not the irresponsibility, of their sustenance.

This brings us to the question of our public unions who make a living out of blackmailing the hard earned money of the taxpayer. Institutions which are ensured and protected by the corrupt idea of nationalized corporations. There is a reason why the deadwood freaks out at the very mention of private sector because they know they would run out of financiers of their incompetence. They would also miss patron politicians like Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari reinstating employees laid off decades back, with benefits. Political hiring and political firing. Sounds like a plan for eternity.

Of course, the forever held hostage taxpayer is obviously not able to offer much resistance to the similar excesses by the military state capitalism complex, and is bound to hope for some change promised by the “right wing” majority federal government. Probably because they seem to be the only ones agreeing to do something about it. However, the good folks at the PIA and their regressive center left allies are at it again resisting the privatization of their corporation on life support, as is their democratic right.

This is where the PML-N government needs to ignore the much misguided popular opinion in Pakistan and stand up to the public unions. No harm in threatening to fire them, instead of firing at their chests, and actually acting on it unless they get their act together and return to work on reasonable terms. Otherwise, the taxpayer does not owe them any obligations to support their per-hour loss that runs in hundreds and thousands of US dollars. Otherwise, someone would prescribe disinfectants for this parasite-infested body sooner or later.

It is time to grow a spine, kill public unions, completely privatize PIA and stop taking every word from the center left as gospel.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.
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My Pakistani Person of the Year 2013: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

Source: geo.tv

Source: geo.tv

For reasons right and wrong, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is my Pakistani Person of the Year for 2013.

He has taken office after a massive victory in the May 2013 elections in which people, of the Punjab at least, have clearly voted for economy ahead of any other issue. And his party PML-N had heavily relied on promises of economic prosperity in its election campaign too. Since government is the sole provider of many utilities, it was just a change of subscription from the same source.

While his party, like every other party in Pakistan, believes in big government and big spending and has to offer its fair share of idiotic socialistic election stunts, it still happens to be the best hope for greater economic liberalization in Pakistan.

Perhaps, another hope is its conservative sister PML-Q, which may or may not vote to support many economic reforms out of political rivalry, while PPP and PTI could oppose based on their ideology. It is a shame that both parties have parted ways on anything but issues, and it is mostly Nawaz Sharif’s fault.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, he has inherited a financial wreck from the PPP led coalition government, which doubled the total debt in its term ending in 2012-13. So it is hardly a surprise that the PML-N government is desperate to finance the state any way it can and adding on further debt.

However, Pakistanis have grown sick of excuses and passing on the blame to the predecessor. The PML-N government will have to make tough decisions and it partially seems headed that way as well, at least in terms of reducing the size of the government. But it could damage the economy to some extent in its own right by irresponsible spending.

At the same time, Nawaz Sharif is far from perfect. He has a reputation of a democratically elected dictator, whose second term legacy is still crippling democracy in Pakistan. His party tolerates Islamic fundamentalism, though there is no other way to win an election in Punjab, and he almost became the Emir-ul-Momineen.

I can never forgive his 14th amendment and never will. But if you still look at him with hopeful eyes, it tells you of how bad things are. Perhaps he is the wrong choice, but I am not liberal, or idiotic, enough to think someone else would be a better choice at this point. I didn’t vote for his party, but would have voted for him had the Prime Ministerial ballot been there.

There is this fool’s hope of keeping your fingers crossed that he has learned something from the second term mistakes. And so far, he has not managed to offend my sensitivities.

Given the usual election cycles in Pakistan, most people are likely to vote for a more populist and pro-socialist government in 2018 in any case. While PML-N can compensate its loss of reputation with its trademark wasteful infrastructural and welfare stunts, even though it could either carry out those schemes or control inflation effectively without widening the deficit, it should at least do the needful about the economy on the larger scale in the mean time. Regardless of the cost.

If PML-N is able to privatize major departments currently administered or influenced by the government, especially PIA  and the Steel Mills, and partially at least, it would leave government with a productive legacy.

I would rather have much lesser government control in the oil and power market as well, though this is harder to achieve. The privatization is the easiest measure and would go a long way in the improvement of the economy and standard of living of Pakistanis.

But he has just rejected a recommendation of OGRA to increase oil prices. I don’t even mind the continuous subsidies if either the size of the government is drastically reduced or the income tax revenue is drastically increased. Failing to make one of the two unpopular decisions would mean continuing the same old disaster.

You cannot have big government without a lot of taxes and cannot expect government to look after every single aspect of the economy without paying taxes. Pakistani people do not seem to understand this.

Most Pakistanis are under the impression that a “good government” can solve all their problems. To them, a “good government” should be like a messiah that would come to their rescue. Can you blame them?

But this is why there is an excess supply of messiahs in Pakistani politics.

This is why you have MPs walking out of the legislature all the time, including PML-N, whenever oil and power prices are increased, so that the government can further subsidize these commodities.

This is why you have parties restoring laid off employees in ancient history with pay and benefits in retrospect at the taxpayer’s expense and call it a fulfilled promise.

And this is precisely why Nawaz Sharif is the best man to lead the country at the moment, until we can find someone better and less messianic. At the moment, only he is really able to bring about the changes that the Pakistani economy actually requires. He could fail, but his direction does not look too bad.

We can put off whatever political correctness we are missing right now to a later year.

My Pakistani person of the year for 2012 was Malala Yousafzai.

Happy New Year.

The Independence Day Post

So, we have completed 63 years, and what have we done?

Was this the dream? What have we become?

Although things may not look good, for we’ve lost a lot on the way.

But we must not give up, to rise and fight another day.

We had gained independence from the Imperial rule in 1947, but the question to ask ourselves is whether we are still independent or not? As in the lives of individuals, the independence of states comes with their financial power and freedom, and unfortunately, this has been an area in which we have been doing poorly. Currently, Pakistan is in a gross external debt of more than $42 billion offered by institutions such as the World Bank & the IMF. No wonder why Pakistan has largely been an instrument in the hands of the world powers.

This means that not only Pakistan needs to follow the instructions of the international financial body, but also is unable to maintain its assertiveness as a state due to its financial weakness. While Pakistan struggles to repay the IMF debt and debt to many other donor countries, we need to ask ourselves what are we doing to improve financially. Unless, Pakistan becomes economically strong, it will not be able to make a meaningful impact diplomatically as well.

The events in the recent years have been nothing short of a disaster. Probably the worst power crisis in the history of the country has paralyzed the remnants of manufacturing industry in Pakistan. One of my friends and ex-colleagues, Umer Farooq, had once pointed out to me how Pakistanis are neglecting the importance of manufacturing industries, and how the recent economic policies have only been focused on developing the service sector, that too, under foreign investment.

It is nothing else but the power of manufacturing industries, which has made China a global economic power, and which is why it is dominating international markets, including the Pakistani consumer market. Unfortunately, Pakistan is even losing grip on its existing strengths in the manufacturing industry, such as textile. Unless we are able to produce things we are able to sell, we will never be able to add to our income as a nation.

At the same time, we also need to check our lifestyle as a country under debt, under a financial crisis and as a nation struggling to maintain its position among the international community. While the war against terrorists  have been a hindrance to progress for Pakistan, our attitude has been an even greater one. We need to check the way we our running statecraft and ask questions of our priorities.

Millions of rupees are spent every month on the expenses incurred for the maintenance of the Prime Minister House and the President House. Similarly, millions have been incurred on the expenses of the serving ministers and parliamentarians, who whine all the time and demand for more raises in benefits. How much of this money could have been spent on other areas, which desperately need the attention of the government.

The ruling elite lives in comfort in Islamabad, while their supposed “employers”, which are the People of Pakistan, are suffering every day of their lives. A person in a rural area may face a power outage of 18 hours straight and may not even have access to clean drinking water, education and medical facilities, while the rulers of the country roam around in the most sophisticated and expensive motorcades.

The purpose of this post is not to bring a bad image to the name of Pakistan, but is just to point out that we need a reality check on the completion of yet another year of the country’s independence. That we need to realize what problems are we encountering and how can we work towards a solution. Even if we are able to change our approach in a matter such as curbing expense, which is totally in our control, we can make significant progress.

Even if we compare ourselves to India, despite the fact that India is a continent of a country, with far greater resources, their leaders have not resorted to the kind of lavishness that has been enjoyed by the rulers of Pakistan in its 63 year history, probably with the exception of  Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Khawaja Nazim-ud-din and a few others who were in office in the early days. At least, they are not as ostentatious.

All the three ruling elements, the bureaucracy, the military and the politicians, including the feudals, have been responsible for the development of this culture of extravagance. When an organization is not able to generate additional sources of income, they consider cutting down expenses to maximize their profitability under given resources. This is what Pakistan needs to do.

However, in the case of Pakistan, we are asking for more IMF debt to maintain the lavish expenditure incurred on the ruling class. It is an ironical situation really. The servants of the people of Pakistan are enjoying a lavish lifestyle bought by the tax Rupees of the Pakistani people, who themselves are deprived of even the basic necessities at some places. How can such a nation ever achieve financial independence?

This elitist culture needs to be changed. We need to change the mindset that the bureaucrats, the military and the politicians are superior to the people of Pakistan. They were chosen from the masses themselves. Anyone who thinks in such a manner does not deserve a position in any of the state institutions. The way the civil servants are trained needs to be changed.

Anyone acquiring a position as a civil servant assumes that he or she has transcended the level of being an ordinary Pakistani citizen and  has entered an elite club. Of course, it is true that they work hard for getting their positions, but they must not forget that they are nothing more than paid servants of the Pakistani people.

To me, a tax-paying vendor is the employer of even the highest-level serving bureaucrat or Army officer. Unless this approach is developed, Pakistan may never achieve what its people aspire for. Unless we work to eliminate the moral corruption plaguing us as a nation, we can never attain the discipline necessary to achieve true independence.

Pakistan must work to rely on its own resources to progress. Unless this approach is adopted, it can never escape the vicious cycle of debt servicing. We need to cut down our military expenditure and stop the race of arms with India. We need to concentrate on strengthening the people by offering them easy access to education, so that manpower, which is one of the most important and abundant resource at our disposal, does not go to waste.

On August 14, 2010, Pakistan probably faces the most asking of all the challenges that it has ever encountered. Pakistan is fighting the worst natural disaster in a century, and right now apparently lacks the resources  to build the lost infrastructure as a result of the monstrous flooding that has currently brought a fifth of the country’s area under water.

With about 1,600 deaths and 20 million people left homeless, Pakistan needs to fight this disaster and must work harder than ever before to restore the lost infrastructure and to help out the affected people. While the international community is helping us out to overcome the challenge, for which we should be grateful to them, we need to develop our own resources as a nation as well.

This independence day is not a time for celebration at all, but one of contemplation and self-evaluation.

But the bottom line is clear. The bottom line is that we must work hard, especially even harder on this hour of crisis, to raise to the level of true independence and glory which is worthy of great nations, before thinking about celebrations and making false claims of pride. Pakistan is a nuclear power with one of the strongest military forces in the world, but none of that is helping us right now.

It is true that Pakistan needs to spend on its security to ensure its existence, but we need to shift our focus from military expenditure to improving the living standards of the people and to offer them education and medical facilities in a better way. We should also develop our focus to strengthen the manufacturing sector of the economy, even if we have to resort to drastic measures for doing so.

Why cannot we produce things as trivial as locks and umbrellas in the country, and why each and every single object we use needs to be “Made in China”? Are we so incompetent and resourceless as a nation? Or have we descended to a state of decadence in which we cannot differentiate wrong from right? But I am aware that a lot of other nations are facing this situation as well.

Never expect change unless you act for the change.

I’m concluding the post with the quotes of two of the fathers of the struggle for freedom for the Indian subcontinent from the Raj, and God knows we need to act on this advice more than ever before.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve. Work, work and work harder.” – Muhammad Ali Jinnah

If you want independence, you have to earn it.