Apr 252008

Now we know that under Pervez Musharraf and Shaukat Aziz poverty increased and employment went down. But they continued to spend on themselves and the edifice they created, spending, in a manner of speaking, more time on foreign junkets than domestic issues. Shaukat Aziz of course decamped, but Musharraf is holding on, albeit from his nail ends. FIA accountants will sit one day and calculate how much public money they spent.
Their (anti-environment) development projects, mostly construction (second only to defence procurement in mega corruption sources according to Transparency International), were primarily meant for their contractors and front men to make money without a thought for the citizens who continued to groan under the burden of inflation. Possibly, the growth rate of the economy improved but the “trickle down”, the crumbs from the table, never happened. Wealth floated in the upper crust, big business flourished, multi-nationals made a killing but scandals grew. In the case of the Pakistan Steel Mill, the Supreme Court had to intervene and stop the sale. The neat camouflage of the outgoing regime deserves to be ripped off before the world.
Musharraf removed a legitimate, elected government through a military coup in 1999 primarily on the slogan of anti-corruption. Tired of poor governance, the people took him at his word and expected some improvement in their life. In due course of time, however, his agenda became a joke as law and order deteriorated, corruption increased, terrorism struck, not sparing defence personnel, including a serving lieutenant general. The public pointing a finger at it, the Establishment has yet to tell us who killed Benazir Bhutto. Because of Musharraf’s reckless tribal policy and manhandling of the situation in Balochistan, the hatred for the Establishment grew. Provincial disharmony, one of the seven points on his agenda, aggravated.
The general election of February 18 changed all that. It is a compliment firstly to the sagacity of the people of Pakistan that they threw out Musharraf’s handpicked politicians and brought in the mainstream, moderate and progressive parties. It is a compliment next to the sagacity of the politicians who got united and formed a coalition in spite of monkey tricks which, fortunately, have not worked so far.
The above having been stated, the oil prices have increased in the first few weeks of this government by nine rupees to a litre of petrol/diesel. Rising fuel prices have impacted food prices, the man in the street barely surviving. The atta crisis persists on short supply and soaring price. Shortage of gas and power is hitting homes and industry. Power outages, especially in the rural areas, are unsettling. Elements inimical to the new government playing the spoil-sport, the power riot last week were nevertheless an expression of frustration.
Things are obviously going to get worse. The new government will need time to clear years of mess of the previous regime. But they cannot dwell on the “dirty slate” argument for too long because the common man’s life is under pressure. Although he understands they need time to fix economic issues, he cannot understand their prevarication on other issues (restoration of the judiciary, for example). Remember that over 80 percent of the people want the judges to be reinstated to their November 2 status.
Mian Shahbaz Sharif, the president of Muslim League Nawaz (N), had announced after winning the election that they would establish an IT university at the new chief minister’s ostentatious secretariat in Lahore Pervaiz Elahi had built. Shahbaz also promised a drastic cut in the CM secretariat budget. True to his word, both happened the day their CM took over last week. Why is the example of 70 percent budget cut not emulated by others?
Earlier Mr Asif Zardari suggested austerity to his colleagues on the party executive committee, as he presented inexpensive (but efficient) Swatch wristwatches to them. I think I can even see one on the wrist of the PM Gillani. These gestures of political role models might seem corny to cynics, but they go a long way in setting standards in public life.
Austerity indeed is the keyword to proceed in these hard times. People show understanding provided they know that the rulers feel for them beyond rhetoric. They shall not forgive a government gallivanting at their cost. We have just seen it happen on the February 18.
It was thus with disappointment that I read that Syed Khurshid Shah, federal minister for labour, manpower and overseas Pakistanis, and a close associate of Mr Zardari, wanted his perfectly decent office premises to be renovated – flooring, furniture and everything else – at a significant public cost. I was more disappointed to learn that his predecessor, a caretaker minister for a few weeks, spent a significant sum of public money on re-flooring the office! The caretaker needs to be prosecuted for this; but please, Syed Khurshid Shah, drop the renovation project- if you have not done so already – and make do with the available crockery.

Courtesy: The Nation, 25/4/2008

 Posted by at 6:31 am

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