Jun 092008

Nadeem Ul Haque

Pakistanis believe that we are limited in resources and options, and hence destined to remain poor. But are we a poor country?

Measured in terms of per capita income, we are indeed poor—our per capita income is $1,000. However, let us look at another index—the index of waste. A good beginning would be to look at the expenses on the VVIPS. We all know about our VVIP travel, complete with scores of “hangers-on.” The cost runs into several hundred million dollars.

Because our VVIPs like to travel in style, roads are blocked by the cars that follow them. The direct cost of this travel is huge but the disruption to domestic business could be larger. But the little VIPs cannot be left behind. They too waste a lot of money on their perks. They are very quick to grab the best real estate for themselves even at the cost of preventing serious development. In Islamabad, the most expensive area is around the Marriott and the secretariat. This is an area which could have had a number of large commercial construction. Several billions of dollars of real estate development and millions of jobs are forsaken for the welfare of the VIPs. Is that the sign of a poor country?

Move along Constitution Avenue and you will see at the Murree end of it a convention centre. Nice and big but what is remarkable about it is that it is never really used. In fact, it is never used for commercial purposes. We must be rich to forgo that kind of money. Or we merely wasteful? But only the rich can be that wasteful.

Go a mile further form the convention centre and you will see a sports complex lying empty. In Lahore, we have two stadiums, fortress and Gadhafi, which are lying empty most of the year. Some official presides over these places and runs them to prevent market activities from taking place and hence generating economic activity.

Sports in most countries are economic and entertainment activities. In the US a baseball team sells for many million dollars and even the players make large sums of money. In Pakistan the official cricket board and the officialdom at stadiums have not allowed our sports to develop. Note that even the World Wrestling Entertainment is a billion dollar company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. But then our officials have to go to see Test matches at state expense and keep the sports industry from developing.

Land is the most misutilised resource in our country. We have never allowed it to be properly developed for an economic purpose. In fact, officialdom has virtually banned commercial construction. However, hotels, mixed-use large complexes, department stores and blocks of flats are never allowed. Instead, we have a proliferation of recreational clubs for the elite. GOR Lahore, where officialdom does not even allow a school to be built, boasts three such clubs. The polo club in fact is even bigger than the GOR and contributes nothing to Lahore.

We have a large number of universities with large tracts of land, which totally remain dependent on the budget. They are understaffed and underutilised. If you go to a university campus at say 3 in the afternoon, it appears to be haunted house. Most of the campuses are now in the heart of town and have lovely lawns for the pleasure of their officialdoms. None of them however, has learnt form Harvard. The latter through its investments and fundraising has accumulated and endowment of 38 billion dollars. Punjab University, GCU and Islamabad University are sitting on prime land and not earning a penny out or it. Meanwhile they are using the lack of money as an excuse to limit academic development. Are our universities rich or wasteful?

Are we a poor country then? Let us summarize our answer! If we waste large sums of money on luxury travel of VIPS, we do not make best use of our prime city center land, we refuse to allow the development of a sports entertainment industry, even when we build stadiums and convention center they lie idle, and our universities waste their land endowments, we must be a rich country. At the very least, we are a very wasteful country.

Our officials are out on the road for many weeks a year looking for handouts on the basis of our being a poor country. Perhaps if they focused on controlling this waste, we might need to beg less.

The writer was formerly a vice-chancellor of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics. Email: nhaque_imf@yahoo.com
Source: The News, 9/6/2008

 Posted by at 7:25 am

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