Fearing an inferno, the government moved swiftly. Suddenly the minister for water and power discovered huge deposits of aqua in Mangla and Tarbela Dams just lying around doing nothing. He ordered his engineers to fling open the floodgates and, voilà! our light bulbs came on. It just needed several hundred “little people” – men and women – coming out on the streets. Some screamed, most cried and some got violent. They just could not afford the double of what they normally pay for their electricity consumption. It was blue murder, they keened. Setting up little fires across the country, the protestors refused to pay their bills and instead set fire to them, chanting anti-government slogans. Such scenes scared the “elected leaders” who huddled together to brainstorm. The decision came thick and fast: withdrawal of new rates topped by an apology from Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Shall we conclude, then: unless the people come out on the streets and challenge the establishment, the small inner circle of “superclass” gives a damn? Who is this superclass? In Pakistan it’s made up of a clique of self-interested elites enjoying political, financial and international power. It’s made up of politicians, civil and military big guns, feudals, industrialists, multinationals, public and private enterprise barons, civil society leaders, corporate media magnates and influential families from the four provinces. Pakistan may today have 44 percent of its people living below the poverty line, but the fortunes of the superclass always spiral; never plummet.
Street power, if used judiciously, can move mountains, right? But if misused by malcontent operatives wanting to bring down the government and play havoc with national resources by going on a destructive binge it will always fail. Maybe the next time these “little people” will come out on the streets to demand that the superclass bring back their billions and not tangle with IMF loans. Should the Americans vote for Barack Obama today, the 46-year-old has promised to “redistribute wealth.” He’ll tax the wealthy to pay the poor. “When a CEO is making more in 10 minutes than an ordinary worker’s making in an entire year . . . something is wrong, something has to change,” declares Sen Barack Obama.
And that is exactly what’s being enacted at the newly-taken over KESC–outrageous salaries for its CEO and 40 executives. Normally, I avoid commenting in my columns on other columnists and what they write–fairly or unfairly. It’s not my business to poke my nose into their affairs of the pen. Since Mr Ikram Sehgal took a swipe at me in one of his columns recently, I must respond. He took affront to my mentioning that Farrukh Abbas, the CEO of Abraaj Capital (Pak) was getting a hefty Rs4.5 million monthly salary for heading KESC; and that he was related through marriage to Mrs T Hakim Ali Zardari. I think the public has every right to this information. Shaheen Sehbai’s investigative story on Abraaj segued by an editorial in this newspaper last Friday and Saturday, respectively, must have further aggravated Mr Sehgal, who has been crusading for KESC’s new management in his columns.
The editorial goes: “The company (Abraaj Capital), which emphasises its track record of accountability and transparency, has stressed that these persons (Farrukh Abbas and company) were appointed on the grounds of merit alone and on the basis of their desire to serve people. Sadly, this is not a version of events most people in the country will be willing to believe. Even though it (the PPP) has been in office for barely eight months, accounts of corruption, nepotism and blatant abuse of power involving members of the new government and other who hold high office can be heard everywhere. The past reputation of prominent figures only spurs this on. So too do the admissions made by Abraaj. In the Pakistani context, it seems obvious how certain people got key posts. They are also reported to be drawing extravagant salaries. These latest revelations will only add to the distrust for politicians that is deeply rooted in our society, with persons elected by people then using their power to rob the country they claim to serve. These people need to come forward and explain what has been happening at the KESC and why the controversial appointments were made.”
To further deconstruct and navigate through this legal labyrinth can be too technical for the lay reader. So, bottom line: does Abraaj, which is incorporated as a Cayman Islands company, want control of KESC, which is a Pakistani company? It has already entered into an agreement with another offshore company called KES Power Ltd. This overseas holding company owns 72 percent shares in KESC. Both the companies fall within Pakistan’s jurisdiction, yet Abraaj’s circuitous route to ownership of controlling shares is raising red flags. Pakistani law protects the rights of minority stakeholders and therefore insists on “mandatory public intimation and offer requirement” whenever a company acquires more than 10 percent in a company. Why must Abraaj be exempted from going through this process?
Superclass, written by David Rothkopf, can perhaps provide the answer to my question above. The book is about the super-wealthy and the super-powerful world elites. The power brokers are people in international business and finance and the defence industry. “They move freely into high positions in their nations’ governments and back to private life largely beyond the notice of elected legislatures, which remain abysmally ignorant of affairs beyond their borders. Their disproportionate influence over national policy is often constructive, but always self-interested.” Rothkopf has identified roughly 6,000 individuals who have “the ability to regularly influence the lives of millions of people in multiple countries worldwide.” They are the “superclass” of the 21st century, “spreading across borders in an ever-thickening web with a growing allegiance,” Rothkopf argues, “to each other, rather than to any particular nation.”
Let’s now move to the superclass in Pakistan. While 44 percent of our people are living below the poverty line, according to the latest World Bank report, the superclass is partying as if there was no tomorrow. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani is a lucky man. Barely in office for seven-and-a-half months and he has already married off two of his sons in royal style. Photos of the happy couple (son # 2) are circulating on the Internet. The marriage was hosted by President Zardari at the Presidency just as Pervez Musharraf hosted the mehendi ceremony of his daughter-in-law Irum Bilal’s sister at the Presidency, which was decked up like a dulhan in yellow! This is our superclass; they form a chain like the lazy-daisy embroidery stitch that joins one super-wealthy to another to complete the dictum of John Lehman, a former US navy secretary: “Power corrupts. Absolute power is kind of neat.” Apart from Olympia-style nuptials, kickbacks in defence deals are back with a vengeance. According to someone in the know, the Pakistan Air Force was told to buy three AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircrafts from China recently. Sitting in the deal was the son of a VVIP, negotiating the purchase. “Since this was China’s maiden attempt at making AWACS, Pakistan became the guinea pig as its first buyer!” the source said.
It’s only when a government falls does the dirt come out and the truth revealed. There are too many of us “superclass” media types working 24/7 deflecting facts that the rumour mills continue to throw up. Most of us have vested interests that keep us from making vital information public.
While AWACS are being purchased to keep the Indians out of our airspace, who is going to keep the Indians out of our cyberspace? Recently the Website of the Pakistan Academy of Letters was hacked with the message “97 India was here. This site sucks just like Pakistan and has been owned by 97! Ha ha ha. East or West India is the best. You’ll always remain light years behind India.”
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org