Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur
MULLAH Naseeruddin, the sardonic sage, once decided that he could make his donkey survive without fodder because it was proving expensive and troublesome. In spite of objections he began reducing the fodder daily by a fistful. This continued for quite some time until one day a dejected Mullah told people that the foolish donkey died just as it was getting used to living without fodder.
He said had it survived one more day without the last fistful it would have got used to living without food and he would have been spared a lot of trouble and expense.
Successive Pakistani governments have devotedly followed Mullah Naseeruddin’s theory. It seems they believe that if food prices gradually go beyond the purchasing power of people they too like the Mullah’s donkey will learn to survive without nourishment.
They are oblivious to the catastrophic consequences of their policies. Prices have steadily risen while real incomes have fallen sharply due to overall inflation and the rising cost of services and utilities. The lower and fringe classes were barely surviving anyway but in the nine years that this government has ruled the roost, prices of essentials have tripled and this has now broken the back of the middle class as well. The flour crisis has hit the country like a magnitude 10 earthquake on the economic Richter scale and the expected increase in POL prices will be a devastating tsunami for the people.
Ominously ‘food poverty’ has now reached the rural areas where it was unheard of before and the centuries-old cushion of helping out each other is no longer working. The old buffers are breaking down under the consistent and sustained assault of distorted government policies. This has been aggravated by exorbitantly priced agricultural inputs and successive crop failures. Once the social fabric unravels in the rural areas the resulting chaos may prove to be the last nail in the coffin.
Slowly and inexorably the prices of commodities are going beyond the reach of the majority of people. A few statistics will help explain the acuteness of the food inflation problem. Figures comparing the prices of some essentials in 1999 with those of 2007 are self-explanatory. The price of a 2.5 litre Dalda ghee tin rose from Rs173 to Rs275, a 59 per cent increase, while loose-ghee prices skyrocketed by 127 per cent from Rs40 to Rs91. Significantly, only the poor use loose ghee.Fresh milk rose from Rs22 to Rs34, a 54 per cent rise. Irri-6 rice jumped from Rs12 per kg to Rs24 in 2007 and is now selling at Rs26. Beef with bone registered a 166 per cent rise from Rs60 to Rs160 while the boneless variety shot up by 186 per cent from Rs70 to Rs200. Again beef is consumed mostly by those who can’t afford any better and the way cattle are slaughtered and transported is not for the weak-hearted to know. In Hyderabad I have on many occasions seen stray dogs biting off pieces of meat from the carts it is transported in.
Sugar prices rose by 58 per cent over the last eight years without a corresponding increase in sugar-cane prices. Lentil forms the mainstay of poor people’s diet and all types registered a significant increase in price. In the early sixties a friend used to say ‘but for daal there would be a revolution in Pakistan’ because it was sustaining the stomachs of the poor. Now it too is getting beyond the reach of the poorest.
One is forced to wonder if the government is really short of funds. The facts prove otherwise but policymakers refuse to consider the problems of the people as worthy of their attention. According to a State Bank report the government borrowed a staggering $15bn-plus over the last four years as the country’s total debt and liabilities surged to the $40bn mark. Our rulers need these colossal amounts to meet the demands of their luxurious and wasteful lifestyles.
In the period that prices of essentials tripled for the people, the total cost of running inefficient state institutions rose four-fold. We are not talking peanuts here. If these funds were put to better use like research and development in the agricultural, medical, education and social sectors, many of the problems faced by the country could be eradicated. Instead the rulers choose to spend the hard-earned money of the people, and foreign largesse, on themselves.
The expenses at President House rose from Rs75m in 1999 to Rs309m now, on the PM from Rs98m to Rs367m, on the National Assembly from Rs250m to Rs1, 006m and on the Senate from Rs111m to Rs577m. The icing on the cake is that the veritable army of incompetent, bumbling and at times positively rude ministers, advisers and special assistants now costs Rs155m while seven years ago Rs24m was enough for this contingent’s upkeep. In 2004 Mr Jamali took 29 persons for Umra at a cost of Rs16.7m, Chaudhry sahib’s 134-person entourage dipped into the exchequer to the tune of Rs15.23m while Mr Aziz took along 49 persons on a trip that cost us Rs11.12m. How much of a dent the pilgrimage undertaken by the new caretaker PM and his entourage put in the public pocket is not yet known. It needs to be asked if sins can be washed away by performing Haj and Umra at the taxpayers’ expense.
A report in this paper on Oct 23, 2007 said, ‘Government spends Rs65m on overseas treatment of 18 bigwigs’ and ‘that too in a country where the public per capita health expenditure is a measly Rs360’. It adds that MNA Kunwar Khalid Yunus’s treatment in the UK cost Rs4.5m while Sher Afgan’s cure accounted for $50,000. I ask the readers to kindly visit government hospitals where the conditions are no better than those found in abattoirs.
Can one expect the governments here to change and work towards the welfare of the people? I suppose not because their warped and misplaced priorities are aimed only at self-aggrandisement and perpetuation of their rule.
The people have never been their priority and never will be because that entails sacrifice on their part. They relentlessly pursue policies which are unquestionably anti-people and defy the logic and reason that govern the laws of governance.
It is said Mullah Naseeruddin was told one day that his mother-in-law had drowned. He rushed to the river and asked to be shown the spot where she had drowned. He then started walking upstream. Surprised, his friends said it would be better if they went downstream. He replied, “You probably don’t know the lady, she acted obsessively differently from normal people. So I am certain we will find her body somewhere upstream.”
Our rulers are devoted disciples of Mullah Naseeruddin’s mother-in law and will never do what common sense and circumstances demand of them.
This article was first published on 16 January, 2008