PASSING THE BUCKS

BLAME GAME IS BEHIND OUR PRESENT STATE OF DETERIORATION.

SHABBIR H. KAZMI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Mar 28 - Apr 3, 20
11

Pakistanis suffer from a phobia of accusing the external as well as internal factors for all their ailments. In virtually all the mishaps, involvement of a third hand/foreign hand is indicated but never in the history have the miscreants identified. Bomb blasts, suicide attacks, targeted and sectarian killing have proliferated because hardly any criminal has been apprehended and given exemplary punishment. Murderers of Liaquat Ali khan and Benazir Bhutto have not been rounded up. The believers of conspiracy theories even go to the extent of saying that Quaid-e-Azam was also assassinated because when tire of his ambulance went flat no one came to his rescue for hours. This gives credibility to the sayings that the enemies within have caused more damage than the infiltrators. After the creation of Bangladesh, whispers of Sindhudesh, independent Balochistan and greater Pukhtunistan got louder only because of presence of two groups: 1) those oppressing rights and 2) those fueling sense of deprivation.

One needs not turn the pages of history but the prevailing situation provides many hints. Lately, when Punjab faced extensive load shedding of gas certain quarters tried to create enmity between Punjab and Sindh. Their contention was that if Punjab was experiencing long hours of outages of gas so should Sindh. Though, Sindh High Court in its judgment made it clear that the province producing the commodity has preemptive right on half of the production many of the quarters are even critical of the judgment. This reminds the grudge of Balochistan that despite province producing huge quantity of natural gas the benefit has not been transferred to the locals.

Experts are never tired of saying that Pakistan is an agrarian country and two of its large-scale industries textiles and clothing and sugar are agro-based, lending to agriculture has remained pathetically low. It was only recently that the central bank fixed the agri lending target of Rs260 billion. The credit also goes to the insurance companies for providing credit insurance with efforts being made to provide comprehensive crop insurance. It is still on record that at one-point banks preferred to pay penalty rather than extending credit to the farmers.

Both textile and sugar industries continue to suffer due to acute shortage of basic raw materials: cotton and sugarcane. Experts say that Pakistan can obtain up to 20 million cotton bales from the area presently under cultivation but actual production has been hovering around 12 million bales. Over the last one decade, there has been hardly any increase in area under sugarcane cultivation, production and yield despite number of mills increasing by nearly a dozen during this period. Irony of the fate is that all the experts know what has to be done. This year textiles and clothing exports have gone up by nearly 25 per cent but only because of cotton prices hovering at record high levels.

Every one is talking about rising cost of energy and growing outages but less is being done to rectify the situation. Presently, rulers hold the previous governments responsible for not ensuring addition of new power generation capacity but is it not a fact that average capacity utilization of power plants has been hovering around 50 per cent mainly in an attempt to save fuel? Despite persistent increase in electricity tariff, inter-corporate debt is on the rise. Tariff is increased to recover the full cost but little is done to curb rampant theft of electricity going on.

Everyone knows that fossil oil based thermal power generation is too expensive but more and more plants are established. It is said that country is capable of producing more than 40,000MW from hydel generation but no dam has been constructed since Tarbela coming online in 1976. Experts also boast about trillions of tons of Thar coal but the treasure has remained unexploited. One fails to understand how coal can be mined if there are no roads?

We also say Pakistan is a gateway to the central Asia but taking account of what has been done proves it a hoax call. Thanks to China for building Gwadar port but it remains secluded due to lack of connecting road and railway links. Pakistan offers the most efficient and cost efficient transit facility to Afghanistan and Central Asia but its importance has been undermined after construction of Chabahar port in Iran. India is investing millions of dollars in the construction of port and also rail and road links up to central Asia.

Around the world railways offer the most efficient mode of in-land transport but Pakistan Railways has become virtually bankrupt due to massive corruption. It has failed in improving tracks, operating high speed locomotives, and above all offering quality service. Over the years, it had thrived on the transportation of POL products but after the commencement of mid-country refinery and construction of black and while oil pipelines it is struggling for survival. There is no dearth of cargo as more than 2000 trawlers and tankers are dispatched from Karachi for upcountry everyday. Policy planners must probe why trade and industry prefer to use road transportation though it is an expensive means.

The dismal situation leads to the conclusion that the policy planners have a very myopic vision and also indulge in making makeshift arrangements rather than undertaking long term projects. Gone are the days when they used to work on five-year plans. Now they prepare a budget and plan for allocating funds but actual disbursement hardly takes place due to shifting priorities. Every year government plans huge PSDP but actual spending is even less than one forth. This happens because either the budgets are cut due to liquidity crunch or the department lacks capacity to undertake the projects. But, the most common reason is diversion of funds from development projects to non-developmental lavish spending.