THINK BEYOND PUBLICITY STUNTS
Oct 4 - 10, 2010
Amartya Sen, in his book The Idea of Justice, refers to a letter written by the utilitarian philosopher James Mill to the political economist David Ricardo in the backdrop of 1816 British drought. James Mill, in shear anguish, proposed that it would be a blessing if the starved people were taken into the streets and highways and their throats cut like those of pigs. Amartya Seen writes, "If Mill's fatalism about famines and drought was striking, so was his faith in the demands of a rather simple version of utilitarian justice, geared only to reducing suffering...Ricardo expressed considerable sympathy for Mill's line of exasperated thought and like Mill (James Mill, I hasten to emphasize, not John Stuart) expressed his disdain for social agitators who try to sow discontent with the established order by telling people, wrongly, that the government can help them."
In his analysis, Amartya Sen disagrees with the Mill-Ricardo approach in the following words, "Those who were encouraging the people threatened by starvation to believe that government legislation and policy can mitigate hunger were actually more right than was Ricardo in his pessimism about the possibility of effective social relief. Indeed, good public policy can eliminate the incidence of starvation altogether."
It is no surprise if our government fully subscribed to Mill-Ricardo views and chose to continue in the state of inaction leaving the messy job to the NGOs and philanthropists who did an excellent job with their resources that were too meager in relation to the incidence of hunger, disease and destruction. As the public anger heightened, our political community ñ both ruling and that in the opposition ñ that is believed to have siphoned off tens of billions of dollars into their foreign accounts came up with some minuscule contributions and lukewarm responses.
Given the corruption rampant in Pakistan's political system, the apathy at government level should not be shocking. It seems to wholeheartedly believe in the dictum, "That too shall pass". Strangely enough some believe that the failure of political stalwarts to mitigate the sufferings of flood-hit people will take its toll and root them out in the next elections. This is highly preposterous. Feudal system is strong enough to erase the memory of sufferings from the minds of their decades-old subjects. Those who have taken the brunt of flood devastations belong to the lowest order of this system and are, therefore, devoid of retaliatory instincts.
Leaving aside whatever help has been and is being offered by the corporate sector, the overall response, as in the case of government, has been disappointing. Banking, telecom and many other sectors have earned extraordinarily high profits in the past and are still doing so, but they feel disinclined to invest back in the society that has allowed them to grow beyond their expectations. If world community has started to show signs of 'donor fatigue', it is understandable as their concerns about aid-money utilisation have not been properly removed.
But corporate sector in Pakistan has no such excuses to offer as its presence in the affected country allows it to carry out rehabilitation job according to its own plan with the least government intervention. The best idea could have been the diversion of promotional budget to flood-hit community's reconstruction to be carried out under the respective companies' banners. This would have brought them more publicity than the idiotic TV ads do. The heavy corporate promotional budgets could thus have found a better way of utilisation.
The corporate behavior is heavily influenced by the way of governance and business policies of a particular country. In Pakistan's case, it is difficult to decide who is more corrupt, the government or the corporate sector. Government functionaries teach the corporate bosses how to proceed to get the job done. The corporate bosses, in return, shower favors, on their facilitators. The understanding developed - with the passage of time - between the two sets of people shapes the corporate behavior. The corporate behavior of a certain business group operating in two different counties is not necessarily the same. If we do not see much difference between the behaviors of government and corporate sector, the reason is quite obvious. If the government has taken little interest in relief and rehabilitation work, how can we expect the corporate sector to behave differently?
Pakistan's pharmaceutical sector is in a better position to effectively use its resources through on-the-spot distribution of medicines to the ailing flood-hit people under prescription from their doctors sitting in the relief camps. This relates to immediate relief measures. On long term side, mobile clinics and healthcare centers with arrangements to dispense medicines at highly subsidised rates may be set up.
Corporate sector responsibility concept should rely on humanitarian aspect alone putting aside publicity and promotional objectives. All CSR operations should be undertaken on an ongoing basis. Like product planning and marketing, CSR functions should also be carried out on professional basis. Companies in a particular sector, say banking, may pool their funds and resources to develop economies of scale. While natural disaster management will appear to be a one-off affair, it may take gigantic follow up efforts. Banking sector is one of the most strong and resourceful sectors. It has survived the onslaught of global financial crisis. We all know that the strength of this sector owes much to its depositors which have been short-changed for an extended period of time. Much of the bank profits should have gone to these depositors. This is time to pay back. Wealth accumulated through questionable means can now be spent in a nice way. Without waiting for the government to do something, the leading banks should pool their financial and human resource and come out to help those who need these resources most.