Borrow and steal

Since the creation of Pakistan, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) has been borrowing, which started with the first financial aid request from the US. Since then, we have never looked back and amassed billions of dollars in loans and debts. Presently, we have reached the stage where, even to pay interests on accrued loans and debts, we have to seek more loans. Thus, the GoP and its people are now caught in a vicious trap, and ordinary people feel that a fate similar to that of Sri Lanka awaits us.

In contrast, the elite of Pakistan has been borrowing from the government of Pakistan without any sense of guilt or remorse. An ordinary citizen while applying for a personal house loan, has to sign a bundle of papers, provide guarantors and collaterals—which get confiscated if a few instalments are missed. And, we have seldom heard if ordinary citizens have their house loans waived off or written off.

However, the elite has been borrowing, running in billions of rupees, with a minimum of guarantees and collateral. And many of these loans have a history of going bad, with no one held accountable or punished. At other times, these loans have been politically waived-off, using discretionary powers, as political bribes. Thus, the irony is that while the GoP is borrowing from other countries and international lending institutions at a high-interest rate and compromising state sovereignty, the movers and shakers of our system have been gobbling up these loans—meant for the welfare of the general public, for their own avarice and greed.

Further, new and novel ways have been devised to steal from the GoP and its people. And to add insult to injury, legal cover and protection have been provided to these grand scandals. One glaring example is IPPs, which have sovereign guarantees. Among the clauses of the contract with the GoP, the government will pay these IPPs whether it is utilising their generational capacity or not, and the payment will be in dollars, thus putting constant pressure on our forex reserves, which we are continuously trying to shore up through borrowing from international friends and institutions. Also, IPPs were installed beyond national transmission capacity; and to run these IPPs, oil is required which needs to be imported, increasing our import bill and burdening forex reserves.

Thus, GoP and its ordinary citizens have been exploited with impunity and no one has ever been held accountable for this. Presently, the government is increasing utility charges to pay IPPs their pound of flesh; and instead of removing the inefficiencies in its institutions, it is levying more taxes to cover inefficiencies that are fuelling inflationary pressure, making the lives of ordinary citizens miserable. Instead, the government should look for ways to increase the tax base and offer opportunities for investment to the salaried class on their personal savings. Moreover, it could go for the ‘bold decision’ of recovering waived-off and written-off loans and re-negotiating forex-based contracts with IPPs. Finally, the people of Pakistan should look for an end to discretionary powers of executives and political representatives—a colonial-era carry-over, which was used to coddle the Raj stooges, and is now abused to give favours for personal gains and aims.

Ahsan Munir
The writer is a freelance columnist.

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