ANSWERING a question in the Senate, PM's Finance Adviser Shaukat Tarin revealed that bank loans of Rs 42.7 billion were written off during the last five years. A bank hoping to make profits would normally agree to a write-off only in exceptional cases and that too when the amount did not impose a huge burden. The figure indicated is mind-boggling, and as a Senator pointed out an element of pressure, presumably from the administration, must have played a role in the banks' decisions. There have been stories in the past of rich landlords with political clout getting huge loans written off. This time those failing to return loans, and getting a clean chit nevertheless, happen to be big industrialists with only a fraction of the unreturned loans going to smaller clients who had borrowed up to Rs 500,000. This further strengthens the oft-reported point that small borrowers are more likely to return bank loans than big landlords and industrialists, an argument advanced in support of diverting more bank money to micro-financing. Another report appearing in the press the same day tells of unreturned foreign currency loans worth millions of dollars. These were obtained by the private sector with sovereign guarantee of the government. The ECC has appointed a technical committee for the recovery of these loans. There is a perception that losses incurred by the banks, and in cases by the government exchequer, due to defaulters, are linked to the political system. Arbitrary and unpopular rulers, badly in need of political support, often exert pressure on banks to write off the loans of feudal lords and businessmen because they are either in Parliament or can finance the election campaigns of the Kings' Parties. The burden of the unreturned loans are thus transferred to the bank depositors, including middle-class clients, retired people and widows. The banks offer lower interest rates to the depositors. While the defaulters prepare to get more loans and the banks' profits continue to rise, the common man is the sufferer.