Subsidies and the rich

April 07, 2020

The recent report of the Federal Investigation Agency into the sugar and wheat crisis has created another embarrassment for the government besides flying in the face of Imran Khan’s tall...

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The recent report of the Federal Investigation Agency into the sugar and wheat crisis has created another embarrassment for the government besides flying in the face of Imran Khan’s tall claims regarding the elimination of corruption.

The stunning report has revealed that the PTI's Jahangir Tareen, government ally Moonis Elahi and the brother of Federal Minister Khusro Bakhtiar benefited from the crisis that created great hardships for the masses. In the meanwhile, opposition leaders are also accusing these individuals of selling at exorbitant rates.

The rather gullible supporters of the PTI, who have always reposed their trust in Khan’s impeccable character, seem thrown-off by the revelations. The maverick ones are struggling to give it a unique spin by saying that the PTI chief deserves eulogies for making the report public. They argue this shows that Khan cannot be coerced into abandoning a principled stance. However, it is yet to be seen who exactly made the probe public.

A reminder to everyone: Wajid Zia, the current DG FIA was also a part of the Panama Leaks JIT. His very existence was despised by the ruling elite of the time but he managed to probe the issue, which led to the disqualification and subsequent arrest of the PML-N chief. Nawaz with all plenipotentiary powers failed to stop Zia from carrying out the investigation. One can read what one will into this.

Pragmatist supporters of the Kaptaan might lure themselves into believing that he had a dogged determination to reveal the facts in the report but detractors would argue that if PM Khan were really serious to take account of the corrupt elements of his party then why was no visible action taken against quite a few other politicians and a number of close buddies of Imran. They would point out that the Kaptaan threw blanket support behind Jehangir Tareen after the Supreme Court disqualified him almost two years ago. Critics argue that it may just be that he Kaptaan may have been pushed towards a situation whereby he had no option but to make report public reluctantly.

This reluctance is also visible in the delaying tactics that Khan has chosen to employ. Instead of taking immediate actions against the responsible, he has postponed any proceeding until the forensic audit of the report is carried out. It is interesting to note that the PM has been consistent in demanding actions against the N league and the PPP even in the absence of any incriminating report. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqaan Abbasi, PML-N stalwart Ahsan Iqbal, Nawaz confidante Khaawja Saad Rafiq, former law minister of Punjab Rana Sanaullah and many other PML-N leaders spent time in jail without any concrete evidence or incriminating report. Imran Khan is also said to have been upset when some of the N League veterans were released by courts on bail.

The PML-N is euphoric over the contents of the report, cleverly only choosing the parts that lay blame on the PTI. This was pointed out by Firdous Ashiq Awan who has said that the same report also accuses Salman Shahbaz of receiving a hefty subsidy from the government during the tenure of the PML-N, and has asked if Shahbaz Sharif will bring back his son to face accountability. This is also a test of the PML-N. If the party believes in the veracity of the report, then it should also allow actions against its leaders, bringing back those who have sought refuge abroad.

The PML-N cannot claim to be innocent. In fact, people affiliated with various interest groups have a presence in all parties. The memory of the people is not that weak that they would forget the political affiliation of Khusro Bakhtiyar just a few years ago. Chaudhary Munir of Nawaz’s party and the Omni Group, allegedly affiliated with former President Asif Ali Zardari, did not miss the opportunity to mint money from the people and benefit from government subsidies either.

None of them summoned enough moral courage to refuse the subsidy given to them from the hard-earned money of the common people. The report has exposed the links between the state and its class character. It is not only the sugar mafia that has been benefiting from the exchequer but textile, construction, stock exchange and other interest groups have also been active in robbing the country.

Can Mr Prime Minister name even a single labourer who might benefit from the recent favours shower on construction tycoons? How many millions toiling people living in the slums of Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad and other textile areas have witnessed an improvement in their living standards after the repeated bailout packages that every government has handed to textile mills owners? How much relief has an ordinary citizen of this country received from the hefty financial assistance that the prime minister of our starving masses extended to the kings of the Pakistan Stock Exchange? Which principle of the free market that Imran Khan religiously advocates allows such subsidies and bailout packages? If people have been left at the mercy of market forces, why should these greedy capitalists and blood-sucking entrepreneurs be propped up by a cash-starved economy?

It is a great shame that at a time when our doctors and paramedical staff are risking their lives to save the future of this country, battling a lethal pandemic without PPE, our dear chief executive is doling out public money to those who have always turned out to be stingy in a crisis. Since the Structural Adjustment Programme of the 1980s, the state has abolished a number of subsidies meant to benefit the hapless of this country but it continued to lavish bounties on the rich. From dictator Zia to democrat Zardari and from Nawaz to Mr Clean, everyone has appeased these lords of capital. It is time that we put an end to these subsidies.

Anyone interested in doing businesses should compete in the ruthless market that advocates non-interference of the government in economic affairs. The state must take back this subsidy, besides probing into the history of such favours in the past, recovering the money from the beneficiaries with interest and directing it towards the betterment of hospitals and health facilities. If the PML-N and the PPP really want to prove that they are different from the PTI, they must ask their party people to return all such subsidies and money made out of the crisis. For the future, the way forward lies in abolishing all subsidies for the rich.

The writer is a freelancejournalist.

Email: egalitarianism444

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