Corruption & corona: a lethal combination

June 03, 2020

LAHORE: The world is in a precarious situation as almost every country is short of resources to cope with pandemic; however, nations managing their economies prudently and transparently would fare...

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LAHORE: The world is in a precarious situation as almost every country is short of resources to cope with pandemic; however, nations managing their economies prudently and transparently would fare better than those that are corrupt, and we unfortunately are one of them.

The pandemic would cause irreparable loss to the economies managed incompetently. There should be justification for every penny we spend from now onwards. Both the political and the business leadership would have to lead from the front. This is the time for sacrifice. The poor have nothing left to sacrifice except their life.

Routine mantra of asking masses to sacrifice more would not work this time. The material sacrifice, this time, will have to come from the affluent only. This time around they should be forced to adopt austerity measures. The luxurious lifestyle should be highly taxed. The luxury cars should be made to pay high yearly tax to the federal government. The government officials and the ruling elite should be barred from using or buying luxury vehicles from the national exchequer. Corruption should be treated as a heinous crime. The expenses of the Presidency, Prime Minister house, governors and chief ministers should be reduced by 75 percent.

Any family of six can live decently and comfortably in a three-bedroom house with a decent lawn. We do not need palaces for our rulers. Why can’t our prime minister emulate British prime minister who lives in a two-bedroom flat? We will have to forgo all luxuries and spare every rupee on the poor. The rich have the right to live lavishly on their wealth but that lifestyle has to be heavily taxed. It is criminal to fix minimum wage at Rs17,000 per month while the highest paid government employees are entitled to 20-30 times higher salaries.

When we talk about austerity that means moving towards simple and inexpensive lifestyle. With fat salaries, perks, and privileges, the highest paid government servants do not serve as servants of the masses but as their lords. They do not have any idea of how miserable the life is for the poor.

Immediate implementing these measures may not look difficult but at least we could freeze further increase in salaries of government servants from grade 20-22. In the coming budget we should increase 20 percent salary for grade 1-11, 15 percent from grade 12-16 and 10 percent from grade 17-19. This formula should apply to all services.

Any person drawing over Rs300,000 per month in the form of salary and perks should not get any increase be it a civil servant, an army officer or judiciary.

They all have to sacrifice in view of hard times that the nation is facing. Even at current incomes they would be hundred times better than over 40 percent poor that do not afford even two meals a day.

The businesses do need government assistance and facilitation to resume operations. But the state would have to be extremely careful in doling our state money. There are small entrepreneurs that actually have lost all resources and need assistance. Then there are some medium enterprises that have lost working capital but the owners over years have built lucrative assets (legally or illegally). Morally they should at this time of crisis liquidate those assets to resume operations instead of looking toward the state that is literally without any resources.

They will arrange capital if the state stays away. Jobs are important but then their mills and services are also. More importantly there are some industries that have minted money during the crisis.

Top amongst them are the food processing industries. Their products should be taxed including the dairy products. The prices of processed foods keep rising every year and in recent times every month. Consumers buy it anyways. It is not fair to deprive the government from the revenue. Tax of food processing would create competition and processors would sacrifice some fat profits to stay in the market.

This is also the time to preserve our assets. Right now, all our universities, colleges and schools are closed. These institutions particularly those in public sector are national assets. These institutions are closed and if we go by past traditions they must be rotting.

The federal and provincial governments should assign duties to responsible persons for proper maintenance of these premises. No extra resources would be required as the staff for this purpose is already employed. Some responsible education department official should visit these institutions regularly and record his observations officially.

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