Storms love bad helmsmen

December 13, 2020

LAHORE: One fails to fathom as to why this ship has been running into storm after storm since the change of crew over two years ago; however, these rough seas could have been easily avoided only if the helmsmen knew how to do their job.

We saw wheat flour, sugar, petroleum crises because of the mishandling of affairs and now the gas crisis is looming large only because we failed to order LNG in time for use in January.

This government earns the ire of the electorate for its economic bungling because the people in street face the economic consequences of each misadventure by the ruling elite. Still the government blames the media for highlighting the issues that impact the lives of commoners. By gagging the media and ensuring negative news does not spread as much as possible the ruling elite was under the impression that the people will never know what’s going on.

But how can people remain oblivious to such news when bad news relates to the daily life of each family in this country. The wheat shortage was orchestrated by the men in power. It definitely benefited the influential hoarders but emptied the pockets of consumers. Wheat is the staple food of the country and every family rich or poor consumes wheat on a daily basis.

The poor consume it more because it fills their stomachs (though without providing the essential growth nutrients). That the people of Pakistan were cheated was proven by the wheat report that was prepared at the behest of the government. Still no heads turned or rolled. To overcome the crisis the government was forced to import wheat at very high rates (earlier a higher amount of Pakistani wheat was allowed to be exported at very low rates). The government then triumphantly declared the wheat prices had reduced after imports. This is half-truth.

Yes, the wheat prices have come down from historic highs, witnessed during the shortage, but are nowhere near the rates at which the wheat crop was procured by the state from the last harvest. Now higher prices are new normal as far as wheat is concerned. The media simply points out the reality, however harsh it may be. And consumers are aware of it. There are families that have reduced their wheat uptake. This means semi starvation for them because wheat was once the cheapest staple food of the country.

Sugar is another commodity consumed by every Pakistani family. Again, the poor use it more than the affluent. The affluent consume it less to avoid obesity. The poor get instant energy when they take sugar. Sugar was also exported at low rates (exports are always zero-rated). At the same time the sugar exporters were provided subsidies by the provincial government. After that the sugar rates reached a historic peak.

Again, the sugar was imported in large quantities. It goes without saying that the prices did come down and everyone from advisers to ministers and the Prime Minister was jumping in jubilation all over the media. The consumers however are not mused as they are still buying the sweetener at Rs85/kg compared with Rs55/kg when the prices started rising after exports were allowed. The government wants the media to compliment it for this ‘achievement’ that has not pleased consumers.

The disappearance of petroleum products last year after the rates were sharply reduced still remains a mystery. More mysterious is the fact that the petrol and diesel reappeared at retail outlet immediately after the rates were increased by the government. The beneficiaries were oil marketing companies. Token fines, like slaps on wrists, were imposed on some of them but no way near what they had earned by creating shortages for a fortnight. Fingers were pointed at an adviser in the government, but no probe was ordered.

And now it’s LNG that may not arrive in time for the consumers during peak winter in January. Interestingly, the blame for the indecision on timely procurement of LNG has also been passed on to the media by the Ministry of Petroleum. The adviser responsible to ensure smooth LNG supplies has not been questioned.

It is high time for the government to analyse why the consumers (public at large) are unhappy. This is not a novel phenomenon. The prices did increase in the past as well. The answer is simple. In the past the wages or incomes of families also increased with increase in prices and those hike had not been so sharp. This time around wages and the incomes declined and prices went through the roof.