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January 29, 2017

Makers and takers


January 29, 2017

The British newspaper, The Independent, shook the world’s conscience in 2014 when it published the results of research carried out by ONE – an anti-poverty group co-founded by the rock star Bono. The study made the staggering disclosure that “criminals and corrupt politicians steal $1 trillion a year from the world’s poorest countries”.

A former chief economist of McKinsey & Co has estimated that over $12 trillion have, so far, been plundered from third world countries and parked either in the safe havens of rich countries or the jurisdictions under their control.

In the same year, the net worth of planet earth was estimated to be $240 trillion. This means that five percent of the total assets of the earth are stolen goods from third world countries. Every year, $1 trillion are plundered from third world countries. This explains why people in these countries eke out a miserable living even decades after becoming masters of their own destiny as independent nations.

These are the ‘takers’ of the third world. They seek power to control peoples’ resources and then abuse their trust by manipulating instruments of governance, disabling codes of transparency and checks and balances, and freeing themselves from any notion of accountability.

Several studies by prestigious universities and think-tanks have identified common features in these countries which show that their instruments of power have been hijacked by self-seeking, ambitious adventurers. Their systems of delivering services to people have been manipulated to work for the ‘takers’, to further empower them beyond the reach of the people.

Decolonisation, for most of the native leaders of these countries, did not mean changing the character and quality of colonial governance. Independence, for these ambitious adventurers, merely meant replacing foreign exploiters with native exploiters. In an eerie similarity to this phenomenon, the leaders of these countries even transfer the plundered wealth of their own people abroad just like the foreign colonial masters did.

To keep up with Joneses of the modern, democratic world, most leaders of developing countries make provisions for rule of law, due process, equal treatment and opportunities in their constitutions and systems of governance. These are largely as paper entries which make them look politically correct and democratic to the outside world.

These leaders do not abide by these values in the actual process of governance. They are largely rent-seekers, who do not respect the dignity of the hard-working citizens of their countries – the farmers, workers, teachers, healthcare givers, soldiers, scientists, professionals, entrepreneurs and others – who are the ‘makers’ of their countries. It is these makers who create value in their societies through the goods and services they produce. But they are at the receiving-end of exploitation at the hands of the ‘takers’.

As rule of law largely remains comatose in these countries, national institutions are treated as personal institutions which are considered to be owned by the rulers and exist to serve them and not the people. These institutions have largely not been created by the will of society, but through the decrees of the government. Their mandate is often violated by the rulers with no fear of the consequences.

Much of this tragic dichotomy is rooted in the clash of cultures. A native culture of a people who have lived for centuries under the subjugation of rajas, maharajas, kings and emperors – and never enjoyed any rights to anything – is pitted against a democratic culture of the inalienable rights of sovereign citizens. This dichotomy becomes more visible in societies where a critical mass with a strong faith in the inalienable rights of sovereign citizens did not exist at the time of their independence. To add insult to their injuries, instead of empowering their people with inalienable rights, the ‘takers’ of their countries have often strengthened the native culture of dependency and the denial of rights – notwithstanding the paper entries in their statute books.

As a result, the people of most third world countries face a difficult future. Most leaders of their countries act more like caretakers rather than local leaders of their nations and often look for patrons from outside to keep them in business. Their systems of governance can neither inspire nor empower their people. And their priorities are focused on what they can take out of their countries, not what they can give to their fellow citizens.

It was, perhaps, in the same spirit, that former US president John F Kennedy had quoted Kahlil Gibran when he urged that his countrymen “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

It would be illustrative to recall full English translation – from Andrew Dib Sherfan’s A Third Treasure of Kahlil Gibran – of what Gibran wrote in Arabic: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in the desert”.

So what difference does it make to the lives of the people whether a country is led by the ‘makers’ or the ‘takers’?       

In the early 1960s, the socio-economic conditions of Singapore, South Korea and Pakistan were about the same. If we consider our history of civilian and military rule, the experience of Singapore and South Korea is most relevant for Pakistan. This is primarily because we have witnessed both civilian and military governance without achieving the desired results.

Singapore was led by its elected prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, while South Korea was led by its military ruler Gen Park Chung-hee. Both carried out a series of social and economic reforms to liberate their people from poverty, illiteracy and the back-breaking burdens of under-development. These reforms, as Lee Kuan Yew told this writer during a meeting “created assets where none existed” in their countries.

Although they held full powers in their hands and ruled for many years – 19 years for Park and 30 years for Lee Kwan Yew – both ruled with utmost personal integrity as ‘makers’ of their countries. Gen Park had less than $1,000 worth of money in his accounts when he died. Meanwhile, Lee Kuan Yew not only set a personal example of integrity but also institutionalised honesty in governance and strictly enforced it through rule of law.

Singapore has repeatedly been rated as the least corrupt country in Asia. Neither Gen Park nor Lee Kuan Yew held foreign accounts or assets.

The result? Starting from same benchmarks in the 1960s, the per capita income of Singapore is now $51,000 while South Korea’s is $35,000. Pakistan’s per capita income is merely $1,500. Today, the passport holders of Singapore and South Korea can travel visa-free to over 170 countries of the world. As for the citizens of Pakistan, a recent report in this newspaper disclosed that the Pakistani passport is ranked as the second-worst in the world.

These facts speak for themselves and, more than anything else, sum up the difference between the ‘makers’ and the ‘takers’ of the countries.

The writer designed the Board of Investment and the First Women’s Bank.

Email: [email protected]

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