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June 28, 2019

Democracy: demonstrated or defiled?


June 28, 2019

Milton is best known for his epic poem, ‘Paradise Lost’. It is a moving portrayal about Adam and Eve, the temptation induced by Satan and the former’s banishment from paradise – the Garden of Eden. Temptations have and shall remain eternal; how we surmount them make or mar us as individuals or a nation.

Pakistan is a truly blessed land. With an enviable geo-strategic location, we have the world’s largest canal-based irrigation network, second largest coal and salt and fifth-largest gold and copper reserves. Experts put the Reko Diq gold and copper reserves at an estimated $3 trillion with $260 billion of proven ones. We have one of the largest pools of young human resource and are one of the largest producers of milk, cotton, wheat and rice.

A 2013 US Energy Information report puts Pakistan’s oil-reserves at over 9 billion barrels with 105 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, Thar alone has 175 billion tons of coal (can sustain production of 100,000MW of electricity for more than two centuries) and we have a 346,000MW wind energy potential 1100 kilometres coastal line. We extol our having the seventh largest river delta, one of the largest natural deep-water seaports; Gwadar Port – capable of holding the largest mother ship carrying up to ten thousand 40 foot containers. We are also one of the seven global entities with nuclear power.

Given these irrefutable facts, what led to the aversion to prudent policies and the astronomical accumulation of a (death-trap) external debt and liabilities of $95.3 billion in the last ten years, 2018-19 interest repayment alone at Rs1620 billion? What led to an energy-starved Pakistan remaining devoid of even the most basic of provisions that are mandated responsibility of the state? What led to this otherwise blessed Pakistan degenerate into a beggared land?

Among the most vulnerable of us are our children. Why is our infant mortality 64 deaths per 1000 live births, why does pneumonia (a preventable disease) kill 92,000 children every year, why do 4 in 10 under five children have stunted growth, why are 19 million children aged below 14 years working (some murdered, molested or maimed) as child labour, why are 23 million children (44 percent) out of school?

Why did 1353 children die in the last three years in Tharparkar due to malnutrition and preventable diseases, how and why did the daily increasing 812 people, including 640 children, contract HIV in Ratodero of Larkana, the venerated seat of Asif Zardari’s annual funeral orations.

Why do scores die daily in killer gas-cylinder blasts and why did 36,000 people perish in road-accidents in 2018 alone? Who gained by turning a blind eye, as our forest cover was mercilessly mowed down by the timber-mafia, depleting it to an alarming level of less than 2 percent?

Our rulers knew that Pakistan would run dry by 2025 if dams and reservoirs were not constructed and steps not taken to reduce Pakistan’s globally fourth-highest water usage. Why are 21 million of us without access to drinking water despite governments being cautioned that Pakistan touched the water stress line way back in 1990 and crossed the water scarcity one in 2005?

The answer to our woes was, democracy is the best revenge, Pakistan khappay, ajrak days, ‘Paris’ of Pakistan’, motorways and metros – all edifices of our monumental economic oblivion. As the common man shrivelled, toiling to keep his family alive, the apathetic ever-grinning ruddy cheeked ruling elite with dyed hair and ever-bulging waist-lines professed a ‘Midas touch’ for their own and their kith and kin’s lives of obnoxious opulence and plenty.

To give some insight are a few findings from a 2014 report by ONE, a global campaign and advocacy organization. Titled ‘The Trillion Dollar Scandal, the study reports: “massive sums are taken out of developing economies, preventing them from financing their own fight against extreme poverty, disease, and hunger”.

Stating that “at least $1 trillion is stolen each year from the world’s poorest countries by corrupt officials and stashed away through money-laundering”, it advocates “stringent policies and transparency regarding natural resource deals, phantom firms, tax-evasion and money laundering” to stem corruption induced fatal financial drain.

The report further says that had this money been spent on people of the looted respective countries it could have “helped avert 3.6 million deaths each year from 2015 to 2025. In sub-Saharan Africa alone it could educate 10 million children each year and pay for 16.5 million vaccines to provide antiretroviral drugs for more than 11 million HIV affected people”.

Nigeria, the sixth largest oil-producing country, produces 2.5 million barrels a day. Since 1970, it has earned $600 billion from oil sales; more than $400 billion has been lost to corruption. Resultantly, 70 million Nigerians live on less than one dollar a day.

Singapore, 54 years old, a nation with a domestic market of just 5.8 million people and no significant natural resources has the distinction of being one of the least corrupt countries. Concerned about Singapore’s post-independence survival its first PM, Lee Lee Kuan Yew, wrote in his memoir: “We had to go our own way with no signposts to our next destination. We faced an improbable chance of survival.... We made sure from the day we took office that each dollar would be properly accounted for and reach grass-root beneficiaries as one dollar”.

In his book, ‘From Third World To First: The Singapore Story’, Lee writes about the key to Singapore’s success: “The most effective change we made in 1960 was to allow courts that if an accused living beyond his or her means or had property or income they could not explain as corroborating evidence of corruption”. The law since inception, unlike us, was implemented in letter and spirit.

The spectre of accountability manifests itself in today’s Singapore; an economic giant with GDP at $361.11 billion, per capita GDP at $64567, trade surplus at $41.3 billion and total trade at $809.78 billion. In 2018 alone, Singapore shipped products worth $411.7 billion around the globe; one Singapore dollar trades at 1.34 against the US dollar.

Singapore’s Changi International Airport connects with 380 cities across 90 countries and handles more than 7,000 weekly flights; 66 million passengers flew through the airport last year. At any given time, as many as 1,000 ships are docked at the Singapore port, the busiest container-port in the world.

Today, as a nation, we bemoan our economic melt-down; even the smallest of households or shops could not have avoided financial ruin the way Pakistan was run since the last ten years. “A fish rots from the head down”, the all-encompassing crime was the venal trickle-down effect that seeped into the very fabric of our society.

A mortgaged country was kept a breath by an addictive loan fix as corruption and cronyism ingrained itself in executive and administrative institutions. The rot was supplemented by the absolute and criminal subservience of state institutions.

Instead of demanding if democracy was demonstrated or defiled, we repeatedly voted ‘quaids’ to power and, if in a stupor, danced (some still do) with abandon chanting “aik zardari sub pay bhari” and “sher aya sher aya”. This was seized as carte blanche by the elected to continue the smoke and mirror charade of a functioning democracy.

Today, as the accountability vice thankfully tightens; we are being warned that the very being of Pakistan stands at the (God forbid) risk of destruction. We survived years of musical-chair status-quo with politics morphing into family and monarchical fiefdoms.

Pakistan shall only emerge stronger if we hold strictly accountable those who bartered away the future of our children and motherland. Across-the-board accountability for the past (and the present) should be the core policy for a better and vibrant Pakistan.

Email: [email protected]