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January 14, 2020

Exploitation starts from the state


January 14, 2020

LAHORE: Exploitation of consumers at large in difficult times is a national norm and it starts with the state that not only abuses it powers to fleeces people whenever there is an opportunity, but also abets those to follow the suit that are not afraid of the sold-out watchdogs.

The society is tuned to this exploitative mindset. We have abundant fair practices and feel no shame in minting money through unfair means. This behavior of earning unethically should be a source of concern to the civil society, who should raise their voice against it to ensure sustained economic growth.

Businesses operate obsolete technology to produce goods at high cost. The big businesses are severely criticised for exploiting the poor consumers and rightly so. However the exploitation is not restricted to those having big money but everyone from top to bottom. From a sweeper to butcher, rickshaw driver to small trader would exploit the consumers whenever they get an opportunity.

The lawyers exploit their clients through adjournments. They charge fee for appearing on behalf of their client on the hearing date. If the hearing is adjourned they will charge again on the next hearing. This way the cost of litigation becomes very high.

Those that permit adjournments are tacitly facilitating the lawyers. The doctors exploit patients by prescribing costly branded medicine when equally potent generic medicines are available at one-tenth the prices of expensive brand.

No one has ever paid attention to the documented fact that medicines account for only 18 percent of the total cost of treatment, while 50 percent of the treatment cost goes in the shape of consultancy fees to the doctors and 32 percent to the diagnostic laboratories.

Less affluent families have been denied the facility of best treatment because the consultancy and operation fee of best doctors is beyond their means.

Exploiters are heartless persons as they try to take advantage of the people in distress. The traders do not operate on the principle of supply and demand.

They suppress supplies as they are hoarding the commodities to increase prices. In case of natural calamities like floods they purchase cattle at half the price because the poor herders do not have resources to buy feed for their livestock.

Hoarders go scot-free when they raise the rates of any commodity, which is not short in supply but its releases are controlled in a manner to create an impression of shortage and raise the rates.

The rates of vegetables increase due to sort supplies but never come back to normal level even when shortages are over. The middlemen first exploit the farmers by giving them very low rates for their produce.

They then mint money from the consumers without paying the income tax on their earned income. Tomato, onions, and potato rates skyrocketed six weeks back, the prices have eased from their peak levels but are still 40-50 percent higher than the prices prevailing at this time last year.

The government has lost it writ and rightly so because it also avails every opportunity to fleece the public. Due to inefficient operations, households get government services at a high rate. Look at the charges of service provided by the state.

The passport fee, National Computerized Identity Card charges, and numerous other services have become expensive.

We pay higher gas and power charges than Bangladesh that also imports gas and other fuels for power generation. Our electricity charges include the recovery of theft and inefficiency of state-owned power distributors.

The state monopolies like PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) and Railways are not only inefficient but their services are also very poor.

The planes and the trains do not follow the schedule. Whenever there is heavy rain, which makes it impossible to walk on the roads, the transporters like rickshaw and taxi drivers double the fares.

The people in distress have no choice but to pay whatever they demand. Making money is not a sin but exploiting people and overcharging them is a crime that goes unpunished in Pakistan.

By law exploitation and monopolies are illegal in Pakistan but the government lacks the writ to stop these illegal practices. In fact it itself enjoys monopoly in many sectors as it is the sole supplier of power across the country.

The government also enjoys authority to levy duties and surcharges of many items that are widely used. In petroleum sector it earns high non-tax revenues on sales of petrol, diesel, and other products.