Sunday September 26, 2021

Drowning in chaos

September 15, 2021
Drowning in chaos

LAHORE: Failure of economy should be no surprise when development projects are dictated by politicians instead of development experts, education policy is in the hands of bureaucrats instead of educationists, and non-doctors formulate health policy.

Experts in each field are highly educated professionals but have little or no influence on the national policies formulated in their respective fields. Governments avoid input from professionals because the opinion they give is based on their expertise in that field and they mostly are unwilling to change their views to the likings of politicians or the bureaucrats.

We have seen that even the most suitable development projects are marred with controversies because of undue tinkering by the vested interests. Take for instance the ring roads built around big cities to ease the flow of traffic in populated areas.

The ring road basically allows unhindered traffic around the city on a dedicated road that allows vehicles to enter different congested areas of the city through link roads. Ideally, the ring road should ensure entrance in areas where traffic flow is high.

In Lahore for instance the ring road should have two to three links each at the Mall Road, Ferozepur Road, Gulberg and Thokar Niaz Beg, and Defense. Instead, the road serves the best residential societies of the city because influential people ensured that the road passes through their residential area. Input of experts is to the extent suggesting a plan according to the map provided to them.

Education policy is crafted by bureaucrats and politicians with only minimal input from education experts. If ever there is any input from specialists in an area, it is still subject to the veto power of bureaucrats and politicians.

A policy made by one set of bureaucrats and politicians is not owned by their successors. After all this, if something good ever comes out of this system, then complete lack of will to implement the plan ensures its failure.

Pakistan is now in a water crisis. We are no more on the ‘brink’ of one as we have been told for years. We are now very much experiencing it. This year there was a major shortage of electricity generation as there was no water in Tarbela or Mangla dams.

Pakistan has witnessed a 400 per cent decrease in per capita water availability - from 5,600 cubic meters in 1947 to the current level of around 1,038 cubic meters. This is dangerously low.

Politicians have been leading the policy initiatives for decades, deciding where dams should be built, or not built. Pakistan is among the regions that are seriously threatened by climate change. This fact is known for years now. We have failed to respond as the decision making is in the wrong hands.

The last crop of wheat was 27 million tonnes, highest ever in the history of the country. An 8 percent increase over last year’s total yield of 25 million tonnes.

Still, we will be importing 3 million tonnes more wheat to meet our strategic food reserve requirements. Someone needs to explain this strange phenomenon to the public.

Why do we fail to act on time year after year? Why we can’t have professionals guiding our food security policy and implementation? Why did the Minister of Agriculture and his Secretary decide on this highly technical issue? Why should the ministry of industries decide how much sugar we need? Can someone explain how courts in Pakistan are qualified to decide the market price of sugar?

A striking example is the implementation of power policies. Policies in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2002 were announced under different governments. One is justified in assuming that successive governments did their best to come up with workable solutions for the power crises that loomed over the country in that period.

However, the media trial that ensued after each policy implementation and NAB actions in recent times have created a general understanding that there has been a criminal collaboration in establishing such a huge power industry.

Even the projects established under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is generally accepted as a project of national importance, were told that they were making excessive profits and should revise their tariffs downwards.

This has reportedly created bad taste with China, our most important and strategic ally in the present times. A multibillion-dollar industry of around 45 players, many of them international investors, is now practically a criminal mafia in the eyes of the public and our regulatory bodies. Who would want to invest in such a regulatory regime?

Let it be realised that only a criminal act needs to be punished. Commercial matters on the most part need to be incentive-based.

The present practice of penalising anything and everything has practically turned the industry and industrialists into criminals. Ask any industry and it is facing a number of inquiries and cases. The compliance cost has skyrocketed and is a substantive portion of the cost of doing business.