Wednesday July 06, 2022

Rent seekers

June 24, 2022

LAHORE: Rent seeking is a norm in Pakistan. It is charged to do a legitimate service; rent is also charged to provide illegal benefit to the giver. First is the case of exploitation and second is that of criminal mutual benefit.

Corrupt practices are tolerated in our society. Citizens must pay even to get a service or approval that is their right. Rent seekers are petty officials, but their booty is distributed to the higher ups as well. This is the reason that we see most of the rent seekers living comfortably even in recent times when honest earners are finding it impossible to fulfill their bare needs.

Persons who apply for a passport or national identity card wait for their turn in long queues that are provided by a computer. This way it is supposedly not possible to break the line.

But there are ways out. You grease the palm of a tout (who has connections inside). You will get the ticket from inside breaking the queue. Those standing outside have no idea that an out of queue name has been inserted in the computer.

The person that paid the bribe is processed through the fast lane. Others waste the whole day to get the facility that the government claims to have made corruption free. What other checks are needed to ensure fair treatment to all?

In the power sector, we see linemen seeking rent after repairing a power failure fault from the one who officially lodged the complaint for power failure in the area. It is called chai pani.

It was the duty of the company to quickly repair the fault. People give chai pani fearing that the repair would be delayed in case of any future power failure.

Then there is a standard rent for speeding up power connection and even bribes at the time of installing a meter. There are consumers who pay a handsome amount monthly to the linemen for facilitating them in power theft.

It is not possible to tamper the new electronic meters. But they have a solution for that as well.

They remove the electronic meter for 15 to 20 days and replace it with a dummy meter. No one notices it. After that they reinstall the electronic meter so that the bill of 10 days is recorded.

The crooks dare do this because whatever they collect as a bribe is distributed to higher officials as well.

Tax evasion is rampant because the evaders pay a rent to the concerned officials for remaining outside the tax net. But even those that pay their taxes regularly are not spared.

They must part with some amount to get their returns approved (mostly in cases when their returns are picked for audit).

To get refunds through a manual system they are made to part with a certain percentage of the refund for the approvers (refunds now are mostly through automated systems). At the customs there is a standard charge at each stage of clearance, from inspection to the point when the gate is opened after full clearance of goods.

Usual bribes to expedite clearance are routine as delay might result in not only heavy demurrage but high penalty that must be paid to the shipping company for retaining containers beyond allowed limit.

We all know about the tricks that police use to extort money from innocent citizens. Rent seeking is rampant in all walks of life and citizens are constrained to live with it.