Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Economic decay: Legacy of political apathy

LAHORE: Making money is not a sin but exploiting people and overcharging them is a crime that goes unpunished in Pakistan.

Exploitation and monopoly are stopped by strong governments. In case of failure, the civil society is activated, but in our case, it is weak too.

Those who do raise voice on any violation of consumer or human rights are very few. Most of the protests come from the political parties in opposition.

There is no principle in this regard, the political party in power bears the brunt of the same criticism that it hurled when it was on the other side of the table. The civil society is weak because the real middle class in Pakistan has been constantly shrinking since the start of this century.

Real middle class comprises of the mid-level executives, teachers, lecturers, and in other countries doctors, lawyers, engineers and qualified accountants. In Pakistan, the senior doctors are no more in the middle class. They are bracketed with the rich segment of the society. So are the chartered accountants and senior lawyers.

Rising prices and increasing utility costs are non-issues for them. They are not denied civic amenities.

They have the capacity to bear it without hurting their finances. They therefore abstain from such protest.

This is the reason that there is no consistency in protests. Senior doctors continue to increase their consultation fee. It was Rs500 at the start of the century. Now it has reached Rs3,000 per consultation and beyond.

The operation fee have also registered a six times increase in the past two decades. The same professors, who perform their duty for eight hours at government hospitals, check only a few patients compared with the innumerable patients at their private clinic in the evening.

It is indeed a shame that the average cost of medicine is 18 percent of the total treatment cost, while 52 percent is the doctor’s fee. As far as politicians are concerned, one day they express anger on increasing sugar

rates, the other day sugar is replaced by wheat and wheat by onions, onions by tomato and so on.

The point to note in this regard is that none of the issues raised by them is resolved through their or government efforts. The government touts it as a success of its efforts when sugar prices that went up from Rs55/kg to Rs120/kg come down to Rs90-95/kg.

Rates of other commodities have also registered decline, but not significantly. Prices are yet not come down to the base price, at which the protests erupted. As a result, the consumers’ cost of living has gone beyond their monthly incomes.

Hoarding and cartelization are crimes that ought not go unpunished. These malpractices occur when the regulators become collaborators in crime.

We say that the government has lost its writ but it is not so. No malpractice could occur without the connivance of government officials.

No businessmen could dare form cartels without the nod of the concerned regulators. Hoarding of millions of tons of commodities cannot be hidden.

The places where these commodities are stocked and slowly released are known to the officials who look the other way against an agreed rent. In fact, the government itself exploits the consumers in sectors where it enjoys monopoly.

The power rates in Pakistan are highest in the region because the state enjoying monopoly passes on its inefficiencies to the consumers. It earns as much on petroleum levies as was the actual price of petrol two decades back.

The government is justified in increasing the petroleum rates on the basis of increase in the global crude oil prices, but it is unjustified to increase the revenue that it earns from its imports.

Petroleum products are imported by the companies operating on a commercial basis from their own resources.

The government should fix a duty on each litre of petroleum products and only pass on the incremental cost in the global market that is borne by the oil importing companies.

Big businesses are severely criticised for exploiting the poor consumers and rightly so, but this exploitation is not restricted to them only. Exploitation has crept into all sectors of our society.

Given the opportunity, everyone from a poor labourer to rickshaw drivers exploit consumers. The butcher cheats the buyer by weighing the meat without cleaning and also by saturating it with water.

During rains the fares of rickshaws go up beyond reasonable limits. We need a vibrant and active civil society that is capable of increasing the pressure on the government on a just issue.

Merely raising an issue and leaving it after a while without its proper resolution would not end the exploitation in our country.

Source: The News

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