A king once asked all the wise men in his kingdom to travel all around the world and discover the eternal truth. Years later, they returned and told him that they had found the answer. It was, ‘and this too shall pass’.
Today, leaders of various trade associations and chambers are routinely asked at various forums to offer their opinions on the economic situation in Pakistan. They usually highlight the difficulties in doing business and drone on with a litany of complaints about how these roadblocks make life miserable for traders and industrialists. But the nabobs of Karachi Stock Exchange continue to maintain that everything is hunky-dory, and foreign investors are stepping on one another’s toes to invest in the self-claimed ‘best performing stock exchange in the world’. There is a dichotomy somewhere.
Is everything great on the economic front? Are industry and trade representatives cry-babies trying to shift the onus onto Islamabad’s officialdom or political disposition? There has to be some veracity in both the claims.
There is a sense of frustration within trade and industry that although pragmatic and courageous policies are announced and applauded, policymakers themselves lose interest and rarely conduct a deep and focused review of the implementation of those policies. Many of the objectives are not achieved because the planners and the implementers are either not on the same page or, unfortunately, one or both the officials concerned are transferred to some other office and the newcomers are rarely keen on owning their predecessors’ policies.
[quote]CNG filling stations became a Ponzi scheme [/quote]
Amongst the issues that hurt the private sector the most are chronic shortages of electricity, gas and water. SITE Karachi industrialists also highlight the deterioration of the roads in the area. Load shedding and power outages are frequent. The use of CNG as an affordable and environment friendly fuel for vehicles did have some initial benefits. Public transporters and private car owners rushed to get their vehicles converted. But the greed of some individuals on top made it a Ponzi scheme. The short term relief was followed by acute shortages and long lines outside CNG filling stations on the days when gas is available. Water has always been a big-bucks item for the ‘tanker mafia’ in Karachi, and a bone of parochial contention among provinces on the national front.
Besides dealing with infrastructure and resource problems, representatives of trade and industry get bogged down after the budget every year trying to understand what the finance minister had in mind while announcing amendments to the tax regime. What is so comical about the whole opera is that tax consultants, chartered accountants, and businessmen seldom seem to understand what the FBR proposes, and representatives of trade and industry have to make the usual trips to Islamabad for explanations.
Law and order is another major problem. Politicians, law enforcers, and those in charge of the security and safety of Pakistani citizens have deliberately let the situation deteriorate. Citizens are left to the mercy of extortionists, kidnappers, gangsters, suicide bombers, and petty goons lurking in every nook and corner. It seems that those who could control the situation were themselves involved in a sinister game that has shredded the moral fiber of this country.
There is massive unemployment, and even the most talented individuals are not getting quality employment opportunities. There is bad governance, with government unable to maintain, provide and sustain the social infrastructure. Smuggling, under-invoicing and mis-declaration are hot money-making ventures and are blatantly carried out without fear. Land is encroached through the strength and influence of political parties and government officials. There are guns and ammunition everywhere, there is no fiscal stability, and people with money are buying bullet-proof vehicles, hiring more and more uniformed guards, and transferring up to $250 million out of Pakistan every day to safer countries.
The citizens of Pakistan have resigned to the fact that the piper has to be paid. And they have discovered the eternal truth: ‘And this too shall pass’.
The writer is former president of Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Twitter: MajydAziz