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Budget Speech 2007-08


Mr. Chairman:

The other day I was contacted by a research group which was conducting a survey on the three biggest problems facing the nation today.  It became difficult to be able to respond immediately, as the number of problems facing Pakistan today are too numerous.  We are faced with problems that have lived with us for some time now, and which have remained unresolved for decades.  We may have not progressed well because of those, yet we have functioned as a nation. Then there are serious and critical issues that have cropped up only in the last decade or so. The present regime does not have the political will or the ability to resolve, nor does not want to resolve them, for reasons that can only be best analyzed.  So the question is which problem has precedence over others:  ones we have learnt to live with, or the ones that threaten our very existence now. 

Is the main problem facing the nation today Poverty, because of which hundreds are committing suicide for hunger, and women are selling their unborn babies, a shocking revelation never heard of before?  A nation, where according to World Bank, 74% of the population, or approximately 120 million people, are living below poverty line, at less than Rs. 3600 per month, less than the minimum wage guaranteed in the present budget. One cannot imagine anyone to be able to survive on so little. The street beggars make more. And on top of that the gap between the rich and the poor is not only widening, but the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

Or is it Unemployment, which has risen to the highest levels in recent years, again breeding a new wave of hunger suicides, acts of desperation, increase in crime, extremism, militancy, terrorism and a breakdown in social order? Ask the HR managers: every single advertisement generates thousands of applicants. In primary schools, where the requirement for a teacher may be 0nly matric, the number of applicants for each position with masters degrees fall into hundreds. Graduates with BA degrees are today applying for peon positions. Countless others are driving rickshaws and taxis. No wonder the fall out rate in schools is among the highest in Pakistan. Poor people with no source are disillusioned into sending their children to school. They would rather have them become laborers, factory workers, or apprentice to their own skills.

Or is it Inflation, where as per ‘official survey,’ there has been more than 10% increase in kitchen and food prices, the single biggest increase in the last 15 years?  Inflation is an international phenomenon, mostly triggered with the rising price of oil. But the price of oil has fallen world-wide. Pakistan’s inflation has been induced by ruthless business cartels, supported by those who can regulate or de-regulate. They create an artificial shortage of essential food items and other commodities for a period of time so millions can be reaped.  I was recently in India and drove by road to Shimla to attend the SAFMA Parliamentary Forum. We were astonished to find the price of tomatoes and onions retailing on the roadside in Indian Punjab at Rs. 2.00 per kilo, while less than 30 minutes away across the border in Lahore, they were retailing over Rs. 40.00 per kilo.  What makes these prices different when we have the same people, the same land, the same water, and the same starting point sixty years ago! One needs to do some soul-searching. The least we can do is open up trade without restrictions with our neighbors so that the people, rather than business cartels benefit.

Or is it the Energy Crisis, where the whole nation is up in arms enduring load shedding and breakdown of over 4 to 6 hours in cities, and 12 to 16 hours in rural areas, particularly in areas of Balochistan and NWFP?  Now the whole nation is 2500MW short already, and the numbers are climbing fast. By next year, we will be 5000MW short. It means one fourth of the country will be in virtual darkness around the clock. We have not realized the loss to the national exchequer, and to the social fabric of this country, which has not been estimated due to this power crisis.  We talk about electrification of villages, and we have put up towers and cables, but where is the electricity?

Or is it the Law & Order situation across the whole country, particularly in areas of NWFP, Balochistan and Upper Sindh, where people are living by the gunpoint and lives are not secure?  The whole population in these areas is playing hostage at the hands of criminals, police, dacoits, militants, extremists and suicide bombers! And then there are missing people. But then even large cities are not safe, where every house in upscale locality or every luxurious car has gun-toting guards. Every shop and parking spaces are watched by armed guards. The President, Prime Minister, or even Ministers are not secure, each toting a caravan of mobile police vans. Even the middle class or the average person on the street has to ensure his motor cycle or cell phone is not snatched away if not careful.  Today we are afraid of our own shadow.

On the other hand, if you ask the educated and the intelligentsia, they will define the problem to be Education and Illiteracy. This is a nation of ghost schools, with among the lowest literacy rates among young girls in rural and tribal areas. Or is the problem Health and lack of facilities, not only in rural and tribal areas, but in cities as well?  We are still fighting TB, Malaria and countless water borne disease, which have been eradicated from the developed nations, forget about HIV AIDS. Or is it the need of Clean Water and Sanitation across our cities and villages?  Even bottled water is contaminated today. The villagers are drinking toxic waste dumped in our rivers and canals by the industries. But let alone clean water, there is no water to drink in many regions of the country.  Or is it the Environment, with air, land, water and noise pollution all over, with desertification, water logging and deforestation destroying whatever is habitable.  Waste is not being treated before being dumped in rivers and the sea. Effluents are being discharged out of cars and chimneys in industrial areas, causing yet another health hazard to our population. The sewers are littered with plastic bags choking the systems badly, causing further filth and unhygienic conditions all over. Or is it the Roads and Transportation, and the traffic conditions, spending endless hours in buses and cars, particularly during VVIP movement, in rains, or during road maintenance. Or is it Corruption, no more a social evil, but a way of life at all tiers of society, from the highest to the lowest, as there is no accountability for certain echelons of the society?

If you ask the nationalist, is it the need to create new provinces, or to give Provincial Autonomy, requiring abolition of the Concurrent List and devolution of the powers to the provinces?   Is it the NFC, where enough is never given to the provinces or it the issue of Kalabagh Dam, or for that matter, any large dam? Is it the language, or the ethnicity, race, caste, sect, gender or religion? Unfortunately, we have forgotten to live as fellow humans.

Is it now the Chief Justice crisis, and the independence of the judiciary, where the less said the better, as the matter is Sub Judice? Is it the independence of the media? Or is it the May 12 Carnage in Karachi, when the city was playing hostage to criminals and a large militant organization?  Or is it the shift to Extremism and Fundamentalism? Incidences of the Hafsa Mosque, less than a few kilometers from the Parliament and the Supreme Court, and other happenings in FATA, Northern Areas, and even cities of NWFP and Balochistan, the sectarian violence, the killings, the bombings, and the treatment given to the minorities, who are equal fellow citizens, makes one wonder if we are reverting back to the stone age and a state of anarchy.

Or if you ask the Economists, is it the Trade Deficit, exceeding $14 billion, which could wipe out your foreign exchange reserves in a day?  The massive deficit could lead to a further devaluation of the rupee to balance the trade, taking Pakistan further down.  The other day in India, we purchased the Indian rupee at Rs. 39 for a dollar versus Rs. 61 for the Pakistani rupee.  That makes the Indian rupees 50% stronger than the Pakistani rupees, when they were both at par a few decades back.  Where did we go wrong economically, while they went the ‘incredible way’? Or is it the Financial Scans, including the Stock Market, and the privatization of the Pakistan Steel Mills, the KESC fiasco, the PTC fumble, and many more?  It’s like the blind men defining the elephant. Some define it by the tail, others by the ear, the trunk, the ivory. Or is it the massive expenditure on Defence, exceeding Rs. 250 billion in the last fiscal year alone, with similar amount spent every year on defense since times immemorial, while we have not fought a single war in the last 36 years!  This is in addition to the $ 1 billion a year that the US gives us to patrol our borders.  Can one estimate the price we have paid to defence at the cost of development and poverty alleviation?

And now we have the Budget 2007! The Budget is a major disappointment for the nation.  It is a farce, an election year budget, and a joke on the nation.

The combined opposition in the Senate (during the pre-budget debate) proposed a set of 50 recommendations, which includes, among others, that the defence budget be frozen at Rs. 250 billion, and the Rs. 25 billion proposed increase be set aside for health, education and job creation in less developed areas.  This is certainly a good proposition that must be given serious consideration. We need to cap the defence budget once and for all times. And we need to go beyond that. My opinion is that the defence budget must be further reduced by another Rs. 25 billion, and this Rs. 25 billion be set aside to resolve the energy crisis on war footing.  The country is not at war with external threats, so why not wage a war on the energy crisis! And this is a war that we need to win!

The loss to the national exchequers due to the energy crisis has not been calculated, but it can be roughly estimated that due to loss in production, loss in orders, loss in trade, loss in taxes and revenue, loss in daily wages, and loss of appliances, from air conditioners to fridges to deep freezers to computers to light bulbs, it will be in excess of Rs. 100 billion per year.  In addition to this, there is loss to education, and in children setback to receiving good grades while preparing for exams, the sick and the ill at home or in the hospital, the loss of countless lives, and the loss to social fabric, which cannot be calculated in quantitative terms.  This is an emergent solution to only one of the many major problems facing this nation today in addition to conservation of energy. One which we cannot afford to lose, or wait for five more years to resolve.

However, the only long term permanent solution to all our woes today is what we should have done long ago:  Let Pakistan be governed by the true representatives of the people.  Let the true representatives of the people resolve the problems facing the nation today.  Let there be free, fair and transparent elections held under a neutral Caretaker Government and a neutral Election Commission.  Let the politically fabricated cases against two former prime ministers be dropped.  Let all the exiled Leaders return home, and let all participate in free and fair elections. Let there be an Independent Judiciary. Let the military return back to the barracks from all walks of life.  Let us learn to live and let live. Let a truly democratic and representative government take charge of the country. 

This is the only permanent solution to all our problems lest we become a failed state.

Thank you Mr. Chairman