Greased palms make the world go round
When members of the National Assembly gathered on Friday the 26th of May this year to hear the Finance Minister Ishaq Dar announce the Federal Budget 2017-18, the opposition walked out in protest against physical mistreatment of farmers who had gathered to protest earlier that day in D Chowk, in Islamabad. Farmers undoubtedly have much to complain about, as do people from almost every sector of life in Pakistan, but when the national budget was being read out was surely the time to focus on that important matter then at hand. This inability to organise and sort out priorities is a trait that actively lends itself to corruption, and is at the heart of the chaos that is Pakistan today.
A case that further illustrates this point is the non-payment of salaries to the employees of the National AIDS Control Program (NACP). These employees were not paid their salaries since June last year. It is only now that the Ministry of Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) has issued a notification for the salaries to be paid – and a very fuzzy notification it is – which could create legal problems, and further non-payment of dues. There were various reasons at different stages for the non-payment of salaries for this unconscionable period of time. The latest this year in March was the merger of three programmes, those dealing with HIV, TB and malaria into one program now called ‘Common Unit’, and a dispute as to who should head this merged program.
The three diseases mentioned (HIV, TB and malaria) are among the worst health scourges in the world. You wonder why the fourth major disease, polio, was left out of this group, but that is another matter.
The figures for these three diseases are damning.
According to a report published by one of the newspapers in Pakistan, in a comparison of the years 2005 to 2015 (ten years), there has been a 14.41% increasing in deaths due to HIV/AIDS in Pakistan. A 17.6% increase in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan. Compare that to a 2000 to 2015 (fifteen year) increase around the world of people living with HIV/AIDS, at just 2%.
According to the WHO, Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the major public health problems in Pakistan, which ranks fifth amongst TB high-burden countries worldwide. Approximately 420, 000 new TB cases emerge every year in Pakistan which is also estimated to have the fourth highest prevalence of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) globally.
As for Malaria, the disease has re-emerged as a major cause of morbidity in Pakistan. With an estimated burden of 1.5 million cases annually, Pakistan has been categorised by WHO in the Group 3 countries of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, along with Afghanistan, Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen. These Group 3 countries share 95% of the total regional cases of malaria.
It is obvious that Pakistan is doing something wrong with regards to this matter. Could it be that one of those things is the non-payment of dues to persons dealing with the issue?
Obviously, it was not enough to reorganise the organisations working against these diseases or set up new ones if in the end those departments are to be rendered ineffectual, since no department can function if its workers are not paid their salary – just as no sector in the country can function if people involved in that sector are harassed.
And they are harassed.
It seems almost cheeky for a government labouring under the Panama-gate allegations to spell out details of property tax, but that is part of the government’s job, to set taxes and collect them. But at least, you wish, that those who pay their dues would not be harassed after their payments are cleared. Instead we are told that tax collected on the consumption of electricity by industrial or commercial users is adjustable, which is almost comical because it is so adjustable that if you pay a certain amount to the thugs who come around to check your meter, you will have to pay no more each month for electricity. That in fact is the offer that is made.
Nothing works unless a system of accountability exists and works as well. That people are not paid their dues, that consumers are overcharged and actually offered free electricity if they grease certain palms… and there is no recourse for justice following such events is what makes this country a third world country. If there were some accountability in this country the finance minister’s claim of Pakistan becoming ‘one of the largest economies by 2020’ would not be as laughable as it is at present.
No government can aim at any degree of success let alone a ‘large economy’ unless it makes provision for justice and a certain degree of law and order. The results of such a move would far outdo any investments, social interventions, taxation, rebates, loans or credits that any budget can promise.