There’s a photograph of the man who can do no wrong, the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, his wife, the Belgian Premier Charles Michel and his wife seated at a small red picnic table outdoors. There is takeaway food in front of them, and soft drinks in cans. That is lunch. Although this is certainly not the average meeting between foreign heads of state, and it was ‘probably a publicity stunt’ as people scoffed, the mind boggles at the very idea of Mian Nawaz Sharif in a similar setting. Why can our publicity stunts if we must have them not be centred around such themes, of simplicity, and careful spending of public funds, instead of mug shots of the entire Mian Sharif family on Ferozepur Road? Why is it that pomp and ceremony and a very obnoxious variety of ostentation dogs the upper echelons of our society to the extent that it does?
Photographs of the Sharif family estate in Raiwind reveal an array of stuffed lions, gilt, gold, velvet and marble in an estate the size of which can and does house thousands of families in Allama Iqbal Town. Sadly, few people consider this disgusting. Most in fact aspire to it. After all, if the PM can have it, why can’t we?
Asia, a cook, has just spent two lac rupees on furniture for her daughter’s dowry. Farhat, another cook has spent one lac on clothes for her daughter in law. This is achieved by means of loans which take years to pay off.
When Iffat, a one-time cook died, visitors brought ‘joras’ for each member of the bereaved family. That is a custom here, not among the well off, but among the poor, who in their attempts to mimic their employers manage to make a farce out of something that is already ridiculous. This is because nothing those employers do takes into account those who keep an eye on them with the aim to imitate.
It isn’t as if it can’t be done.
Jose Mujica was President of Uruguay until 2015. Uruguay’s per capita income as of last year was $20,000 as compared to Pakistan’s $5,100. Yet the President of that country lived on a ramshackle farm at the end of a dirt road outside the capital, although more ‘befitting’ accommodation for the President does exist, but Mujica would have none of it. The President and his wife worked on the land themselves, growing flowers, donating almost his entire income to charity.
Joyce Banda was President of Malawi until 2014. She was also an educator and a women’s rights activist. She was named by Forbes as the most powerful woman in Africa, and in the world. After she was elected President she sold the presidential jet and the fleet of 60 Mercedes limousines as part of an effort to promote austerity. The money earned from selling the jet helped to feed more than a million hungry people. Malawi’s per capita income is $1,100. It is a poorer country than Pakistan, but clearly its politicians have a brain or two.
Warren Buffett is an American business magnate and investor. As of this year he is said to be the fourth wealthiest man in the world with a net worth of $73.3 billion. Yet he lives in the same house he bought in 1958, and does not believe in luxury cars and other items. He has pledged 99% of his fortune to charity and is trying to get taxes raised on himself and on the other 1% with wealth similar to his.
Pakistan with its energy, water, and other crises needs someone who can not only enumerate these problems, but is able to empathise with a general population that suffers beyond words because of them. A man (or men – or women) who move around the world in private jets and stay in expensive hotels, who live in luxurious homes with zero power load shedding, whose businesses are protected against it too, such people have no idea of the enormity of problems this country labours under. You have to sleep an entire night without a fan (or try to), and then another night and another to be able to understand what power shortage really means. Nor, may I add do their detractors know what it means. They may not live as luxuriously but live luxuriously enough and have little idea of what the common man really endures. Not only that, but by setting an example that is detrimental to the country in every way, as well as not being prescribed by any decent code, they harm the country living the way they do.
It is as stupid to rely on audits, enquiries and JITs to prevent the problem, as it would be to rely on autopsies to prevent murder. There ought to be a stricter code for people in public office, and a stricter system of accountability, neither of which exists at present. A person’s conscience or personal decency is not enough, since very often, as we have seen neither of those exist either.