Saturday, July 05, 2008

Goodbye, poverty!

Goodbye, poverty by Dr Farrukh Saleem
The News, July 06, 2008

Let's keep five things in perspective. First, three out of every four Pakistanis live on less than $2 per day. Second, one out of every four Pakistanis is undernourished. Third, our under-five mortality rate is 99 out of every 1,000 births. Fourth, 38 per cent of Pakistani children are underweight for age. Fifth, our pro-poor budget allocates Rs24 billion for health, Rs24 billion for education and Rs296 for defence (whereby three-quarters of what we buy is offensive weaponry).

Now, please welcome the new government. It is indeed the very first government to have devised the perfect Poverty Alleviation Programme. Let's bring five more things in perspective. One, the price of gasoline has been jacked up by a hefty 40 per cent from Rs53.70 per litter to Rs75.69 per litter. Two, the price of natural gas has been raised by a wholesome 31 per cent. Three, wheat flour has gone up by more than 30 per cent. Four, gram pulse has gone up by 40 per cent. Five, my sugar-daddy now tells me that sugar shall soon be Rs50 per kilo. Conclusion: The new government is all out to suck the lives from at least three out of every four Pakistanis who live on less than $2 per day. No more poor, not in this country. No more poverty, not in this country. Poor eradicated, poverty gone with them.

Wait, the new government even has additional plans to end poverty. The Karachi Stock Exchange's poor investors have been losing money for the past several months running. On June 23, all of the big-rich brokers met the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and recommended new lower circuit breakers at one per cent and new upper circuit breakers at 10 per cent. The chairman readily accepted the recommendation, and the following day all of the big-rich brokers made Rs300 billion in one day. No more poor investors, not in this country. Let's lynch every poor investor that there is and all that the country will be left with is big-rich brokers.

Wait, the ministry of textile industry is also bent upon ending poverty. From now on, small-poor knitwear exporters who export less than $3 million worth of knitwear will get a paltry per cent or two in the form of rebate or duty drawback. On the other hand, big-fat and rich knitwear exporters who export $25 million to $100 million will get back all their dreams in the form of rebate or duty drawback. According to the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, "Exporters whose exports are between $25 million and $100 million form only one per cent of the entire industry." The ministry of textile industry thus has the perfect Poverty Alleviation Programme whereby all the small-poor exporters will be decimated and all that the country will be left with is big-fat and rich exporters.

Interestingly, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) is also in the game of ending poverty from the face of this country. Banks under SBP have formed a cartel and small savers are paid an average of 4.17 per cent return when food inflation is running at 30 per cent. Savings from small savers is lent out to big-rich borrowers (and loans are then routinely written off). Once again, a perfect Poverty Alleviation Programme -- crucify all small savers and the country will only be left with big-rich borrowers.

We mustn't forget WAPDA because WAPDA is also trying to get rid of the poor among us. Islamabad's rich, for instance, get electricity for 18 to 20 hours a day while the poorest of the poor get it for a mere two to four hours a day. Bravo WAPDA.

Just what is the difference between the new pro-poor government and the old pro-Musharraf junta? The oil cartel is still intact and so is the sugar cartel, the banking cartel, the cement cartel and the formidable stock exchange cartel. What this government has been doing to the poor for the past 100 days is what a professional street woman could not withstand for a night. As per the World Bank, food inflation is 30 per cent while wages have gone up by 18 per cent so, in effect, purchasing power has gone down by 50 per cent.

The good news, however, is that soon there will be no poor left in this country. Much before the next elections, every Pakistani poor would have met his creator. The other good news is that PPP's legal wizards are working overtime at another constitutional package that will make living at $2 per day a crime; a crime punishable by capital punishment. There will be no poor left in this country. Guaranteed. Goodbye poverty, hello loneliness.

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:

No comments: