June '06: Poor or not?
Individualland spotlight is a monthly monitor on
political affairs printed on the 17th of every month
by individualland.com. Individualland would welcome
reproduction & dissemination of the contents of this
report after proper acknowledgment.
Poor or not?
The month of June spells budget for Pakistanis. The
government of the day annually in June declares that
the budget is a ``poor friendly" one while the
opposition of the day declares that the ``poor are
being crushed" Both are extreme positions. For it's
June individu-spotlight, Individualland attempts to
focuses on some of ``pro-poor" steps that are being
discussed to tackle poverty in Pakistan.
The luxurious racing car, Porsche entered the
Pakistani market during the financial year
2005-06.There are to date forty lucky owners of the
car who cruise around on the streets of Pakistan.
When they stop at a traffic light and are surrounded
by beggars begging for alms is the glass window the
only divider between the two faces of citizens of
Pakistan? Certainly not.
The face of Pakistan standing out in the sun begging
for attention is separated from the Porsche owner by
growing unemployment rates, growing desperation to
feed themselves and their children, growing
desperation to educate their children, cloth them,
provide them clean drinking water and keep them from
disease and want. In Pakistan, according to some
figures forty eight million people live on US $2 a
day. Thirty to thirty five Pakistani women die every
day from pregnancy related complications which are
exacerbated by them not getting timely medical
attention .Pakistan is ranked 142 on the Human
Development Index and approximately nine million
children do not attend school. According to the
World Bank, 32.6% of the Pakistani population is
While the 'haves' talk about the telecommunications
sector boom & sport I-mates & blue-berrys there are
thirty five thousand villages of the country without
electricity .Readers would recall that a couple of
weeks back this very newspaper profiled Quaid-e-Azam
Colony in urban Rawalpindi who has been waiting for
electricity for the last fifty eight years. One
can't help but recall scenes from the Swadesh movie
where Shahrukh Khan helps villagers to get
electricity. When will that happen for Pakistan?
Newspapers occasionally carry reports about suicides
committed because of poverty. According to the World
Health Organization, approximately one million
people commit suicide annually across the globe of
which ten percent occur in South Asia. Pakistan is
amongst three countries in Asia that have literacy
rates under 40 %.It is also tragic that Pakistan is
at the bottom of education ranking in South Asian
countries with an adult illiteracy rate of about 56%
and the lowest net primary enrollment rate in South
Asia of 46%.The primary reason for such dismal
figures is the poverty that envelopes the children.
They would rather eat than learn.
Against this backdrop, citizens are told that the
economy is at a 'take off stage' & our 'macro
economic indicators' have improved on the Mushraff -Shaukat
Aziz watch. This might well be true .The exchange
rate has remained fairly stable and our external
debt was reduced during FY 2005-6 by $589 million
.In 2005 ,a growth of 7.5 % in agriculture was the
highest for a decade as a result of record growth in
cotton production but it slowed down in the first
half of 2006.Output of cotton, according to Asian
Development Outlook 2006, in FY 2006 declined by an
estimated 10.9% from an all time high of 14.6
million bales harvested in 2005.Production of
sugarcane is also estimated lower than last year.
According to ADB, inflation increased in the
financial year after five years of stability. Annual
inflation based on the consumer price index more
than doubled to 9.3% from 4.6% mainly because of
high food prices and rising housing rents. Since oil
price also increased, transportation costs also were
hiked up .In a nutshell, when oil & transportation
costs increase prices of all daily use items like
vegetables etc increase thereby increasing the toll
on the consumer's already strained pocket. The
poverty level increased from 30.6 in the 90s to over
34% presently according to modest estimates. In
other words, while we may have a long way on macro
indicators from the 90s, the poor in this country
are getting poorer.
At a recent conference on economic freedom in
Pakistan at Islamabad the Minister of State for
Finance Mr. Omar Ayub Khan very articulately talked
about the growth in macro economic indicators. After
he finished an elderly gentleman got up to say,'
Honorable Minister !I am very pleased to hear about
how well Pakistan is doing but tell me Sir why can't
I put sugar in my tea now?' This is the question
that Pakistanis are asking.
Amidst all this, we hear of the poverty reduction
plans of the government in conjunction with
international groups and non governmental
organizations. Google the key words poverty
alleviation and Pakistan and a number of pages are
identified each highlighting one fascinating project
or the other. We are told about the Pakistan Poverty
Alleviation Fund with a resource base of over five
hundred million dollars, about efforts to alleviate
poverty through micro credit schemes, about projects
of the Khusali Bank to mention a few. Recently, the
President has also reportedly directed, the
government to concentrate all resources on making a
visible improvement in the life of the common man'
All the poverty alleviation projects are designed to
do that. This is where the problem lies.
Poverty was and is being tackled piecemeal .Poverty
alleviation is being 'tackled' not addressed.
Poverty will be alleviated not through fancy
projects but through mundane processes. The process
has to include job creation. The State Bank of
Pakistan has itself admitted that the biggest
challenge in this process is to 'create as many jobs
as possible in the short term' the process has to
include transparency and abolishing monopolies that
exploit citizens. It is all very well to pay lip
service to poverty but another thing to support and
be a part of the politically well connected sugar
mafia that drives up prices. The process has to
include effective governance. It is all very well to
declare an increase in Public Sector Development
Program but a tragedy when the existing amount is
not utilized because of red tapism & cumbersome
procedures. The process has to be effective .It is
all very well to have a zakat fund but it is tragic
when zakat committees swindle money meant for the
deserving. The process has to include innovative
thinking geared towards encouraging entrepreneurship
so that income is generated. The process must be
based on practical effective deliverance. It is all
very well to declare that the Millennium Development
Goals which include eradication of poverty will be
addressed by local governments including Citizens
Community Boards but tragic when CCBs do not exist
and their funds not utilized .
Lastly and most importantly, the process of poverty
alleviation must include the people.