Bleeding the country dry - Ardeshir Cowasjee - October 10, 2010

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`EACH successive government of Pakistan will be worse than its predecessor.` Thus predicted Mohammad Ali Jinnah to a confidant in mid-1948. How right he was — how prescient.

In the two-and-a-half years of this PPP-Z government (if it can be called one) the entire governance and economic system has virtually collapsed under the Zardari leadership. (Clarence Darrow, the celebrated American lawyer and civil libertarian, rightly observed “When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become president; I`m beginning to believe it!” This subsequently applied also to Pakistan.)

Not that matters were much better in the run up, because since the fixed and dishonest 2002 elections the country has taken a severe battering from the military appointed civil politicians. But with the Zardari dispensation the battering has turned into bludgeoning. The government cannot be solely blamed for the catastrophic floods, but the buck for the flouting of precautionary procedures (especially in Sindh) and the inept handling of the ensuing rescue-and-relief-measures stops with the president and the prime minister. Jiyalas chelas

As is usual with all governments (particularly the PPP as we know from past experience) from the first day in office, corrupt political hyenas begin to prey on the more successful, healthy — and larger (even if not successful or healthy) — government institutions and ventures. , , relatives, cronies and loyalists are willy-nilly installed at the helm of affairs with the purpose of inducting thousands of party workers into jobs and simultaneously bleeding dry the organisations. In two years such success has been achieved that we wonder what will be left to us at the end of five.

Since the `rebirth of democracy` from December 1988 to October 1999 (followed by the failed Musharraf dictatorship and distasteful political set-up), major national corporations such as PIA, SSGC, SNGP, PSO, OGDC, PPL, EOBI, NHA, CAA, PNSC, NIC, EPB/TDAP, TCP, Pepco, etc, have become playthings in the hands of successive grubby and grabby politicians, civil and military.

These bodies have been devastated, mismanaged, diminished in value and stuffed with incompetent crony crooks. Despite superior court efforts and accountability mechanisms, NAB convicts land up at the top of organisations such as the OGDC. Hamsafar

In , PIA`s flight magazine, the PPP appointed managing director Aijaz Haroon has explained why the airline is highly overstaffed (440 plus employees per plane, compared to an international average of some 150 per plane): jobs in Pakistan are scarce and the government is duty-bound to provide employment to its party people! jiyalas

Would it not be more sensible to allow a team of hardworking employees to run the airline profitably, and distribute the profits to the ? But no, PIA has racked up an accumulated loss of Rs144bn, destroyed the morale of honest staff and politicised the airline.

Let us look in some detail at Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC), a jewel in the crown of Pakistan, with a long term AA- rating from the Pakistan Credit Rating Agency. Its policies over the decades have been an example of how even a 64 per cent government-owned public utility can benefit from excellent, efficient and independent management.

During Benazir Bhutto`s second round, a Dr Faizullah Abbasi was foisted upon SSGC (1994-97) as deputy managing director, with the primary task of appointing 4,257 superfluous and incompetent employees (thus doubling company strength) without following mandatory selection procedures. ( ) ,

Although these excess employees were rusticated after the second PPP fall, by 2006 some 1,294 were reinstated by the courts (despite resistance); the PPP`s valid-for-three-months Sacked EmployeesReinstatementOrdinance2009 brought back a further 2,994. (This Oct 7 the PML-N started a boycott of the National Assembly refusing to participate in PPP efforts to convert this shameless ordinance into a bill.) jiyalas

Come January 2010, Abbasi was re-imposed on SSGC, this time as managing director. Was it to ensure that the were fully absorbed and were paid back-benefits for three years, including career progression, augmented increments, etc? Although the understanding with Khursheed Shah, federal labour minister was that the federal government would bear this needless pecuniary burden, the finance ministry has now reneged, leading to the risk of bankruptcy for SSGC. only

The cost: almost Rs3bn this year, with a perennial excess baggage for SSGC (which Abbasi calculates will cost the consumer Rs5 per MMBTU in gas price increases). Reportedly, he has consequently decided to take on 150 more surplus staff.

Senior management in SSGC, as with all other managements of government-related organisations, is browbeaten and demoralised in this politically commanded fiefdom, having to deal with non-transparent/verbal directives, lack of corporate governance and against-the-rules recommendations from ministers, federal secretaries and politicians. This bureaucratic terrorism operates essentially through two departments — the MD`s secretariat and the human resources department.

Despite the new management`s hype on controlling UFG (unaccounted-for-gas, essentially leakages and theft), which galloped, out of control, over the 1999-2009 period, the UFG over the past nine months has actually ballooned to 7.95 per cent (in excess of the Ogra benchmark range of 4.5 to 5.5 per cent), adversely affecting the bottom line and viability of SSGC. Ogra should not pass on this delinquency to hapless consumers.

However, the management at Ogra has its own problems and political pressures: the press reports that a former Ogra member has filed a complaint with the prime minister against the sitting Ogra chairman, alleging favouritism and corruption in the quasi-judicial regulatory body. n

A wag once had it that politics derives from two words — `poly`(many) and `tics` (blood-sucking insects). Our politicians of all hues certainly fit the bill.

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