Elite Capture Has Made Pakistan Unlivable For Educated Working People

Elite Capture Has Made Pakistan Unlivable For Educated Working People
Those at the helm of the country's affairs have been consistently making tall claims that all is well in terms of economic prosperity and employment opportunities in this state of Pakistan. However, rampant human capital flight – with highly educated and skilled youth leaving for foreign lands in search of promising professional careers and quality of life, paints a different picture.

According to the Bureau of Immigration and Overseas Employment, as many as 765,000 young people went abroad this year. Pakistan has lost 7,000 engineers, 25,000 doctors, 1,600 nurses, 2,000 computer experts, 6,500 accountants, 2,600 agricultural experts, and 900 teachers just this year. As per the data made available, over 730,000 youth went to the Gulf states, and nearly 40,000 went to Europe and other Asian countries.

Imagine the scale of the loss that our country has endured due to its brightest minds leaving.

Economic experts Jennifer Francis and Joseph Shinn are of the opinion that the effects of brain drain on the ‘home country' have negative repercussions on the economy. These effects include but are not limited to: a loss of tax revenue, loss of potential future entrepreneurs, a shortage of important, skilled workers. The exodus may also lead to a loss of confidence in the economy, which will cause skilled workers to leave rather than stay, a loss of innovative ideas, a loss of the country's investment in education, and a loss of critical health and education services.

Meet Nasir Murtaza. He is a silver and gold medalist in Petroleum Engineering from Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro, followed by a “Best Graduate award”. After having worked as a Senior Petroleum Engineer in British Petroleum for 10 years, he worked two years at Saudi Aramco, another two years for ADNOC, and then a decade for Qatar Energy. He arrived in Pakistan from Qatar on the heels of a crisis in the international oil industry unleashed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and cronyism, gender inequality, and a predatory job market are some of the push factors behind the immense brain drain facing Pakistan.

With extensive professional experiences and international exposure in terms of innovative ideas in the professional field under his belt, Nasir Murtaza could be an asset to industry and the country, but he was not offered the employment opportunity proportional to his qualifications and experience. This compelled him to render his services online to international organizations for two years.

Disappointed with the pay and package offered by domestic organizations, he once again, tried for international options available and got a job at Kuwait Energy as a Lead Well Integrity Engineer. He is all set to leave for another country on the wings of his newfound international employment opportunity. His story is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to highlighting the historical neglect of the best brains of our society by the national job market.

Imagine the scale of the loss that our country has endured due to its brightest minds leaving.

Another friend who asked to be unnamed sent two of his sons to a foreign country for completing a Masters degree in Engineering. In response to my question as to why he was spending a hefty amount when his sons had bachelors’ degrees in engineering, he replied “you see there is no future for my children here. Intelligent and skilled people are leaving this country because of a lack of promising possibilities. Either my sons won't get jobs, or even if they do, their salary would be insufficient for their survival. Faced with this dilemma, I have decided to send them abroad as they have a two years study visa followed by a three years work visa. The primary purpose is that they settle there and have a decent life and working environment."

Corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and cronyism, gender inequality, and a predatory job market are some of the push factors behind the immense brain drain facing Pakistan.

This country continues to nurse and nourish the bureaucracy and powerful ruling elites, leaving highly educated and experienced skilled workers to fend for themselves, which is the result of elite capture.

Elite capture is the root cause of all prevailing social and economic ills in Pakistan. In a country where the parliament is used for airing dirty laundry and political point scoring, and the rule of law remains elusive, the perpetual political instability and the resultant economic crisis are the natural state of things.

Needless to say, the brain drain has a few advantages too - like the return of those leaving the country after honing their innovative ideas and expertise and the inflow of remittances.

The climate crisis caused floods brought destruction of epic proportions this autumn in our country. The loss of sources of livelihood and subsequent inflation that will intensify poverty will prove to be another push factor for the brain drain. Besides, given the high volume of unemployed youth, we see a large-scale exploitation of educated youth in the country.

The private job market has emerged as a predator. A minimum salary of Rs 25,000 for unskilled workers is still a distant dream. The informal labor market offers insufficient salaries, and working hours are not defined - reducing workers to modern slaves.

According to statistics made available by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), 55% of Pakistan's population constitutes of women, but only 15% are working in the labor force. 40% of the women in the country are unable to work due to social, economic and cultural barriers.

The neoclassical school of economics makes it clear that individual’s primary objective is to maximize their financial well-being. The Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) conducted a study to understand why people seek to either leave or to live in Pakistan permanently. The study found that over 62% of young people, men and women both, aged 15 to 24 wanted to leave Pakistan for better salaries, professional development and respect. They feel that none of these things can be accessed here in the land of the pure. According to the study, economic reasons are major motivating factors. The next two significant motivations are the pursuit of equal opportunity and more respect. Seeking gender equality and better security are also an important pull factor for women, especially younger women.

On the global human flight and brain drain index, zero is the lowest, and ten is the highest value. The data collected from 177 countries between 2007 to 2022 suggests that Samoa with 10 index points stands at number 1, whereas Australia with 0.4 index points is at the lowest. With 5.9 index points, Pakistan is at 79th.

Brain drain could be a game changer and transform into an eventual brain gain, if those leaving the country returned after achieving higher education, training, and professional development, subsequently supporting their respective fields of work with new knowledge and acumen. In our case however, given the scale of the political instability that afflicts the country, the lack of ease of doing business and scarcity of employment opportunities, lack of institutional patronage to the educated and intellectual establishment, and a cavalier attitude towards the lives of the commoners by successive ruling elites means that no one wants to return to the country.

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that those making the decisions for the fate of this country are playing the fiddle, while the economy of the country burns.

Thus, the only benefit that Pakistan accrues from its professional class leaving the country are remittances, that too, reportedly declined by a whopping 10% this year.

The State Bank of Pakistan’s latest data issued some days back showed that foreign direct investment (FDI) fell to $348.3 million in the quarter ending in October FY23, from $726.5m during the same period of the last fiscal year. This 52% decrease in foreign direct investment reflects the poor economic health and political instability in the country. According to the report, FDI has been declining each year while the volume of investment is also very thin compared to that of regional countries like India, Bangladesh, and China.

Transparency International (TI) Pakistan recently released the results of the National Corruption Perception Survey 2022 (NCPS). According to its annual survey, the police is perceived to be the most corrupt sector at the national level, followed by tendering and contracting, judiciary and education as the second, third and fourth, respectively. Renowned global expert on economic policy, Haroon Sharif believes that investors need three things: rule of law, stability, and profitability. If we don't provide these basic things, why would anyone come and invest?

This insight should be an eye-opener for those at the helm of the country's economic and political affairs. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that those making the decisions for the fate of this country are playing the fiddle, while the economy of the country burns.

Those with access to power need to recognize that their actions impact the lives of over 220 million people. With a recurring economic crisis, the country's economic conditions are now being compared to that of Sri Lanka, where economic woes led to rioting and violence against those perceived to be responsible for the crisis. Only time will tell if the people of Pakistan will feel the need to storm the gates of our rulers’ mansions.

Pakistan’s political roller coaster continues to lead to an economic crisis that creates a potent combination of factors that ultimately compel scores of young people and education professionals to leave Pakistan for greener pastures.

Reversing the trend of rampant brain drain is a no-brainer. It demands a significant departure however, from the status quo. It requires an end to the inequalities and the cruel treatment that is reserved for educated and highly skilled labor, all the while ensuring a supportive working environment that seeks to break down social and cultural barriers undermining the participation of women in our workforce.

There is an Arabic saying that goes "my home is where I can eat." One hopes that the penny will drop with those making the facetious claims that all is well, and that those seeking a better life through the sheer will of their hard work can find a home in Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance contributor. He may reached at nazeerarijo@gmail.com. Nazeer tweets at @nazeerarijo.