A Reaction Against High Utility Bills Is Only The Tip Of The Iceberg ...

People raging against high bills and inflation is going to herald in a movement against the status quo

A Reaction Against High Utility Bills Is Only The Tip Of The Iceberg

Failure on the part of a political framework to feel economic pain perpetuated by bad economic arrangement has transformed long-standing public perception into reality that ruling elites are deaf to the urgent needs of the ordinary. 

The oligarchy in the minority continues to feather its own nests instead of prioritising economic patronage to economically vulnerable sections of society. 

Recently, Ahmed Siyal, a scrap vendor hailing from Taluka Bakrani in District Larkana, ended his life by jumping into the Dadu Canal as he could no longer feed his four children following inflation-induced economic pressure. This symbolises the general economic conditions in the country the working class people are grappling with.

This is only a drop from an ocean of utter economic deprivation and food insecurity, and subsequent crises culminating in individual tragedy.

This is followed by the heart-wrenching story of a starving man of Muzaffargarh who dialled emergency 15 for food.

The call was made by Bashir Ahmed a daily labourer by profession. Inflation had made the conditions worse for him. He told police that he, his wife and four children had nothing to eat for the last two days. 

Economic crises of such a magnitude are witnessed only in war times. 

As if this were not enough, the economic arrangement ie utility taxes mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) accompanied by ever-increasing prices of petrol and its inflationary impact has brought in its wake unimaginable financial famine in a resource-rich country.

Nazim Nisar recently inducted primary teacher and a University lecturer of Shaheed Mohtarma Benzair Bhutto University (SMBBU) Larkana both staying in a rented flat and house received a heavily taxed electricity bill of PKR 14,000 and PKR 84,000 respectively in Hyderabad and Larkana Districts.

Both the teacher and the lecturer in question are  drawing a salary of PKR 34,000 and PKR 1,20,000 respectively, and are looking for a Pakistani economic expert who have been at the helm of this country over the decades to make their household budget.

Majority of the salaried class, leaving aside the bureaucracy and their perks and privileges, share the same economic dilemma.

Only kings and queens in the country are not heard talking about spiking prices of commodities and utility taxes as they have accumulated wealth through tax evasion and pro-elite policies over decades that has bled the country dry. 

As per media reports, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has granted Pakistan permission to extend the payment of electricity bills for consumers using up to 200 units over three months. 

In exchange, Pakistan has to announce an increase in gas prices of up to 50% effective from July and a crackdown against electricity theft. 

To impress the IMF, the small fishes will be caught; the big ones will be off the hook. This has been the case over the preceding years. It is the employees who are involved in promoting kunda culture and thus filling their own pockets by taking money for the kunda? Have we ever heard institutional action against such black sheep and subsequent firing of those involved? 

This typified financial governance by the Fund institutionalised in various countries is caught up in financial quagmire. Our national prestige has been compromised by none other than those who were supposed to build better image of the country by making pragmatic economic order. 

Citizens raised robust reaction against utility taxes and subsequent anger had morphed into public demonstrations across the country by traders, shopkeepers, households and working class people.

Calling this public indignation against soaring utility bills as non-issue is nothing but political callousness and indifference to the urgent needs of the masses facing utter deprivation. 

Utter deprivation breeds depression that gives birth to greater social ills like penury, prostitution, and crimes. Privileged groups, individuals and institutions continue to get subsidised deals, free units of electricity, gas, and free litres of petrol. These parasites have been sucking the economic blood of the country since the inception of this pure land.

Due to predatory polices being formulated and implemented, the vast majority is heavily indirectly taxed- taxes that are unheard of all over the globe.

As result, the wider sections of society are bearing the brunt of bad economic model and subsequent existential threat that is looming large over the population.

The loot and plundering of public money accompanied by pro -rich policies by the successive ruling elites have brought the country to a critical juncture.

Clouds of economic default have refused to die down. Today we see people are left with no option but to keep kitchen on the back burner following fast loosing purchasing power. 

Despite this, the Punjab caretaker government has reportedly given the nod for funds to the tune of Rs 361 million for interest-free loans to 11 judges of the Lahore High court for purchase /construction of houses -not to mention the chief secretariat employees were reportedly granted seven months worth basic salaries and allotment of plots to employees in posh areas the by outgoing CM Murad Ali Shah. 

The price of sugar has doubled following exploitative methods applied by business tycoons: first and foremost, the nod was given for the export of the sugar in order to benefit the sugar barons in the corridors of power, and smuggling of the same benefited the cruel crony capitalists. The rulers and their coterie accumulated wealth through monkey business.

Now, keeping the spiking prices of sugar, the nod for the import of the sugar will be given and no rocket science is required to know that the beneficiaries would be elites and their bed- fellows.

The rising prices of vegetables and (pulses) have left multitudes of population on the brink of beggary.

The state of inflation can be gauged from the assesdment offered by the Economic Advisor's Wing of the Ministry of Finance in its monthly economic update and outlook for August suggesting, "the two massive fuel price hikes witnessed in August and upward adjustment in energy tariffs, would strain the inflationary pressures in the coming months. Besides the oil and electricity rates, sugar prices have been witnessing continuous rise over the past few months, and price pressure was now shifting to wheat prices while oil prices are coming to haunt the people with lagged transportation costs.”

A large chunk of one's income is consumed while availing private education and healthcare as the state has utterly failed to provide quality education and better healthcare facilities for the ordinary. Economic progress and individual prosperity will remain a pipedream until and unless education at par with international standard is provided to population. 

Recently, a citizen journalism lifted the lid on malaria medicine that was not for sale (it was supposed to be given to poor patients at government hospitals) was being sold at exorbitant charges at a private store in District Larkana Sindh.

It awoke the concerned authorities from deep slumber and subsequently the medical store involved was sealed off. 

It tells a tale of nexus between common corruption mafias. Institutional incompetence, power struggle between pillars of the sate, political polarisation, social alienation among the youth caused by economic deprivation, financial frustrations induced by inflation do suggest toward greater ills that are in the offing.  

Poor economic outlook, nosediving foreign investment and increasing imports have convinced economic eagles to compare current financial situation to that of Sri Lanka and Egypt.

Calling utility taxes and subsequent anger that had morphed into public demonstrations across the country by traders, shopkeers, households and working class people as non-issue is nothing but political callousness.

Miscalculating public anger against inflated utility bills and pro-rich policies will be suicidal for the political process that is already fragile. Political empathy is needed to measure the magnitude of economic misery triggred by manipulative monetary mechanism mandated by the Fund.

Deprived sections of society cannot differentiate between day-light robbery at gunpoint and taxes unheard of being levied to extract money from the masses that are facing existential theat to their survival.

Only the deaf cannot hear the sound of drums heralding a Pakistani Spring. Economic salvation of Pakistanis depends on an independent economic framework and demoractic distribution of wealth. 

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