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Archive for January, 1989

Tea and Sympathy

Little knowledge is often dangerous, in the hands of theoretical geniuses in the big bad world of everyday business reality, it can result in exposure and temporary political setback—for the poor, hapless masses at the receiving end of the various experiments, it can sometimes be terminally fatal. Tea constitutes a necessary part of the daily food consumption of a vast percentage of the poorer among the masses, among the more affluent it is almost an addiction, as addictions go it has no calorific value. Perhaps no other country in the world has a greater per capita tea consumption as Pakistan and since it is all imported, we are merrily drinking our foreign exchange away. Over the years the tea trade has become sophisticated and one single Multi-National Company (MNC), Lever Brothers, along with a handful of tea traders in Jodia Bazar have changed the taste of the Pakistani palate from cheap, low-grown tea available from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia and China to extremely expensive and mostly high-grown Kenyan tea. Grand strategy designed this imminently successful campaign, in a manner that though there has been the normal rise in average consumption the unit cost has gone up, even after inflation, three times. This has been a most cruel exploitation of an unwary public and we are paying through our noses while Brooke Bond and Liptons (the Lever Brothers’ entities in different names) as well as some Jodia Bazar tea merchants are laughing all the way to the bank. Since all the tea is imported, our foreign exchange reserves are dying (or dwindling).

Pakistan tea imports ranges from US$200 to US$250 million, after the addition of customs duties, taxes, etc this translates into about Rs.5,000 million worth of tea imported for annual consumption. Approximately Rs.3,000 million (or 60%) is marketed in packet teas and about Rs.2,000 million in the form of loose teas. Adding profit margin of about 20-30% to it, this becomes Rs.4,000 million and Rs.2,500 million for the tea packet industry and loose tea trade respectively. Fully 97% of the packet tea industry is in the hands of Lever Brothers through its two constituent subsidiaries, Brooke Bond and Liptons. It is in fact the only really existing MONOPOLY in Pakistan, in the packet tea business it has manipulated successfully to bankrupt almost all Pakistani-owned companies or reduced them to non-entities in the corporate sense. As the name suggests, the Monopoly Control Authority of Pakistan’s raison d’etre is to protect the vital interests of smaller entrepreneurs by stopping the creation of monopolies (particularly those foreign owned) and to restrict their potential to create problems for their competitors. As things stand it seems that this Government institution has better things to do than get into problems with a powerful (and generous) Multi-national Company (MNC).

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The Corruption Syndrome

From time to time, various exhortations are made from diverse pulpits against the disease of corruption. One of the inherent premises of democracy is that this evil is subject to public scrutiny and therefore effective check. There is no denying the fact that Martial Laws, ostensibly meant to eradicate corruption, end up (because of their longevity) having a Catch-22 effect due to the muzzling of the Press, which in turn makes for a corrupt society, malfeasance having ample opportunity to flourish under an imposed cloak of silence. Now that democracy has been found to be alive and well and living in Pakistan, it is time to turn to accountability in the real sense, not as an end for purposes of political revenge, but to ensure that exposure and punishments work as an effective means of deterrent for the potentially corrupt. The media has to play a responsible and effective role in this process.

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Now for the hard part

Poverty stricken countries cannot afford long drawn-out euphoria, pledges made to the masses can only be redeemed by positive action, not by falling back on populist demagoguery. 1988 has been soon over giving way to 1989 which promises to be a year of trials, mostly on the economic scene, the landscape having been devastated by inept, indifferent and intellectually dishonest economic managers with an ingrained penchant for ineffective theoretical solutions. Instead of going over the litany of the past, the normal moan and bemoan of woes has to give way to living hope for the future and our approach to our economic problems should be solutions-oriented.

Economic emancipation of the masses must begin with increased employment opportunities and will not be complete without the effective control of inflation. While declaring war on poverty (and hunger) one must remember that this has to be a relentless affair, unremitting in concept, scientifically organised, with imagination and depth in planning, being ruthless in execution. A number of apparent contradictions are inherent in the process, reasonable employment must come along with affordable prices. While the economy cannot succeed without substantial increase in employment potential, this envisages across-the-board de-control, inflation being a sure twin of de-regulation. Our primary aim being economic uplift, we have to chalk out a comprehensive plan to combat the twin menace of unemployment and inflation, emphasis on it being workable, pragmatism rather than theoretical analysis being the order of the day.

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Now for the Hard Part

Poverty stricken countries cannot afford long drawn-out euphoria, pledges made to the masses can only be redeemed by positive action, not by falling back on populist demagoguery. 1988 has been soon over giving way to 1989 which promises to be a year of trials, mostly on the economic scene, the landscape having been devastated by inept, indifferent and intellectually dishonest economic managers with an ingrained penchant for ineffective theoretical solutions. Instead of going over the litany of the past, the normal moan and bemoan of woes has to give way to living hope for the future and our approach to our economic problems should be solutions-oriented.

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