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Archive for April, 1991

Searching to besmirch excellence

TIME and NEWSWEEK recently carried damaging articles about BCCI and its founder, Agha Hassan Abedi, identical enough to conclude that they emanated from the same source, were one-sided and so tainted by obvious vested interest that they lacked the normal objectivity of these two very fine weekly international publications. BCCI or Abedi not being newsworthy in the weeks immediately preceding, the coincidence of sudden motivation to besmirch the reputation of a semi-invalid and his banking creation needs some attention.

Agha Hassan Abedi founded United Bank Limited (UBL) in 1959 at the instance of the Saigols, one of the 21 major business families then running Pakistan’s industry and commerce, who were peeved at being discriminated against in respect of credits by Habib Bank Limited and Muslim Commercial Bank Ltd, owned respectively by their rival business groups, the Habibs and Adamjees. Abedi had joined Habib Bank 12 years earlier as a Senior Selective Service Officer. As UBL’s first GM and its Director at the age of 37, Abedi soon became its President and later its Chairman concurrently. The Saigols thus unwittingly provided the first chink in the armour of the elite club of the predator business families (who did not brook any trespassing into their economic preserve) by letting the professional senior management of UBL dictate policy and also run the bank on a day to day basis. Blessed with a magnetic personality, outstanding leadership qualities and a dynamic business acumen that revolutionized the concept of credit approval and disbursement thereof, Abedi made UBL into a giant rivalling HBL. By 1971 UBL had 912 domestic and 24 international branches, with assets exceeding US$ 1 billion.

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Dangerous games (Or leave Sindh alone)

People never learn from other’s mistakes, they almost always have to learn from their own. While the 20 months of PPP rule was a class study in both aspirations raised and disappointments faced, it was to be expected that Nawaz Sharif’s IJI lot should have taken measure of Ms. Benazir’s mistakes (made and/or attributed) and set a safer course through the political minefield of Pakistan so that the institution of democracy is not threatened.

A military maxim emphasizes that one must, while (1) in defence, hold on to your vital ground and (2) in offensive, capture the enemy’s vital ground. While in Opposition, the IJI did just that, realizing that Ms. Benazir was in trouble in her stronghold in Sindh, which has been Pakistan’s soft underbelly for the last decade, they went on a broad political offensive to capitalize on the shortcomings of her Provincial government. The IJI took away the urban areas by weaning the disgruntled MQM away from the PPP-MQM Accord, providing cause for sporadic ethnic tension. The IJI then concentrated on the disaffected elements within PPP, increasingly frustrated by a succession of weak, malleable Chief Ministers, puppets in the hands of a shadow-ruler with a totally different manifesto. The Sindhi politician is not unlike other politicians in many Third World countries, or even most developed ones, he lives and thrives on political favours of various kind, bereft of which his loyalties tend to be suspect. He is extremely sensitive about his ego and pride, unlike other politicians he will seldom swallow it for any length of time.

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The water accord

The Accord on the apportioning of Indus River waters between the four Provinces is an important watershed for the people of Pakistan, marred only by the fact that it took more than half a century to decide this issue. Since 1935, many Commissions have been formed, the Akhtar Hussain Committee made a serious effort by making a submission on June 30, 1970, this was still-born because of the dissolution of One Unit only a day after. The Justice Fazal Akbar Committee, constituted in October 1970, never saw an official light of day because it was considered to be his individual views rather than that of any consensus. Justice Fazal Akbar estimated existing water at 104.24 million acre feet (MAF), with another 8.56 MAF available as utilisable surplus, making for a total of 112.80 MAF. The Commission headed by Chief Justice Haleem of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, constituted in 1983, estimated water availability at 112.73 MAF, an unconsequential difference.

Justice Fazal Akbar had recommended 52.66 MAF for Punjab (37.35 MAF for Kharif and 15.31 for Rabi crop). For Sindh, he had recommended 43.79 MAF (33.64 MAF for Kharif and 10.15 MAF for Rabi crop), for NWFP 5.09 MAF (3.23 MAF Kharif, 1.86 MAF Rabi) and Balochistan 2.7 MAF (2.22 MAF for Kharif and 0.48 MAF for Rabi). He recommended a 40:40:13:7 ratio formula for the utilisable surplus of 8.56 MAF, bringing Punjab upto 56.08 MAF, Sindh 47.21 MAF, NWFP 6.21 MAF and Balochistan 3.3 MAF. In 1985 Justice Haleem recommended 54.49 MAF for Punjab, 43.04 MAF for Sindh, 3.09 MAF for NWFP and 2.11 MAF for Balochistan of the total divisible pool of 102.73 MAF, stipulating that 10 MAF surplus utilisable water be divided on a 37:37:14:12 formula between Punjab (3.7 MAF), Sindh (3.7 MAF), NWFP (1.44 MAF) and Balochistan (1.2 MAF), the cumulative total coming to 58.19 MAF for Punjab, 46.74 MAF for Sindh, 4.49 MAF for NWFP and 3.31 MAF for Balochistan. Punjab gained at the expense of NWFP and Sindh in the Haleem Commission. On the other hand because of the lack of consensus, an ad-hoc formula has been in place since 1970 based on which the Provinces have been drawing water. The total divisible water being estimated at 105.25 MAF, Punjab has been drawing 53.94 MAF, Sindh 44.09 MAF, NWFP 5.63 MAF and 1.69 MAF for Balochistan, the formula for available surplus being at 37:37:14:12.

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Privatisation and white knights

(This is the CONCLUDING part of a series of TWO articles)

Protecting the legitimate rights of public sector workers while inducting private entrepreneurs into a dominant role in dismantling the public sector will take some doing. Even if our commercial and industrial “tigers” had the social conscience to persevere with a surplus work-force they could not economically do so. Overstaffing, financial benefits without relevance to performance and general mismanagement have rendered our public sector enterprises into dying white elephants. To survive as economically viable units, they will have to (1) shed workers and (2) revise pay structures and benefits. All this carries great social and political risk, accentuated in the absence of employment opportunities and social institutions meant to buffer the shock of unemployment.

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Privatisation

(This is FIRST of a series of TWO articles on the subject)

Margaret Thatcher showed the way to history’s greatest divestiture of state-owned assets in 1979, setting Britain off on the road to privatisation of US$ 68 billion of government or nationalised property. Governments across the world have engaged themselves in the 90s in fundamental economic reform, adopting Thatcherism as a functioning role model.

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Public sector procurement racket

The public sector system needs to have an in-built system of checks and balances against corruption, presently an institutionalised source of indirect taxation on the people of Pakistan. The intelligentsia and the masses now seem to accept it as a fact of life. Nepotism, favouritism and corruption are a hydra-headed monster fuelling inflation by adding to non-developmental expenditure while feeding on the economic potential for development. The erosion of honest dealing in the processing of tenders becomes commonplace during Martial Law Regimes when the media cannot exercise its natural monitoring. Pervasive all-encompassing secrecy negates the inherent right of the public to curb skullduggery. Public sector tendering has become an elaborate exercise in public deception. In Third World countries like Pakistan where some measure of State Control is necessary, a foolproof mechanism must be put into place to curb the functionaries of the State from manipulating the process for their benefit.

Kenneth Tynan said that “a critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car.” One’s resolve to make unpalatable proposal is stiffened with the knowledge that some arrogant, stuck-up rascals of this world have spent a long, deceit-ridden life using the privileges of public office to fool all concerned while living off the fat of the land and lining their own deep pockets. The tendering system is seriously flawed. Without ruthless intercession to stamp out intercession, the country will continue to be in greater and greater domestic and external debt.

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The “Third World” War

General Sir John Hackett’s imaginative book of fiction projected World War III being fought by military means across Europe, actually it has been fought worldwide on the economic battlefield, the principal antagonists followed the premises of Paul Kennedy’s “The Rise and Fall of World Powers”, shooting themselves (rather than each other) in their respective economic feet, overburdening their economies by vast military budgets, the bystanders (and erstwhile losers of the Second World War), Germany and Japan, emerging as the victors. The momentous changes affecting the world have not as yet made an impact on an apprehensive Third World but the spectre of economic aid, already scarce, being transferred from them to a downtrodden Eastern Europe looms as a potential Sword of Damocles. Robert J. Samuelson, columnist for NEWSWEEK, thinks the term “THIRD WORLD” meaningless, for the many hundreds of millions of the Third World lying in abject poverty and prone to creeping anarchy, many rungs below the present misery of Eastern Europeans, it makes good sense. The reliance on western economic aid has been so total that its stoppage (or slowing down thereof) will be equivalent to “The Day After” a nuclear holocaust, with the debt ridden countries at an economic Ground Zero.

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An outstanding soldier fades away

General Mirza Aslam Beg has an amazing propensity to confound skeptics. Retiring from the Army on August 17, 1991 according to his oft-repeated promise not to seek extension to his three year tenure as COAS, he has set a unique tradition for his successors to emulate. Presented with the opportunity of acquiring power on a virtual platter on August 17, 1988 and several times thereafter, General Beg stayed firm on his own set course, shunning the temptation of a recurring ambition in this country, exercised thrice before by his predecessors. Prophecies proliferated that his reluctance to take over power on August 17, 1988 would not last and Martial Law was around the corner, to his lasting credit he did not stray from his promise. Supreme power in this nation is always within the grasp of any COAS, it takes an infinitely superior human being to overcome ambition for the greater good of the country.

The former COAS was born in a middle class family in the town of Azamgarh in United Provinces (pre-Independence British India), being brought up in a tradition where knowledge rather than money or material was considered as an asset. Old values reigned supreme in the family and showmanship or exhibitionism were considered as cardinal sins. General Beg’s soft spoken and quiet demeanour had roots in this upbringing, his intense loyalty to his own immediate family a carry-over of family tradition. In keeping with his family norms, the General Beg is religious but not dogmatic, status symbols are neither sought or flouted.

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