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Archive for April, 1996

Of pocket tyrants and Rasputins

By treating the Russian Tsar’s hemophilic son and heir, Rasputin became indispensable to the Russian royal family. From a moderately successful faith healer he became an important but unofficial functionary of the State. Scandals about his amorous adventures and earthy lifestyle earned him the hatred of the intelligentsia and the masses who began to blame all of Russia’s ills on his meddling with official matters. Jealous of his all-pervasive influence, particularly his all-powerful hold over the Queen, well-wishers and opponents of the royal family both became unrelenting foes. Eventually he was murdered by those driven by overwhelming concern with this “evil” incarnate. Rasputin had told the Queen that the royal family would not survive him, it is an irony that the mass hatred for Rasputin ultimately boiled over to bring the Tsar down after his death. Pakistan has had its full share of Rasputins, drawn mainly from the civil service, some from the military but increasingly also from the political parties and business. Each political party has acquired a core of loyalist bureaucrats who remain in insignificant appointments of little influence when the Party they favour (or belong to) is out of power, on the other hand on assumption of office they have returned to the portals of power with a vengeance Rasputin would have been envious of. To quote Barbara Tuchman “every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed”, unquote. In our country there is so much potential to acquire illegal wealth with complete impunity, some try to do it sooner rather than later. A few civil servants and businessmen specialise in playing upto both the sides, some even managing not to be seen through as rank two-timers. A vast majority of civil servants remain in limbo, fearful for their careers and even their existence, anxious to please whoever is in power. Any hint of non-compliance of instructions (all verbal) and their careers are damaged if not shortened altogether. Successive rulers and their close associates, motivated out of their own personal interest, have utilised this feeling of insecurity of the “great silent majority” of bureaucrats to excellent effect, they have been terrorised into willing compliance with the wishes of the rulers. Since elected leaders can have an image problem if they are seen to be unseemingly authoritarian in a democratic society, a small but composite coterie of educated hit-men from among their inner circle and bureaucrat-collaborators are employed to ensure that their bidding is carried out, no wonder in time these hit-men give priority to their own interests over either the interests of their mentor or even the interests of the State. At the core of almost every government you will find a handful of such pocket tyrants. Some of them may not seem to savour what they do, the raw power of State machinery is like giving the first taste of human blood to a tiger, revelling in the use of it, very much like our Russian friend, Rasputin, the tiger soon becomes a man-eater.

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Let No One Write UBL’s Epitaph — Yet!

The Federal Government has handed over the management of United Bank Limited (UBL) to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) by invoking Section 41, Sub-section A, B and C of the Banking Companies Ordinance. At the same time it is rumoured that the deal with Saudi Basharahill whereby UBL was being privatised has been cancelled. For its part SBP has with immediate effect changed the management of UBL in order to stop the run on the bank that has seen depositors withdraw their money in droves. To protect the interests of the Clients the Government of Pakistan guarantee is being doubly backed by SBP guarantee.

Ms Benazir’s Government is to be congratulated for having taken strong action after months of vacillation. Instead of allowing UBL to go down the drain in the hands of inept, corrupt management, alternately guided by remote control from Islamabad or from a strongly entrenched Union, the Government of Pakistan’s (GoP) stern measures will go a long way in shoring up UBL’s crumbling corporate profile. A change of leadership will act as a strong shot in the arm which may well see this bank regain the confidence of the public and be privatised in the future in a more orderly manner, not as the fire-sale of the century. UBL has very good assets, particularly its credit lines and arrangements with foreign correspondent banks, its profitable network of foreign branches, its real estate holdings, a loyal customer-base, etc. If Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) and Allied Bank Limited (ABL) could be turned around by pure Pakistani management after privatisation, why not acquire the same type of management team to do the right thing by UBL before privatization ?

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