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Archive for December, 1999

Elsie is Not a Girl

Unlike most nations where individuals excel in some discipline or the other, Pakistan has been blessed with professionals of world comparison but we do not seem to recognize this varied excellence. It would be nice from time to time to eulogize our own potential. Which other country can boast pilots and doctors of world compare in such large numbers, or for that matter, bankers? Even in sports, hockey and squash we ruled the world for quite some time, in cricket we have (and have had) the best individual players. Many of today’s top airlines in the Middle East and Asean made their beginnings on the strength of PIA’s airline management staff, pilots and engineers, two of the largest hotel chains in the world began with PIA’s participation. Let us recognise Air Marshal Nur Khan’s initiative in most of these fields of excellence.

Agha Hasan Abedi turned Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) into one of the leading banks of the world. The institution remained very much synonymous with the personality of its maker. The seamy side in the Bank’s operations may have suited special clients but without Agha Sahib’s constant monitoring the whole system had a tendency to explode in the face of its investors and it did. With bad legal advice and gung-ho activists in collecting “private deposits”, BCCI became vulnerable (So-called Black Network, 30 July 91 THE NATION) and thus targeted for extinction. Big money transactions are commonplace in every large international bank (there being a very tenuous fail-safe line with respect to money laundering), BCCI was singled out for punitive action and a dream based on Pakistani professional competence was brought to an end (The Collapse of a Dream, 30 July 91, THE NATION) with the reputation of Pakistani bankers in shreds, or was it? Pakistani banking professionals continued to excel in other international banks, particularly Citibank (The Banking Professionals, 15 Oct 91 THE NATION). Our present Finance Minister, Mr. Shaukat Aziz, is on leave of absence as Head of “Private Banking” in Citibank, the largest conglomerate in the world, formed by a merger of Citibank and Travellers Group. Habib Bank’s Shaukat Tarin, UBL’s Zubyr Soomro (both Citibank) and NBP’s Mohammadmian Soomro (Bank of America), all left US$ one million plus (Rs.5 crore plus in today’s Pakistani Rupees) salary packages abroad when they were motivated to return to Pakistan in 1997. And this when not counting their bonuses in preferred stocks which ran into millions more! Under very trying political circumstances, all three have been very successful in bringing the nationalised commercial banks (NCBs) back from virtual extinction. In comparison Allied Bank, run by the old crowd, has been a virtual role model for corruption, inefficiency and nepotism of the worst kind. Messrs Tarin, Soomro and Soomro’s virtuoso performance was achieved by assembling a bunch of Pakistani professionals in the banking industry from abroad, almost all of whom were persuaded to leave secure jobs at the call of their country. As financial compensation they opted for less than 20% of what they were getting abroad. Worst off was probably Mr Moinuddin Khan, who resigned as Head of Standard Chartered in Hong Kong, to come as Chairman Central Board of Revenue (CBR). Faced with public criticism at his “high salary” in Pakistan and the foreign exchange crisis post-May 28, 1998 he opted to work without salary, living off his savings. The moment he started to give sleepless nights to the “fat cats”

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Corporate Pakistan

Twenty-eight years to the day (Dec 16, 1971) when we broke apart the finest experiment of nationhood in the expanse of time, the Chief Executive (CE), Gen Pervez Musharraf addressed the nation on Dec 15, 1999, mainly to outline the much-awaited “Economic Revival Plan” (ERP) at another critical crossroads in our history, far more economic than political this time. The brainchild of the Finance Minister, Shaukat Aziz, assisted by an Economic Advisory Board, the theme was credibility with creativity, poverty alleviation with corporatisation and a distinct bent towards supply-sided economics while meeting crucial obligations that a nation has towards its downtrodden masses. Stripped of rhetoric, the CE’s speech addressed quite a number of substantive issues positively. Earth-shaking the initiatives were not, yet they broke some solid new ground and gave hope that with sincerity in implementation, there may be light at the end of the tunnel after all. The simultaneous reading of the CE’s speech in both Urdu and English on different PTV channels was a plus point in reaching out to all the people.

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Cost Cutting

A long with the many ideas being floated for enhancing revenue generation, it is important to find innovative ways for cutting non-development costs and curtailing expenditures. There is a fair amount of recurring wastage and only strict control at every tier of administration can keep this to a very minimum. Add to this the losses due to inefficiency and corruption and we can get quite substantial savings by installing checks and balances at various nodal points to ensure effective monitoring of financial outlays in the system.

There is a dire need to reduce the number of departments in the civilian bureaucracy as well as personnel. There may be a hue and cry about unemployment but it will be far more economical to have people stay at home and collect their salaries than load the government with additional financial burden because of individuals making private telephone calls, excessive use of electricity, misuse of government transport and personnel, etc. Most of these departments have overlapping responsibilities and are breeding grounds for corruption. They burden the already overloaded taxpayers with additional “demands”, both official and unofficial, so much so that tax-payers are in danger of being declared an “endangered species”. To effect meaningful reduction, it will be necessary to do a systematic processing of needs that are vital for the running of the nation matched against the means to accomplish these needs.

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The Police Station – Sanctuary or torture chamber?

Law enforcement being the primary responsibility of the police in any country, in turn the guardians of the law should be perceived as the saviours of the public. Then why is it that the police station is seen by both the intelligentsia and the masses as a torture chamber rather than as a place of sanctuary? Not only in Pakistan and many other less developed countries (LDCs) but also in many democratic and developed countries of the world the police carry such an aura of fear that common citizens find it virtually impossible to approach them for succour, in fairness this could well be unfounded in most cases, based on wrong perceptions. The debate whether to have a metropolitan police or not is more a matter of semantics than anything else, corruption and collaboration in crime are manifest in all the systems, it is only the honest intent of the leader/s that gives the process integrity. New York carried a terrible reputation as a city less than a decade ago, its police force had an ugly face, yet today the same New York Police Department (NYPD) is considered a model for others to adopt, the result of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s superb efforts to turn that unsavoury image around by bringing in meaningful reforms across the board, in particular “Humanising the Police Stations” as referred to in an article on March 15, 1997 by that title in THE NATION.

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