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Archive for February, 2001

Behold a Trojan Horse

As far back as 1989 it was clear Hubco would be an albatross around Pakistan’s neck but we are a glutton for punishment and we persisted with this scam. When eventually confronted, Hubco countered with an extremely effective propaganda campaign, holding the country’s financial liquidity hostage and virtually putting all future investment in Pakistan under jeopardy. In this no-win situation we should be thankful we managed to cut our losses and accept, however unpalatable, Hubco’s terms for surrender. With a Trojan Horse or two as a trump card up their sleeve, Hubco’s investors can be excused for laughing all the way to their private banks. Someone someday will do an exhaustive case study to include those who, viz (1) conceived this monstrosity both in (a) Pakistan and (b) abroad, to include government and non-government functionaries, international financial technocrats, consultants, etc (3) nurtured the project, engineers of all kind, bureaucrats, politicians etc (4) were the investors, Japanese (later replaced by Saudis), British, Singaporean, US, etc (5) built it, mainly construction companies, equipment manufacturers, etc (6) then profited by it, mainly almost all of the aforementioned (7) took part in the cover-up and sustaining of the scam, including WAPDA personnel (8) acted as accessories to a combination of media and diplomatic blackmail designed to force us to swallow the bitter pill and (9) lastly, whose children’s grandchildren will continue paying through their nose for the next millennium, long after Hubco is a pile of rubble and rusted scrap?

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Lowering the boom

US President Bill Clinton barely escaped conviction by the US Senate after he was impeached by the US House of Representatives over the Monica Lewinsky affair. Before leaving office, Clinton entered into a plea-bargain with the Special US Prosecutor confirming he had committed perjury, accepting being barred as a result from practicing as an Attorney for five years. This compromise was to avoid further prosecution (and persecution) at the hands of his zealous detractors after he left office, or so he hoped. Unfortunately he did not do his cause any good in the last days of his Presidency by, viz (1) seeming to take more gifts and furniture from the White House than was his by right and (2) the pardoning of fugitive US commodity trader Marc Rich. Gifts and furniture are a matter of simple accounting, anything in excess can be returned or the US Government will be reimbursed accordingly, the Marc Rich pardon is more of a problem. Outgoing US Presidents have the prerogative to pardon a short list of those who seem not to have been fairly treated by the law or have served enough time in prison to justify early release. The underlying premise is that there should not be any “quid pro quo”, the pardon should not seem to have been “sold”. Marc Rich’s ex-wife Denise donated US $ 1.3 million since 1993 to the Democratic Party and US$ 450000 to the proposed “President Bill Clinton Library” in Arkansas. Clinton has shown enough resilience in the past to be nicknamed “the Comeback Kid”, but faces a bipartisan lowering of the boom by those who hate him, joined this time by some of his friends and allies aghast at what seems to be virtually a “bribe”. “Baywatch” may have run its natural course on TV, the “Clinton Years” show no sign of abating and may outlive “OJ Simpson” yet.

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Killing the khaki-collar goose

The economic downturn over the past decade has dramatically increased unemployment in Pakistan, superseded only by the financial problems created by our abysmal revenue-gathering attempts. Where we needed increased job slots, industrial and commercial entities have been shedding both white and blue-collar jobs at an alarming rate. New businesses, even in the IT sector, have not been able to balance the shortages. The only bright spot in this overall economic gloom is the sustained development of the Services sector, perhaps the only one in the economy creating more jobs. The driving force for more jobs in this sector has been private security. Moreover, in contrast to the US$ 50000 in foreign exchange required to create one job in the manufacturing sector, it takes less than US$ 200 in equivalent Pakistan Rupees for a new employment slot in private security. Given also that at least 20,000-30,000 Servicemen, retire at an early age every year, particularly at the lower end of the scale, it is an economic necessity for them to supplement their meagre retirement pays to support their families. Only a very small percentage are skilled enough for white and blue-collar jobs, private security provides a distinct class of khaki-collar jobs. Moreover, unemployment creates law and order problems, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere, the perennially unemployed have no option but to resort to crime to feed their families. Private security companies in a very direct way prevent anarchy by offering dignified re-employment to those with the training and expertise to create anarchy.

For more than two years, All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA) and Security Services Welfare Forum (SSWF) have engaged in meaningful discussions with the government at various levels to enact laws regulating the running of private security companies. Last October SSWF merged into APSAA, this combined Association is the only one recognized by the government and represents more than 110 companies of the 130 having NOCs. The initiative to narrow down differences, taken by Lt Gen (Retd) Moinuddin Haider, when he was Governor Sindh, continues in his present incumbency as Federal Interior Minister. The bureaucracy (aided by those with vested interest) tried their best to insert clauses emasculating the working of private security companies. To deter “undesirable elements” from getting into private security the bureaucracy recommended extremely high registration fees, renewal fees, branch office fees, etc. Retired officers (almost 90% of the “entrepreneurs” in private security) can only use their limited pensions, the argument that drug smugglers, money launderers, etc could afford such high fees was self-evident. The point being well taken, the fees were suitably reduced. Checks and balances were put into the process to negate bureaucratic excesses, fully reflected in the Minutes of the final meeting chaired by the Federal Interior Minister and attended by the Interior Secretary, the Home Secretaries of all the Provinces (and Islamabad Capital Territory), representatives of APSAA and SSWF (as well as a Joint Venture (JV) private security company which was not a member of either of the Associations). The Minutes were circulated and were unambiguous, or so we thought. With the promulgation of the Sindh Ordinance, we discovered that our self-congratulations were greatly exaggerated!

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Davos days

This year the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Annual Meeting 2001 urged participants to “Sustain Growth by Bridging the Divides”. Olivero Toscani produced a stark and remarkable documentary as a graphic reminder of what the divide is, images of modern technological advances, space travel, aircraft, computers, etc superimposed by the drawn and haggard faces of the hungry, under-nourished, emaciated and the diseased, moving the assembled hard-bitten and (even some) callous to tears. To quote Dr Klaus Schwab, “business has to make a special contribution to the effort to establish a world where everybody — each global citizen — can live a dignified existence”.

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