Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The biggest hotelier and car rental agency in Pakistan

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.

The biggest hotelier and car rental agency in Pakistan

Walking uphill from the Murree GPO one is amazed to find rows of lavish accommodations owned by different government departments. In the far off exotic places like the Katchura Lake or Naltar also the government has invested heavily in recreational facilities for its employees. Even in the expensive real estate of the big commercial cities we see lavish government rest houses in abundance. This makes one wonder as to the actual number of temporary accommodations built and operated by different government organizations, which according to some credible estimates runs in tens of thousands. This qualifies the GOP as the single largest hoteling and recreational chain in Pakistan but with a difference. Unlike the ordinary hotels where the guests pay for the services here the guests are further paid by the government in different accounts: all at the expense of the common man of Pakistan or typically by the little child working long hours in a workshop or any other sweat shop. In this budget another 2 billion are sought for more holiday homes in Ziarat and other exotic places. Now that is callous.

The tragedy does not end up here, as the government of Pakistan is also the largest buyer of luxury vehicles that it distributes to its people who further incur operational and maintenance expense on them. This makes the GOP the biggest luxury rent a car company, another very undesirable distinction because the same hapless taxpayer again pays the bill.

This clearly shows the extreme disregard for the people our government is supposed to serve. We have not been able to convince our government servants that they are on job to serve the people and the actual description of their job is “Public servant”. Despite 60 years of independence from the colonial rule our bureaucracy has not been able to shed the ruler psyche it inherited. There is nothing to be ashamed of being a servant of the people but on the contrary a certain reason to be proud of. Still in our hospitals doctors are more important then the patients and in the offices of the utility companies the officers get clear preference over the paying customers. Railways despite incurring heavy losses, spends a lot on the pompousness of its officer class while ignoring the revenue paying passengers. All this clearly suggests that these government departments serve its own employees more then the people they are meant to serve. This flawed attitude and frame of mind has caused serious deterioration in their duties bringing them close to absolute ruin.

This privilege is solely reserved for the already well-compensated cadres as the lower level staff, which actually might be more in need of perks, is totally ignored. This further increases the in equitability of remuneration between the grades causing additional discontentment among the lower ranks breeding anger and lowering morale.

This pursuit of pleasure at the expense of the national exchequer has harmed the nation a lot. To begin with, it exposes the messed up priorities and disregard for the important issues of our government, which spends more on building resorts in Balochistan than the annual education budget of the entire province. This lavishness makes them more and more out of touch with the reality and the prevailing conditions of the ordinary Pakistanis widening the mental cleavage between the government servants and the people. This creates apathy among the average Pakistanis affecting the national cohesion and the basic fabric of the society. This trend causes the wastage of the national resources revealing the contempt and of our ruling class for the ordinary tax paying Pakistanis.

Interestingly while mentioning the health and education budget we never fail to mention the words “despite our meager resources” trying to justify our immoral disregard for human welfare but somehow forget our budgetary limitations on unimportant issues involving wastage. During the tyrannical dictatorial governments this trend although indefensible, might be explainable but certainly not during democratic regimes. This waste of our meager national resources must stop and it should be diverted to public welfare and human resource development. We have already allowed this misuse for too long and we can’t afford it any more. Our government must come out of resort management/ hoteling and car rental business immediately.

It might be prudent to somehow exactly find out how much we are spending on these extravagant and wasteful pursuits. Although this trend started in the colonial days but even the colonial powers weren’t as coldhearted as their local successors which is showing in the degeneration of education and other services instead of progress. According to most estimates the total amount wasted here is more than the accumulated amount we spend on education and health services combined for the 160 million people. It won’t be easy to calculate this amount wasted on profligacy as most of the expenditures are hidden under different benign sounding accounting heads but still might be worth the effort.

In these days of free market economy the government must take itself out of loss making hoteling and car rental businesses by privatizing it. Whenever necessary such services should be bought from the market at reasonable prices which are much lower than the actual costs incurred by the govt. Different techniques might be employed in solving this problem that is eating up our resources and hidden talents. It might be worth considering calculating the actual expense on these wasteful matters and paying it to the government servants directly as part of their salary. I am sure this would make them happier putting the resources to better utilization. By gradually selling of the rest houses and other residential facilities and the luxury cars enough resources can be generated to finance this endeavor and divert the rest towards public welfare.

If there is still indispensable need for a car or accommodation for government servants we must ensure this privilege is not misused by clearly declaring that this is poor taxpayers money. If this doesn’t work we can learn from the young doctor of Mayo hospital who after seeing a refrigerator donated for the poor patients being placed in professors office called a painter and boldly wrote on it “It is zakat and for the poor patients” ensuring its return to the general ward. I wonder how many can misuse flashy cars or rest houses boldly announcing the ownership of poor people. It will certainly take the sting out of the luxury/ snobbery these flashy cars do impart.


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