Floods will recede debt will not

Water management and money management are not needed

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is on the brink of being drowned. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has highlighted the dual threat of raging waters and spiraling debt. With the world’s largest number of glaciers in the Himalayas, Pakistan is ill-prepared to handle the fast melt due to global warming and heavy downpour. Currently almost one-third of the country is inundated with a massive influx of affected people and widespread damage to the infrastructure.

Next year the country has to pay back around $22 billion to the international lenders. The trade deficit continues to grow. Decades of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence compounded with environmental calamity has finally caught up. The Prime Minister, with his large entourage of courtiers, after participating in the last rites of their Queen in London, were then seen at the United Nations in New York. It is their journey from Imperialism to Capitalism, and I am sure they will all come home enlightened with fresh ideas to handle both the floods and the menace of debt.

I am reminded of a popular Urdu verse; Doob raha hun Dooba to nahin hun ( I am drowning, not yet drowned ). The flood waters are now receding leaving the devastation behind, and the onlookers are back to their old ways.

The PM is presenting his case at the United Nations. He is asking the right questions and seeking help while lodging in expensive hotels and enjoying the official protocol. The world is listening and wants to help but is not sure how to proceed as Pakisant has been a bottomless pit where billions have already been squandered by the powerful and the elite. The combined load of floods and debt is unsustainable. The President of France has proposed a Donors Conference, which is a good idea, but at the end of the day the relief will have to be delivered for which effective mechanisms do not exist.

While ‘Time is defined and cannot be stored/stopped ‘ , ‘Money’ is a man-made entity which must be handled carefully and with clean hands to be used frugally as and when needed, not wasted as has been the case in the land of the pure. Dirty hands have to be severed to save the nation from both floods and debt. A write-off is the only way forward as was done in Egypt after the Camp David peace accord.

Perhaps a debt write-off seems to be a better option. The loan payments can then be used for rehabilitation. Instead of borrowing the focus will shift to self-reliancewith control of expenses. The expense side has been ignored for a long time. There has been no balancing act between the income and the expenditure of the state apparatus. The books have to be balanced. Pumping in more easy money is not the right approach, which should be avoided to keep the sharks away for all times to come.

Over the years the’marketing’ efforts have been there while ‘delivery’ has been missing. The CPEC ( China Pakistan Economic Corridor ) project was marketed as a gamechanger for the republic. China desired land access to the warm waters of the deep-sea port of Gwadar for which the republic decided to borrow money to build the required infra-structure for which the interest payments have started with a rate higher than the traditional lenders in the West.

This insatiable appetite for cheap loans has to be controlled. At the end of the day borrowed money has to be returned with interest. The two calamities (floods and debt) that threaten the very survival of the nation have to be treated in tandem otherwise both will remain unresolved and turn into an unbearable burden.

In the land of the pure, most projects in the last 30 years have been launched mainly on the basis of kickbacks. Starting with the IPPs ( Independent Power Producers ) all the way down to CPEC it is a mind-boggling trail of compromises with total disregard of long-term national interests. The rulers in the past have not missed any opportunity to increase personal wealth resulting in a huge burden for the people to support. Today the republic produces unaffordable power and imports LNG  Liquefied Natural Gas) at unbearable cost. The Orange Line train of Lahore cannot even pay its electricity bills, what to talk about the interest payments. With the availability of 175 billion tons of local coal, most plants are using imported fuel. The previous government started to build dams and the use of local coal which should continue together with the production of SNG (Synthetic Natural Gas) from the Thar deposit.  The energy security of the country stands seriously compromised, which has to be checked.

Pakistan needs an effective water management plan to maximize the potential of this important natural resource. Reservoirs and dams have to be built together with water harvesting to raise the depleting groundwater table. There has to be a moratorium on all future borrowing, once the current debt burden is written off, bs that a fresh start can be made.

The party for the few, funded through borrowed money, must come to an end to provide relief to the many. Pakistan and its 220 million people have been used as a collateral to get hold of inexpensive money which is now unpayable. Lessons should have been learnt from the devastating earthquake of 2005 and the ravishing floods of 2010, but unfortunately no preventive measures were implemented to ward off future threats.

In AJK, the Turkish Donors finally decided to implement their projects themselVES instead of donating funds for this purpose. Like water, the debt has also been mismanaged and squandered. While the leaks have to be plugged to protect national wealth at the same time the water has to be saved to put it to better use to meet the scarcities when they happen. As a nation we cannot continue to rely on life support systems of the West and our neighbour in the North. It is time to live and learn to breathe on our own before there is an internal collapse of our own vital mechanisms. In the words of my ‘old man’, ” One must learn to live within ne’s means”. He had an interesting observation that in the land of the pure everyone is on the lookout for additional cash as budgetary restrictions are seldom respected.

While ‘Time is defined and cannot be stored/stopped ‘ , ‘Money’ is a man-made entity which must be handled carefully and with clean hands to be used frugally as and when needed, not wasted as has been the case in the land of the pure. Dirty hands have to be severed to save the nation from both floods and debt. A write-off is the only way forward as was done in Egypt after the Camp David peace accord.

Dr Farid A Malik
Dr Farid A Malikhttps://www.pakistantoday.com.pk
The writer is ex-Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. He can be contacted at: [email protected].

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