Lessons in political rhetoric
You can rally and protest, but if you don't know what the problem is, how can it be solved?
For a while now a number of ‘issues’ are in the limelight in Pakistan. Every single politician talks about them, every analyst discusses them and the whole population chimes about them literally every single day. But the thing is at no point are those issues actually looked at and the truth behind them explained.
Take power outages, every single person in the country discusses the issue, shows their anger about it and the media highlights it. But at no point does anyone explain exactly how and why it occurs. Now you may ask why is it important to understand why stuff like load shedding happens. Well if we can understand why it happens that might actually lead us to finding solutions. The purpose of this piece is to actually take a shot at explaining issues that everyone talks about but most people do not understand.
Loadshedding is one of the most discussed issue in Pakistan right now. Every political leader has talked about it, everyone uses it for their political benefit, and people riot because of it and even hold rallies against it.
So why does something that is so annoying and important to the general public keep happening? Well the truth is, in the 90s load shedding as an issue was taken up seriously and a lot was done about it, new plants were commissioned and a lot more production capacity was installed. In total till about 2010, the installed capacity was close to 19,000 MW where as Pakistan’s total need is about 15,000 to 16,000 depending on the season.
So if we have the installed capacity which is more than our demand than why do we have load shedding? The answer to this is simple; it is because of circular debt. Circular debt means debt that is ion circulation overall in the system. For example, LESCO buys electricity from Independent Power Producers (IPPs) partly on credit and sells it to the city of Lahore, now city of Lahore pays the bills and that money goes back to LESCO who keeps a cut of it and then pays the IPP for the electricity they had bought on credit. Now at any point in this chain if someone does not pay their bills, that creates a debt that is passed on. In most cases, the load shedding occurs when bills have not been paid, and LESCO (or any other power supply company) does not have the money to pay the IPPs. Because there is no money coming in, the IPPs reduce production and provide only electricity that is paid for, decreasing the total production leaving a shortfall that is translated in to load shedding.
Now I am sure no politician protesting load shedding ever explains the whole issue, instead they take the easy way out, and blame the ruling government. But as you can see the truth is very different on why we suffer from load shedding and will continue to do so for many years.
Probably the most favourite topic of discussion in a third world country is the issue of corruption. So it is no surprise that in Pakistan corruption is the single most discussed and quoted issue on all forms of media and in political rhetoric. But thing is no one actually explains what corruption is. I mean no one has laid out any specific criteria of what might be called corruption and so pretty much everything that makes money is called corruption. But what is more interesting that corruption itself is the rhetoric that goes with it. Every 15 minutes there is a politician condemning it and vowing to eliminate it.
Now that itself is impossible. Very basic political science theory concedes that there is no system by which corruption can be rooted out. In fact corruption is endemic - it is part of the system and at certain point, it is needed to grease the system to work faster. So saying that corruption will be completely eliminated is simply lying. Instead, saying corruption will be reduced is more accurate a statement but then again it is a fact that no one wants to say out loud because it might be unpopular. So fact is corruption is here to stay and it is not like we are special - that only we have corruption. It exists in every system. We can reduce it but that depends on human behaviour not the government, the government can make the laws tougher, only people themselves can actually stop committing the act.
Prices of fuel
For some reason our politicians seem to consistently be thrashing the government every time there is a rise in fuel prices. Now the thing is, expensive fuel effects the whole economy. It simply translates in to inflation because the transportation of goods has become more expensive. So politically it is a popular thing to talk about and slam the government. This has been going on now for over 20 years and still somehow our politicians have failed to explain and realize why fuel prices actually go up. Firstly it has nothing to do with the ruling government; it’s got everything to do with international oil prices. Pakistan is an importer of oil, as in we buy our oil from abroad in dollars, so if the price of dollars goes up or if the international price of per barrel of oil goes up, and the net price of fuel in Pakistan also goes up. It’s a chain, if one thing goes up everything move up too.
Secondly, when the government refuses to raise the price of fuel, it is refusing to do so at that time but in a few days from that they will have to increase it, because if do not do so, that becomes part of the government debt which in affect hurts the whole economy more as it makes our currency weaker.
So while price of fuel as a topic might be simple and very crowd pleasing, next time a politician says anything about it, think about the whole chain and the overall impact that is going to have in the long run. Because that is something a politician is not going to tell you.
Railways and PIA
This is another politically favourite topic of discussion in Pakistan. Every single opposition leader always goes on about how the existing government is ruining the railways and the PIA. For the last 20 years that is what every single opposition has done and yet we are in more or less the same state as we were back then. Now that means there is something we are not being told about the whole issue, well that is very true. While our media goes on and partners up with politicians in showing the bad state of affairs at the Railways and the PIA, no one explains how and why we got to this point because, think about it, logically, something that has been around for a 100 plus years cannot be ruined in a few years or even a decade.
So how did we get to this point? Most of it is boils down to political hiring and over-staffing of both institutions. In case of the railways, it is probably one of the most bloated organizations in the country. Where there is a need for two employees, Railways have about 9. This has happened over time where governments kept hiring their supporters to provide them with jobs. This has translated in to a huge wage bill for the railways which it cannot support most of the time. Add to that the fact that Pakistan only added a few hundred kilometres to the rail track that was handed over by the British at the time of Independence, so our railway runs a single track which is very old. This leads to another issue - massive train delays because Pakistan has a single track, and any train that has any problem will affect all trains behind it. So the massive train delays primarily happen because one train down the line has a fault and that creates a back log.
In case of the PIA, the issue of over-staffing is a crucial one, add to that mismanagement due to political hiring at the upper level management and you have an institution that can make money but makes a loss due to simple bad management. Now these are issues that neither politicians nor our media point out. The media simply points out the affect, not the cause, while politicians just talk about the headline they saw on the media. So while everyone talks about the problem, no one ever delves in to why it happened. This in fact is crucial if we want a solution to it.
The ‘issues’ mentioned above are a sample of the sort of issues our politicians and media keep going on about without getting to the crux of the matter. Instead what happens is that they come up with one end of the story that can sell their brand. But while it might be helpful for the politicians and the media reporting it, it is devastating for the country and economy as public opinion makes it hard to take any decisions let alone tough decisions due to political pressure, ensuring we are stuck in the same cycle we have been for 20 years.