If you feel offended by words like Auschwitz, Gulag and Guantanamo, you must be respected for your sensitivity to mistreatment. Not many, however, realise that closer to home, we have our own National Savings, which is Pakistan’s largest torture manufacturing outfit. It was created exclusively to torment the citizens for the crime of investing their lifetime savings and then turning up every month to beg for the profits. The organisation firmly believes that “torture should not only be done, but also be seen to be done”.
Consider a 70-year-old widow, who was found standing outside a National Saving Centre a few days ago. This was her second visit and she was waiting for two hours. Only four customers were allowed in the ‘torture chamber’ at one time. The widow is guilty of having invested her lifetime saving of Rs500,000 in Savings Certificates. The system now compels and punishes her to make one or sometimes two visits, change two buses, spend money and consume an entire day to come begging for the monthly profit.
For well over last three decades, the National Savings has been fooling the public that it is ‘computerising’ its records. About a year back, under public pressure, it introduced a yet another, more complex and ill-considered process. This requires a citizen to: a) open a savings account with the Savings organisation, b) know the exact amount of profit due every month, c) visit his/her bank to deposit the organisation’s cheque, d) visit his/her bank again after a few days to collect the profit, e) in case the cheque bounced (which it does in 20-30% cases because of the expiry of a certificate or an error in specifying the exact amount), the individual must return to the Savings Centre, resolve the conflict and restart the exercise ab initio.
This antique system involves at least two mandatory visits to a bank, one for a manual deposit of the National Savings’ cheque and the other for collection of cash. Why must the Savings organisation ask millions of customers to make these extra bank visits when the profit could be electronically and automatically transferred to the individuals’ accounts every month — a technology known to the human race for at least 40 years? The new option reminds one of the proverbial choice between eating a hundred onions or be served a hundred lashes.
All that is required to be done by the Savings organisation is to automatically transfer every individual’s monthly profit to his or her bank account every month, without a citizen having to perform this job manually. Those desiring to receive monthly profits directly on their mobile wallets should also be able to do so. An automatic SMS message could also be generated to inform an individual the date and the exact amount transferred. No customer should ever be required to visit a Savings Centre, merely to receive his or her profit. Why must the 500 or so Grade 18 to 21 officers and 5,000 employees who operate the 376 ‘torture cells’ of the Savings organisation continue to torment over seven million citizens of Pakistan every month? Sadly, they do so merely to preserve their jobs.
How come the much-publicised and glorified Tania Aidruses, Reza Baqars and Hafiz Shaikhs of Pakistan have no clue on how to bring about digital reforms in the public sector? They must deliver or make way. The fact that there are less than 5% leaders and bureaucrats in Pakistan who can be contacted or who would respond to an e-mail is a sad commentary on our digital readiness. The National Savings organisation is simply the tip of this iceberg —frozen in time and refusing to melt.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 23rd, 2020.
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