It’s really no surprise that people nationwide are up in arms about the proposed energy conservation measures announced last week at a press conference by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and Federal Minister for Water and Power Raja Pervez Ashraf. It’s not that all the proposed measures are bad. Some are downright sensible. But we, as a nation, are allergic to being told what to do by the government. Asking people to wind up wedding receptions within three hours shouldn’t be considered an imposition if punctuality meant anything to us. Shutting off power to billboards and hoardings will actually be a relief but reducing energy consumption in government buildings by 50 per cent has to be seen to be believed.
But some measures do need a rethink – a two-day weekend for the public sector doesn’t help people working in the private sector who work a six-day week, fight traffic to get home and then have to take their families shopping, even for essential things before 8 pm. Closing markets at 8 pm would be manageable if the two-day weekend was for everyone. But such basics elude our leaders, ensconced as they are in their hallowed offices and palaces, far removed from the problems of a vast majority of the citizens such as rush hour traffic, agonising public transport, shopping for groceries, running errands, paying utility bills and generally coping with life.
But the real problem behind the cries of protest lies in the fact that the government’s credibility is at an alltime low. I couldn’t stop myself from asking a senior PPP minister recently what he would do if he were a CEO of a multinational, answerable to his stockholders and had to deal with a director who consistently failed to make his targets, made promises he couldn’t keep and came up with lame excuses for his poor performance. “I’d sack him,” was the immediate response. “Ever heard of Raja Pervez Ashraf?” I snidely asked. The minister winced, laughed and pointedly starting discussing the weather.
That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? People will respond to government initiatives if they perceive the government as capable and responsive to their needs. The prime minister may want to consider shedding the load of a bloated and incompetent cabinet if he is serious about governance. Flanking himself with four chief ministers to demonstrate ‘consensus’ to his left and Mr Ashraf on his right, hardly boosts peoples’ confidence let alone win their cooperation, when they witness the minister they hold responsible for the misery and frustration caused by hours of load-shedding these past few months, still firmly in place. Poking fun at your ministers during press conferences may make journalists laugh, Mr Prime Minister, but the rest of the nation doesn’t have a funny bone left.
And the latest round of fake degrees being unearthed amongst our illustrious parliamentarians hardly helps in instilling confidence. If legislators are found lying about their college degrees, what else are they lying about? And by giving these same people tickets to contest byeelections, aren’t party leaders, by definition, condoning, nay rewarding, dishonesty?
The PPP government has taken to throwing around the word ‘reconciliation’ like they invented it. The original phrase used in South Africa was ‘truth and reconciliation’. The truth bit seems to have eluded the PPP on many fronts.