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Successive Governments failed to control poverty

Successive Governments failed to control poverty

Interview with Mr. Majyd Aziz — Former President of (UN) Global Compact Network Pakistan

PAGE: Tell me something about yourself, please:

Majyd Aziz: I am an industrialist and businessman. I am a Former President of (UN) Global Compact Network Pakistan, Employers Federation of Pakistan, South Asian Forum of Employers, and Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Former Chairman of SITE Association of Industry, and Former Member Board of Directors of Zarai Taraqiati Bank Ltd, KESC, and SITE Limited. I was Chairman of Board of Directors of SME Bank Limited. I am Senior Advisor for Pakistan for Transnational Strategy Group, Washington. I am also Secretary General of English Speaking Union of Pakistan, besides being Founding Chairman of Pakistan Sri Lanka and Pakistan Indonesia Business Forums and was Founding Secretary General and Vice Chairman of Pakistan Japan Business Forum.

PAGE: Do you agree with the claim that nearly 40% of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line? Dilate on it please:

Majyd Aziz: The figure of 40% is nothing new. For the last few decades, this number has been touted whenever discussions centre around the economy, especially the ramifications of inflation, whether domestic or global. In the present scenario, Pakistan’s vulnerable population is unable to maintain decent sustainability because of the inability of the government to provide an appropriate social safety net for them. Moreover, the downward spiral of the economy, when factories are closing down, leading to retrenchments and downsizing of the workforce, when rates of electricity and gas keep increasing every now and then when fuel for vehicles also maintains an upward trajectory, and when there is a shortage of essential commodities, leading to higher sale prices, then it is obvious that the ranks of those under the poverty line would keep increasing. Successive governments have failed to control poverty.

PAGE: About 95 million Pakistanis now live in poverty according to World Bank. What steps must be taken in this regard?

Majyd Aziz: To sustain their hold on the reins of power, the political parties in power often resort to hyped-up, but seldom sustainable, populist measures that purport to get the downtrodden out of the abyss of darkness. These projects and schemes have been short-term solutions with advantages for a few, but the after-effects of these initiatives have usually devastated the scarce resources of the country. The ensuing ramifications have further solidified the disenchantment of those who were deprived of the benefits of these measures or were not able to avail the advantages of these populist projects in the optimum and positive manner.

Pakistan is strapped for resources to bring about relief for the downtrodden. The problem with every political government is that they are unable to prioritise their resources and strategies. There are many ways to institute some sanity in the scheme of things. The first step is to drastically reduce non-developmental expenses in the federal as well as provincial governments and that these funds could be channelized into specific, transparent, and equitable social safety nets. Just by announcing that the minimum wage would be this or that would never achieve the objective of reduction in the poverty figures. The Benazir Income Support Programme and the Ehsaas Programme are initiatives that can reach the low-income group. However, these must be truly transparent and all efforts must be made to ensure that there is zero tolerance for corruption, misappropriation, and misuse. 

The government must sincerely structure the rates of infrastructure and if there is a possibility of providing free or heavily subsidized electricity and gas, then the government must act and support the low-income or marginalised groups. Of course, this would entail providing a large chunk of funds in subsidies, something that the IMF is unable to digest, but there is no other pragmatic way to achieve the goal of facilitating those under the poverty line. There should be a law that initiatives such as Health Cards, after being introduced, should and must be sustainable and continuous and should not be hostage to political decisions.

PAGE: Low human development is one of the primary concerns in Pakistan leading to a spike in poverty. What is your perspective?

Majyd Aziz: Poverty is often viewed in the context of income alone. Such definitions of poverty do not reflect the many forms of human deprivation. Income-based poverty alone is not adequate to assess the multidimensional magnitude of poverty. Lack of education, basic health facilities, safe drinking water, sanitation, shelter, justice, and the feeling of being powerless, and voiceless, in addition to low level of income give rise to the feelings of human deprivation. Hence their development is negatively impacted. There is a dire need to skill, upskill, and reskill the workforce. Pakistan’s workforce lacks the passion to increase productivity, to be more efficient, and to ensure quality products. Vocational and Technical Training Institutes are less all over the country and that is the main reason the Pakistani worker is ill-trained and lacks the competency to be more productive. Moreover, except for the elite schools that cater to those who can afford the fees, most of the schools run by the governments are ill-equipped to provide decent learning. In Pakistan, 262 million children are illiterate because they have had no opportunity to attend school. They will grow up without basic education and then it would be difficult to grasp the skills required in today’s industrial base. They would not have access to Information Technology and thus would mostly fill the ranks of those who are poor.

PAGE: Poverty is globally acknowledged as a curse due to its destructive potential for societies. What is your standpoint?

Majyd Aziz: It is often forgotten that no nation has been successful in eliminating poverty without pain. Discontentment and frustration among the masses, faced with such tribulations, embolden subversive forces both within and outside to exploit national inadequacies. Therefore, most of the countries usually adopt the following ingredients in order to achieve poverty reduction. The four-pronged strategy for poverty reduction is based on i) pro-poor, sustainable economic growth, ii) physical and social assets creation for the poor, iii) safety net mechanism to protect poor from shocks; and iv) building capacity at all levels. However, the difficulty arises when nations are at war. The financial resources are diverted towards the war and the citizens are made to sacrifice and share the costs. The outcome is that the allocations for social safety nets become less while the cost of a war enhances inflation. In the end, the poor suffer. Poverty increases. The rich continue to be richer. “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime” – Aristotle

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