the privatisation agenda can be understood.
In the first instance, there is a need to recognise the specificity of state enterprises in the 'commanding heights' of the economy in the post-colonial world. Colonialism bequeathed to us a highly skewed economic structure in which monoculture cash-cropping became the norm while local industry was stifled deliberately by the state. Accordingly, the state itself enjoyed a far greater share in the economy than in European countries where economic development in industry and agriculture was far more integrated. As colonial agriculture became more and more commercialised, hordes of rural dwellers previously dependent on agrarian livelihoods were forced to migrate to urban areas, where, due to the lack of viable opportunities elsewhere, state employment offered the only meaningful and importantly stable option to earn a living.
Following the departure of the colonial rulers, post-colonial states such as Pakistan remained mired in an acute relationship of dependency with the ex-colonial powers, which meant that the skewed economic structure described above remained intact. In fact, as time has passed, the major change that has taken place is a rapid explosion of the service sector rather than a meaningful expansion of productive manufacturing activities. In other words, the economy is structurally constrained from absorbing the rapid population increase that has accompanied the ever-intensifying commercialisation of agriculture. The result is that the urban centres have become increasingly less-equipped to accommodate the greater numbers of migrants coming in from the rural areas.
It is no surprise that state employment remains so highly valued in Pakistan even today, in spite of the fact that in many cases low-level state functionaries do not earn incomes commensurate with the rapidly rising cost of living. In a society that has experienced the turbulent upheaval associated with the colonial encounter, and in which the disingenuous claims of pro-poor economic growth continue to be bandied about liberally by mainstream 'experts', the public sector remains the primary source of hope for the majority of working people, notwithstanding the state's coercive nature, elite composition, and political commitment to status quo.
Privatisation, in this context, is nothing short of destructive. It implies a belief in an age-old economic 'development' model that ignores already ravaged post-colonial social formations in which the vast majority of people still rely on agriculture for their livelihoods but where the ruthless process of capital accumulation across national borders is subjecting a rapidly exploding population to utter social deprivation. Meanwhile even the rhetorical claims of neo-liberal ideologues that privatisation improves efficiency and service delivery are highly suspect. Reports of the planning commission no less on the record of 160 privatised enterprises over the past decade and a half quite clearly indicate that no more than a handful have actually improved their economic performance, an astoundingly large proportion have actually been closed down, while the largest number are operating at the same capacity and efficiency as before.
This was before the present government decided to privatise state enterprises in the commanding heights such as telecommunications, energy and capital goods, which constitute natural monopolies and offer much-needed goods and services to a population that ultimately cannot withstand the pressures of unbridled market competition. Perhaps the biggest travesty related to the government's privatisation agenda is the standing of the army-run semi-government organisations such as the Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust as the country's biggest industrial conglomerates. Given the now indisputable evidence that such enterprises are 'inefficient' and a burden on the national exchequer, why are they not slated for privatisation or subject to the same logic that pervades the thinking of our economic managers when it comes to the state's role in the economy more generally? As with everything else in Pakistan, 'might is right' explains the obsession with privatisation, and as the workers of PTCL proved 18 months ago, only countervailing power can prevent the sale of every public enterprise there is.
(By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, The News-6, 09/01/2007)
Milk price issue hangs in the balance
KARACHI: The city Nazim held a meeting with milk retailers on Saturday in which it was agreed that the price of milk would be reduced, but so far no price reduction has taken place.
While milk sellers still complain about the stagnancy of fodder prices, the city government claims to have started a crackdown on milk retailers who, in some areas, have still not reduced their prices to the one set by the government i.e. Rs28 per kilo.
Chief Secretary Fazlur Rehman said the govt has started to make milk retailers pay fines. He, however, refused to give further details by saying that another meeting would be held regarding this issue. The Nazim also was not available for questioning. Milk prices have already caused frustration among citizens who are already suffering from increasing prices of basic commodities. With Muharram approaching, there will be a further increase in demand of milk and yogurt, which is likely to cause another upward trend in the market.
Although the citizens have been told to lodge their complaints regarding the sale of milk at higher rates at helpline 134 and toll-free number 0800-12012 so that the city government could take action against profiteers more effectively, many have complained of the phone lines not connecting.
DDO Enterprise and Investment Promotion Department, Malik Zaidain, however denies this by saying that their phone lines are free and many complaints have already been registered.
He says the fine imposed for selling milk at a price higher than the government’s set price is Rs10,000, or jail for a week. According to him, the increase in milk prices was done arbitrarily by the wholesalers, and that in the meeting with the Nazim there were representatives from both dairy farmers and retailers who have a already unilaterally agreed to conform to the government’s price.