Recently, the Punjab government spent millions to recoup the security measures at Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Raiwand residence near Lahore. Sharifs’ security is costing taxpayers Rs20 million, equivalent to USD 190,000 a month. Contrary to allegations that both Federal and Punjab government moved to spend millions of dollars on the security of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif‘s private residence, an excursion at the edifice has shown that house has many of the facilities purported to have been installed. The jobs actually undertaken at the PM’s residence were: “provision of barbed wire fence behind the house and construction of observation posts at all the entrance areas and provision of security bollards and additional security personal on the site and on roads in front of the residency and at the rear of the house”.
When it comes to lifestyles, some Pakistani leaders have no inhibitions. They spend lavishly on security measures, foreign tours, luxury cars and even their private homes. The phrase “let them eat cake” is widely attributed to Marie-Antoinette (1755-93), the Queen consort of Louis XVI. She is supposed to have said this when she was told that the French populace had no bread to eat. This statement perhaps best exemplifies the insensitive nature of the lifestyles of Pakistani leaders. There are many ways of gauging the vanity of some Pakistani leaders. You could count the monuments, universities, football stadiums, hospitals, highways and schools that bear their names or are dedicated to them.
The money ranges from direct siphoning from government coffers and public agencies, to forcing contributions from officials, friends, corporate organisations and kickbacks from multinationals keen on securing deals for infrastructure development, oil and gas and other natural resources exploration. The lifestyles of Pakistani Prime Ministers and their families reflect the tragedy of resource-rich sub-continent countries where the leaders spend millions on luxury items, as the ordinary people live in abject poverty, lacking access to basic amenities and services such as clean drinking water, health care and education.
In Pakistan, the script is the same with political patronage and lavish spending at the expense of the economy. The average salary in Pakistan stands at $300, but cabinet ministers’ salaries top $40,000 a month. Despite Pakistan being one of the nuclear bomb possessing countries, a baby born in this country has a slim chance of survival as UNICEF estimates that 10 per cent of children die before reaching the age of five. Over 70 per cent of the population lives in poverty and the average cost of health care is about $100.The World Banks’ latest poverty index report says that 72 per cent of Pakistanis live on less than a $1 a day, and 60 per cent have no access to clean water, while the economy is shrinking.
Transparency International, the corruption watchdog, has put Pakistan on the list of most corrupt states while National Accountability Bureau during an investigation found that former Prime Ministers Yousaf Raza Gillani and Raja Pervaiz Ashraf had received huge payments as kickbacks. Their hypocrisy could not be more stunning. People are tired of paying for their lavish lifestyle. All across this country Pakistanis are responding to difficult times by tightening their belt. The question the Pakistani people are asking is whether leaders are prepared to act with the same sense of responsibility. Obviously neither the present nor the former are! It’s another example, unfortunately, where the rules that apply to the rest of us, don’t really apply to the Prime Ministers.
The social fabric is fraying. Human capital is being squandered. Society is segmenting. The labour markets are ill. Wages are lagging. Inequality is increasing. The nation is over consuming and under innovating. Border problems with Afghanistan and India are surging. Not all of these challenges can be addressed by the lavish spending on the Prime Ministers’ security. Throughout Pakistan’s history, there have been leaders who regarded government like fire — a useful tool when used judiciously and a dangerous menace when it gets out of control. They didn’t build their political philosophy on whether government was big or not. Government is a means, not an end. They built their philosophy on not making Pakistan virtuous, dynamic and great. This is a political tragedy. There are millions of voters who, while alarmed by the Prime Ministers’ lavish spending, still look to government to play some positive role.
The inclination of leaders to put their own pocketbooks and comfort ahead of the country seems to be an important reason why life of an ordinary man is so miserable. It is particularly grievous when people who are already disadvantaged receive poor value for what little is spent on them. Public trust in government institutions is a cornerstone of every democracy. The Supreme Court needs to review that the massive expenses incurred on the palatial Prime Minister’s House or the various family houses, as well as the extravagant lifestyles of their occupants and the perks enjoyed at public expense were a matter of judicial probing involving legal questions. The acute dissimilarities between the lifestyles of the common people and the extravagant lifestyles of public functionaries maintained at public expense were not only discriminatory, but also denuded the ordinary citizens of their basic dignity.