Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Business Recorder editorial July 2, 2016

Culture of goofing off There was a time when Pakistan had just two Eid holidays, the day itself and the following day (Taru). Over the years, the tendency to treat the occasion as an excuse for increasing these holidays has grown to the point where it has seriously eroded our work culture (itself weakened by many other factors). This year, as has become the norm, the federal government has announced four holidays from Tuesday, July 5 to Friday, July 8. Judging by past experience, this effectively means that the entire working week will be lost, since most government (and private) employees will take off for their native abodes on Sunday, July 3, and only return to work (if we are lucky) on Monday, July 11. The bureaucrats (as well as a great many ordinary citizens) in Islamabad are not natives of the capital. They therefore naturally wish to spend as much time as possible on the occasion of Eid in their home towns and villages. This is the main explanation for the phenomenon of extended Eid holidays, which are then taken advantage of by government and private employees to unilaterally exploit the ‘concession’ by further absenting themselves to their own convenience. This ‘sleight of hand’ is then followed by the provincial governments, which have to (happily?) follow the Centre. In the provincial capitals and towns too, a similar exodus is in evidence around Eid, largely the result of the urban pull of the big cities as centres of employment and other opportunities. The country as a whole therefore, barely emerging from a month of functioning at half speed and energy because of Ramzan (especially, as this year, when it falls at the height of summer), completely grinds to a halt for one whole week or more. Can Pakistan afford such ‘luxury’? The country is beset with a raft of serious problems, including terrorism and law and order. The economy is still struggling despite the government’s tall claims. Governance, both internal and in foreign policy, appears adrift. As far as the economy is concerned, despite the government’s ‘trumpeting’ of its stabilisation and recovery claims and the endorsement of the international lending agencies, the glass is still half-empty. Investment is lagging; growth, though marginally better, is still low and unlikely to meet the budgeted target; the much touted foreign exchange reserves of over $ 23 billion comprise 75 percent borrowed funds; agriculture is in crisis, with lower cotton production impacting the textile sector and therefore exports, already reeling from energy shortages and other problems. The government’s claim of meeting the tax collection target this year also needs to be tempered by the realisation that this has been achieved reportedly by withholding tax refunds, largely (61 percent) from indirect taxes, withholding taxes and advance taxes from the oil and gas sector that will have to be adjusted in the years to come. Expert critics of the economic performance of the government therefore have weight in their argument that the government is misleading the country by manipulating the facts and figures and highlighting only the ‘glass half-full’ side of the picture. Given the still fragile state of the economy and the myriad other problems on the country’s plate, what we need is to remind ourselves of the Quaid’s admonition at the birth of the country to “work, work, work”. In other words, what the country needs is an ethic and culture of hard work and not encouragement of a culture of goofing off on the slightest, most spurious excuse. If the bureaucracy has persuaded the government to adopt the latter course, it is in its own and the country’s interests to reverse this unjustifiable lacuna.

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