Poverty is neither orderly nor inherent in nature. It is an artificially and cruelly fabricated curse to allow the rich to derive disproportionate benefits. Millions of Pakistanis lead miserable lives of extreme poverty, inequality and unworthiness, not by accident or default, but by a deliberately crafted set of immoral and tyrannical measures. This article aims to examine how Pakistan has succeeded in fabricating poverty on such a large scale.
The making of poverty begins with a population on the run. A country refusing to address its suicidal total fertility rate (TFR) of 3.6 is guilty of deliberately generating poverty. We haven’t learned anything from China, Bangladesh, India or dozens of other countries that have reduced their TFRs to less than 2. Focusing massively on controlling its burgeoning population should be the first. poverty reduction task for Pakistan.
Poverty is fabricated by deliberately setting an appalling minimum wage that is small enough to support a family on the perimeter wall of a cemetery. The state is adding fuel to the fire by ensuring that even this miserable minimum wage is denied to more than half of the workforce. A dysfunctional EOBI organization is performing the next step in the process of making poverty. It is a white elephant that consumes over 1.2 billion rupees for its own upkeep each year but has registered just 9 million workers out of a total of 90 million formal and informal workers in Pakistan. Thus, we make beggars millions of people who retire without having the right to any pension.
The creation of poverty is often initiated by the state itself. This happens when it does not pay a minimum wage to its own contract staff working in its own municipalities, cantonment boards, public hospitals, water and wastewater agencies, and solid waste management boards. The state is also guilty of looking the other way as its predatory elite exploits millions of workers with criminally low wages. Two reprehensible examples of cruelty are private security guards and gasoline pump personnel.
The inequality gap widens as the state shamelessly pampers its parasitic wealthy class with incentives, subsidies and tax breaks. This egotistical class leads lives of obscene luxury, travels in ostentatious vehicles, consumes Australian Weetabix, and uses imported flowers for their extravagant weddings. It’s no surprise that of the $ 35 billion borrowed over the past three years, $ 8 billion has been spent on importing cars, SUVs, cellphones, and luxury goods. This is the same excessive class for which loans of Rs 280 billion have been written off over the past 35 years.
Poverty is compounded by a complex and decadent tax system that allows around 2% of the population to pay taxes, thus keeping Pakistan trapped in a cycle of debt. FBR refuses to do a simple one-page tax return that could put 100 percent of citizens back in the tax net. Rather, he designed numerous escape routes to allow non-filers to enjoy or purchase all the facilities by paying a token surcharge. Wealth tax is not imposed for fear of offending the rich or reducing inequality.
Pakistan is expected to increase the minimum wage to Rs52771, estimated as the living income by the Anker Research Institute in its 2021 report for Pakistan. Pakistan will move forward when its 95 percent of its people have “beyond little income” to buy basic household items for daily life. Pakistan will progress when these products are produced locally instead of being imported without thinking. Pakistan will move forward when every worker, formal or informal, regardless of the nature of work or employment, is registered under the EOBI and has a health card. Pakistan will progress when parasites like the EOBI and labor departments are replaced with digital databases linked to NADRA to monitor the salary and EOBI of every citizen with a CNIC. Poverty eradication must start from the bottom – starting with those who enter the sewers to clear the choked excrement with their bare hands.
Posted in The Express Tribune, December 25e, 2021.
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