The financial budget of Pakistan consistently runs in a deficit (by some account close to a double-digit deficit), while periodic external account pressures invariably force successive governments to enter into compromising (on sovereignty) debt agreements with institutions such as the IMF, G-20, FATF, WTO, WB, WHO and others.
Today, in the midst of the twin crises that we face – the COVID-19 pandemic and an imminent meltdown of the Pakistan’s economy – it is imperative that we re-examine some of the foundations of the Pakistani society. We need to understand why they are failing us, and fight for a fairer and more efficient nation. The traits that represent us today seem a far cry from the ones that the Quaid imagined for his Pakistan!
The prime minister tweeted that "Naya Pakistan is Quaid's Pakistan and will ensure that our minorities are treated as equal citizens, unlike what is happening in India."https://t.co/lost0vyKdJ
— Dawn.com (@dawn_com) December 25, 2018
The absurdity and the cruelty of Pakistan’s health care system amid Covid-19 is apparent to all like never before. The state health system is plagued by corruption, lack of transparent management, an in-disciplined bunch of young doctors and paramedics and a case of sheer neglect spanning over decades by now. As tens of millions of Pakistanis are losing their jobs and incomes as a result of the pandemic, many of them are also losing the option to take care of themselves, should they or any of their family members fall sick. That is what happens when health care does not get its due allocation in annual budgets and the right of everyone to basic healthcare is not guaranteed.
As we move forward beyond Covid-19, key legislation that we need to pass should be on mandatory minimum (constitutional) budgetary allocation to health care in future national budgets with a guaranteed right to health care to every man, woman and child in Pakistan – available to people employed or unemployed, at every age. The pandemic has also made clear the ‘irrationality’ and the ‘flaws’ of the current system. “Irrational”, because the health care system in its present form fails to protect the poor or to provide them with adequate medical coverage.
It is true that the COVID-19 virus strikes anyone, anywhere, regardless of income or social status. Prince Charles of Britain has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was only recently released from the hospital. Rich people do indeed get the virus and rich people do also die from it.
It is also true that poor and working-class people are suffering higher rates of sickness and are dying at much higher rates than the affluent – And this despite a skewed testing percentage whereby very few poor are tested in any case in the total number of COVID-19 tests carried out. And, “Flawed”, because both, the quality-of-spend and the output of research from Pakistan, fall amongst the lowest in the region.
Mere legislative changes will not suffice and in order to practically improve, the right management reforms will also need to be brought about to ensure that what is spent is not lost to inefficiency, nepotism or corruption.
In addition, from what we know, that especially to millions of lower-income families not having access to any health care facilities, COVID-19 virus is vicious and ironically rather opportunistic in attacking people with pre-existing conditions and weakened immune systems. For a wide variety of socio-economic reasons, it is the poor and the working class in Pakistan who are at risk of contracting Covid-19, as they suffer higher rates of ailments like stress, depression, blood pressure, diabetes, asthma and heart diseases. Since the data we have is limited and the testing is fairly narrow-based, we do not even know the actual damage that may exist in this category.
Poor people, in general, have lower life expectancies than the affluent, and this tragic unfairness remains even truer with regard to this pandemic. Further, a pandemic situation or not, there are simply some hard realities of life that one has to contend with and there is no escaping them. While doctors, minister and chief ministers tell us that we should isolate ourselves and stay at home, the reality is that most working people do not have such an option.
When you are living paycheck to paycheck, and you lack medical coverage, staying home is not an option. If you are going to feed your family and pay the rent, you have to go to work. And the people for whom it is necessary to earn living on a daily basis, it means leaving your home and to do work that requires them to interact with other people, who may or may not be carrying the virus.
Anyway, having said all this, there is some good news in this horrible period of pandemic and the looming economic collapse that we are experiencing. Amid Covid-19 we’re finally beginning to rethink the basic bedrock of Pakistan’s value system. Should we continue to use the obsolete styles of management and governance that are rife with incompetence, greed, political-opportunism, and conflict-of-interest or should we go forward in a new direction?
The choices we face today are the same choices that perhaps Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew faced back in 1959 or President Franklin D Roosevelt grappled with in the 1930s. Those events must have convinced them that in order to get to a truly developed society, economic rights must be considered human rights. This was true more than 80 years ago and it remains true today. The new Pakistan that we fight for should look inwards, end starvation, ensure basic necessities for all and more importantly, do so by ensuring education and skill development on a war footing in order to become competitive in the global economy.
Furthermore, the country must undertake strong industrialization and construction programs that generate sufficient employment while at the same time end homelessness. At the end of the day, it is the government’s duty to see to it that our communities are free of pollution in our air and water and that we come across as standing with the responsible nations in combating the existential threat of climate change.
For leaders, love and respect comes only from performance and while there is no denying that bringing about fundamental changes in a society and a country tend to be herculean tasks, they at least need to set the direction right. It is now time for us to think ahead and showcase how this pandemic has made us wiser and going forward what can we do differently to change our fortunes, post COVID-19. In Nelson Mandela’s words: “It always seems impossible until it is done. Let’s go to work and get it done.”
Dr. Kamal Monnoo is a political economist. He is an honorary Consul-General of the Czech Republic in Punjab, and a member Board of Governors of Islamabad Policy Research Institute. (IPRI) He is an author of two books ‘A Study of WTO’, and ‘Economic Management in Pakistan.’ He can be reached at: kamal. firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.