THE shutdown of almost 500 small and medium enterprise units involved in the manufacture of surgical instruments in Sialkot is another reminder of who pays the real price of power outages. Small and medium enterprise owners are almost always at the forefront of protests against loadshedding, whether against gas or electricity shortage, in all cities from Faisalabad to Gujranwala to Sialkot. The surgical instruments sector, which is located entirely in Sialkot and relies heavily on outsourcing its work to small manufacturers, may not be a giant in the econo-mic field. It brings in somewhere around half a billion dollars in export earnings, and no data is available on its revenue contribution. As such, they have a hard time competing for attention with other sectors, such as textile processing, that are able to leverage their story far more effectively in the media by virtue of their size and volume of exports.
But sectors such as the Sialkot surgical instruments’ manufacturers are crucially important because a large part of our economy consists precisely of these fragmented small and medium enterprises held together by cooperative outsourcing arrangements. Whether it is ceramics in Gujranwala, or weaving in Faisalabad or ginning in Rahim Yar Khan, our economy and its employment capacity depends in very important ways on clusters of small and medium enterprises whose ability to buy their way out of national crises is very limited. The Sialkot cluster in question, for instance, employs more than 500,000 people, and about 200,000 of them have been rendered jobless due to shutdowns brought on by loadshedding. Since surgical instruments depends largely on exports, their capacity to wait out the difficulties is also limited, and a foreign buyer lost today is very hard to bring back tomorrow. The voice of the Sialkot surgical instruments’ business leaders must not fall on deaf ears, and the impact of loadshedding on other small and medium enterprises across Pakistan should be a sobering reminder of the true cost of the power crisis.