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DAWN - Opinion; March 17, 2003

March 17, 2003


Restructuring power sector

By Shahid Kardar

A COMMON refrain in Pakistan today is that the role of the middle class and industry has been reduced to earning enough to pay monthly Wapda bills so that it can stay afloat.

The cost of doing business in Pakistan has been rising, affecting the competitiveness of the domestic industry. In a highly liberalized import tariff regime (thanks to the IMF, the highest rate of customs duty on most finished consumer goods is just 20 per cent) industry continues to be under severe stress simply because of the high cost of energy and fuel controlled by publicly managed corporations. Islamabad summarily dismisses protests about closure of enterprises as complaints of inefficient producers unable to compete in a globalized world.

Without trying to defend inefficient manufacturers, the obvious question that comes to mind is why such logic does not apply to government-owned entities. If prices of all major inputs of the manufacturing sector are administered by government-managed enterprises, how can private industry be expected to neutralize, entirely through its own efforts, the higher cost burden of the operational inefficiencies of these corporations? It is not Islamabad’s attitude that is painful; it is the poor analysis of the problem that is disappointing. Here I propose to take up the issue of the cost of one such input, electricity, the unit price of which industry is one of the highest in the world.

In Pakistan electricity is now being priced well below the cost of service (ignoring for the moment the increase in Wapda’s woes for not being able to pass on the onus of the rising international price of oil) to less affluent domestic consumers (those consuming up to 300 kwh) and farmers — at two-thirds of the average cost per unit (and whose consumption through tubewells can also be overstated because of lack of metering).

These factors, combined with overstaffing in Wapda and the KESC, whose managements not only lack professional skills but are also unable to hold their staff accountable for their inefficiency, failure, negligence of metering, theft of electricity, its misuse by the subsidized consumers (for example, farmers have changed cropping patterns and started cultivating water-intensive crops), lack of any serious attempt to estimate the price elasticity of demand for power and poor collections have resulted in commercial consumers and industry being overcharged to make up for the losses on these accounts.

The transmission and distribution losses on account of outdated equipment, technological backwardness, poor maintenance, inadequate metering, theft and weak collection effort results in such leakages being classified as “technical losses”, at 24 per cent among the highest in the world. This theft is, of course, carried out in collusion with the Wapda/KESC staff, especially in urban areas, by both the well-off and inhabitants of low income settlements and katchi abadis and by both large and small industrial units.

All these issues are well known. But no one has the courage to tackle them, except looking to the honest prosperous consumers to pay their bills on time and help these utilities cross-subsidize inefficiencies, theft and populist tariffs chargeable to farmers and low-consumption households. Theft simply gets underwritten by a tariff increase. This is why Wapda and the KESC oppose consumers buying from others or establishing power facilities of their own. To prevent this from happening, these agencies either charge penal tariffs for using their transmission lines or levy a charge even where their transmission lines are not used.

Until the 1980s the achievement of social goals was driving the creation and maintenance of government-owned enterprises. Government was regarded to be the best owner and provider of services like electricity. Unfortunately, despite taxpayers’ money of around Rs. 200 billion having been diverted over the last five years to keep inefficient public sector corporations alive this attitude persists not just among politicians and bureaucrats but also among some sections of civil society (particularly the community of lawyers, the media, etc.).

The feeling is that since there are so many poor households and farmers, the market would not provide a service to them at prices that they can afford. Hence, the oft repeated argument that the government must continue to own and operate the sector since it alone can support these less privileged segments of society.

The government invited foreign investors to get into power generation. They made investments but with a huge debt component. The lenders understandably wanted to reduce their risk and required an assurance that the money that loans would be fully serviced and on a timely basis. For that they sought the structuring of the power purchase agreements to guarantee a minimum level of sale of power and payments of fixed charges, even if the guaranteed quantities were not purchased, resulting in the transfer of both financial and market risks to the government. The foreign investor literally took no risk.

The guaranteed returns on equity built into the tariff structure were truly excessive. This was in sharp contrast to the market conditions that other private investors faced. For example, there are no guaranteed off-takes in the case of consumer goods or durables. It became a lender and investor requirement in the power sector because there was no market for power and no trading in power. We all remember how attempts to change the agreements affected foreign investor interest in Pakistan, while reneging on existing contracts raised concerns about the enforceability and sanctity of contracts.

For a product or a service which was to be sold in local currency, it was a mistake to guarantee against exchange rate fluctuations. It was also a mistake to invite private producers into the market without allowing for trading and open access to transmission. Trading would have enabled the producer to charge what the market was willing and able to pay. In my view, it was a mistake to invite foreign investment in power generation, when the problem lay with the distribution side of things, although, admittedly, as long as distribution systems are rickety and fault-ridden, foreign investors will be demanding a variety of measures to mitigate their risks.

Part of the reason for the then high level of international interest in power was that, according to the forecast of the International Energy Agency, then, electricity demand in OECD countries had plateaued at a growth rate of three per cent and that two-thirds of the incremental demand would come from developing countries, especially China and India.

So the developed countries were to become suppliers of equipment to the developing ones, while policy reforms in the developing countries were expected to create a market for power equipment and tariff reforms structured in a manner discussed above, making the sale of power equipment a financially viable proposition. Such an agenda automatically gave primacy to opening up of generation to private investment rather than distribution.

The policy reforms for the power sector also proposed the establishment of an independent regulator, Nepra, to promote competition, and thereby, the cost efficiency of service delivery, to check the exploitation of consumers by the agency holding a monopoly position. However, as is known by now, Nepra, as an independent regulator, is not making much of a difference. Instead of promoting competition, its functions are largely confined to the determination and regulation of tariffs, largely because it was established on weak foundations, its role having been reduced to the status of a calculator of tariffs. In the UK there was incentive regulation in place to reduce costs and improve efficiency of operations.

In Pakistan Nepra has adopted a cost plus guaranteed return-based pricing, which is determined at least once a year, providing no incentive to the utility to make improvements. Regulation with cost plus guaranteed return produces high-cost power through excess capacity compared to deregulated situations where competition will produce high-cost power through deficit capacity. Moreover, Nepra determines tariffs on a periodic basis (not even for a year at a time). This creates uncertainty for investors and lenders who would prefer multi-year tariffs so that they can improve their earning prospects.

Part of the problem is that this regulatory authority has been set up while distribution of power is the sole responsibility of the public sector (in the UK the regulator was appointed after privatization) and has been staffed with retired bureaucrats with no expertise or independence; in many cases they have retired from the sector that they are supposed to regulate, resulting in the perpetuation of attitudes and mindsets developed over a life-time of work.

Moreover, Wapda and the KESC resent and resist the institution of a transparent and consultative process of decision-making. The managements of these agencies also prefer a cozy relationship with the government so that there is no pressure from the independent regulator to improve performance. Even donors and the IMF, on whose insistence Nepra was established, themselves do not believe in the need for, and efficacy of, such institutions, since the conditionalities attached to their loans have built-in clauses for tariff revision that require Nepra to merely serve as a rubber-stamping authority.

The baggage of history, investors that jostled for influence, the conflicting roles of different key stakeholders, etc., have all been instrumental in affecting the market and business environment for power. The exercises to restructure Wapda will lead to nowhere. The public sector simply cannot be restructured. As someone has rightly said, “you cannot change a mule into a zebra by painting stripes on it”. There is an urgent need to invite the private sector in the distribution system in which competitive bids could be invited on tariff ceilings, efficiency improvements and reduction in distribution losses.

The writer is former finance minister of Punjab.

The motto of ‘Pakistan First’

By Anwer Mooraj

POLITICAL seminars in Karachi are invariably dull affairs, not only because the speakers seldom rise above the usual post-prandial convivialities, but because the speeches are often cliche-ridden and laboriously long. They are also invariably poorly attended, unless, of course, if somebody important like the president or a corps commander is due to make an appearance, and it is important to be seen.

The panel discussion organized by the Helpline Trust last Tuesday, however, was extremely well attended with an audience studded by representatives of various women’s organizations who had come to hear ex-Senator Javed Jabbar, retired general Moinuddin Haider, retired high court judge Shaiq Osmani and Hamid Maker, who is still quite active, speak on ‘Pakistan First. ‘ Federal minister Mahmud Kasuri apparently couldn’t make it because of pressing previous engagements.

After a brief introduction by Hamid Maker whose organization has done good work is raising the political awareness level of the middle and the lower middle classes, the spotlight fell on Javed Jabbar. Never dull or irrelevant, he launched into a strong defence of the establishment in his usual impromptu, off-the-cuff style, and his character analysis of the state, although touching lightly on some endearing fable, was quite remarkable. There was, nevertheless, a bit of oversimplification in the way he projected himself as a true patriot who was unhappy about the fact that people tended to be unfair about their country.

“Take this business about the Taliban,” he pointed out. “Two attempts were made to persuade these people to cooperate. Two delegations were sent by President Musharraf to Mulla Omar. It was only when the meetings bore no fruit that Pakistan was obliged to cooperate with the West.” On the main problem of the Third World, he had this to say. “Pakistan is not alone among the impoverished countries of the world.”

And to substantiate his argument, he threw in an interesting statistic. “19.1 per cent of the population of the United States lives below the poverty line.” He also lashed out at middle class voter apathy which enabled obscurantist groups, which have an abiding grip on the popular imagination, to strengthen their political hold on the people. But in spite of the rhetoric, one got the distinct impression that his peroration was really tongue-in-cheek, fashioned purely for the occasion.

Moinuddin Haider, like all ex-servicemen who have held important positions in the country, predictably took the bourgeois line. He argued that Pakistan had made considerable progress during the last 50 years, and that one has to continue to sacrifice the present for the future. He admitted that he was not proud of the law and order situation and the way justice was meted out in the country, but said progress had been made in other spheres. Today there are 72 ladies in the National Assembly. This was probably intended to suggest that gender equality in Pakistan was finally on its way. He also said that the senseless killing of doctors had stopped.

Conscious of the fact that there was considerable criticism of law and order when he was the minister of the interior, the general made an oblique reference to the United States where robberies and rapes were a daily feature of life. But he cheerfully forgot to add that in America, when they caught a rapist, the punishment was swift and severe, unlike in Pakistan, unless of course, CNN, the BBC, Fox News, Sky News, Al-Jazeera and the television networks of the People’s Republic of China got involved.

However, it must be pointed out in all fairness to Moinuddin Haider that when he was governor of Sindh, and intelligence reports indicated that cars which were lifted from Karachi invariably landed up in Balochistan, where a battery of mechanics went to work on chassis and engine numbers, colours of cars and licence number, he acted like a soldier. He flew to Quetta, had a long meeting with the governor of Balochistan, and a couple of days later the figure for cars lifted dropped from an average of eight a day to one or two.

Shaiq Osmani represented a complete antithesis of the two preceding speakers. “Which Pakistan are we referring to ?’ he asked. ‘The Pakistan of the elite, the privileged and the higher civil and military bureaucracy, or the Pakistan of the kachchi abadis, who for three generations have been deprived of the basic necessities of life like clean drinking water. Or a peasant from the backwaters of Sindh or Punjab whose life has not changed for half a century, or a woman who is gang-raped or traded off for settling some dispute by the decision of a panchayat of local thugs?”

Shaiq Osmani had certainly nicked the collective nerve of the audience among whom were a number of women activists, including Ghinwa Bhutto, MPA Fariha Haroon of the PPP, MPA Fauzia Khan of the Pakistan Muslim League, Dr Shamim Zainuddin Khan who heads a health community project, and Zaro Gulgee who heads an NGO. “Indeed, for this other nation.”

Osmani continued in the same strain, “would it make any difference if Pakistan were to give up its grandiose ideas about pan-Islamism, or the talks about human rights in Palestine or Chechnya. To them, and indeed to most sensible Pakistanis, the slogan ‘Pakistan First’ would only make sense if our rulers, to the exclusion of everything else, take such action on the political and diplomatic plane that would benefit the people of Pakistan at large. Considering that this very policy of ‘Pakistan First’ led the military regime to reverse its well entrenched Afghan and Jihad policy almost overnight, it should not be difficult to do so in the case of our India policy. If the present rulers are not able to do this then the ‘Pakistan First’ slogan of theirs would be as meaningless as the slogans of the previous regimes.”

Question time was largely taken up by a series of monologues, much to the discomfort of the moderator, who had to repeatedly request members of the audience to ask questions and not make political statements. But this is the normal practice at most such seminars and symposia where those who think they have a political message to convey use the opportunity to speak to a captive audience.

A few queries did, however, seep through. “If ‘Pakistan First’ means all Pakistanis are equal under the law, why is it that the government refuses to repatriate the Biharis (from Bangladesh) who are Pakistanis and expel the Afghans who are not?” “If the government is so concerned about eradicating poverty, why don’t the generals and the bureaucrats change their lifestyles?”

As the session came to an end I looked at the Helpline Trust mission statement which had been flashed on the screen throughout the panel discussion. It had a bit of Zen and the stirring qualities of the early Fabians. “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good or any help that I can give to my fellow beings, let me do it now, for I will not pass this way again”

I went to my office, typed a dozen copies, stuck one under the glass on my desk and made a mental note to despatch the rest to people who are in a position to help their less fortunate brethren. It is the very least they can do for people like Hamid Maker who has developed a magnificent obsession for helping others. It’s his way of promoting ‘Pakistan First’.

Relations with Iran

By Ghayoor Ahmed

PAKISTAN-IRAN relations are rooted in their common faith and shared culture and history. Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan after its independence in 1947. Given India’s hostility to it and Afghanistan’s opposition to its very creation and its vote, the only one, against Pakistan’s admission to the UN, Pakistan viewed Iran as its strategic ally and made efforts to strengthen its relations with it.

Unfortunately, during the 1990s, the traditionally strong relationship came under stress because of differences in their policies on Afghanistan and the sectarian violence in Pakistan. Iran also suspected that Pakistan was trying to make inroads into the Central Asian states at its cost. Regrettably, both Pakistan and Iran made no serious effort to check the slide in these relations.

The rivalry between Pakistan and Iran over Afghanistan complicated the situation in that country, as a result of which the strategic and political interests of both suffered immensely. The US intervention in Afghanistan may not have taken place had Pakistan and Iran responded pragmatically to the crisis in that country. Similarly, both of them failed to realize that their interests in the Central Asian states were compatible and not agnostic.

Pakistan tried hard to curb sectarian and religious extremism and made efforts to eradicate this menace from society. However, it could not achieve the desired results partly because of the insidious role of extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide and partly because of India clandestinely sending agents to Pakistan and also using the religious bigots here to foment sectarian violence in an attempt to destabilize Pakistan. It is, however, pertinent to mention that sectarian violence is despised by the overwhelming majority of the people of Pakistan as it casts a slur on their religion, brings a bad name to the country and creates political instability.

It is indeed heartening that the leaders of Pakistan and Iran have now realized the need and urgency of reconciling their differences and are keen to restore mutual trust which, in the past, had been the hallmark of their relationship. In fact, the process of improvement in Iran-Pakistan relations has already begun as is evident from the periodic contacts between the two countries at the highest level. These contacts will not only provide a new focus and direction to their bilateral relations but also help in reducing the gap in their divergent perceptions of regional and international issues.

During the preceding years, Iran’s support to Pakistan on Kashmir has been somewhat erratic. Sometimes it boldly supported Pakistan at international forums and expressed its backing for the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. At others, it adopted a neutral stance which smacked of a tilt in favour of India. Probably the policy-makers in Tehran could not always strike the right balance between justice and expediency.

It is, however, a matter of satisfaction that the president of Iran, Syed Mohammad Khatami, during his recent visit to Pakistan, while bemoaning the long sufferings of the Kashmiris, expressed the hope that Kashmir will attain its rightful status in accordance with the aspirations of its people. President Khatami’s bold and forthright stand on Kashmir, despite his country’s growing multi-dimensional relations with India, needs to be appreciated.

Iran’s foreign policy has entered a new phase, moving from confrontation to conciliation. The winds of changes which have begun to blow have already resulted in normalization of Iran’s relations within the region and beyond, though its relations with the United States remain marred by mutual mistrust. The redeeming feature, however, is that both Iran and the United States are willing to mend the fences. President Khatami has said that Iran is not an enemy of the people of the United States but it believes that their relations should be based on mutual respect, trust and sovereign equality.

The signs of moderation in Iran had encouraged the United States to open contacts with that country. However, Iran’s opposition to the proposed US-led war Iraq which, it believed, tipped the balance in Israel’s favour, annoyed President George W. Bush, who named Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as part of an “axis of evil”. But, this seems to be a momentary pause in the United States’ desire to normalize relations with Iran.

In view of the fast-moving developments in the region and at the global level, it seems desirable for Pakistan to take an initiative to help the process of rapprochement between the US and Iran. Apart from creating a congenial atmosphere in the region, which is vital for its peace and security, this may also strengthen Pakistan’s equations with both Tehran and Washington.

During the last many years, India has made strenuous efforts to improve its relations with Iran and has apparently succeeded in establishing a strategic partnership with it. Pakistan would not normally have been wary of this development. However, India’s track record indicates that it has taken full advantage of its growing intimacy with Iran to jeopardize Pakistan’s bilateral relations with that country.

Iran has repeatedly assured Pakistan that its relations with India would not adversely affect its ties with Islamabad. Given India’s perennial and deep antipathy towards Pakistan, it is however, anybody’s guess if Iran would be able to translate its assurance into reality.

The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan.

War crimes tribunals

TWO recent sentencings by the United Nations war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia demonstrate that, for all its shortcomings, the UN is upholding international laws against the worst mass crimes.

It has put other past and potential mass murderers and their helpers on notice that their manoeuvring room is narrowing.

The Rwanda tribunal, functioning effectively after years of mismanagement, last week sentenced Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, the elderly former head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in western Rwanda, and his son, Gerard, a doctor, to 10 and 25 years in prison, respectively. It was the first time an international tribunal had found a clergyman guilty of genocide, though many Hutu Roman Catholic priests and nuns allegedly collaborated with the militias that murdered about 800,000 people.

The Ntakirutimanas, the court said, led attackers to villages and towns to massacre thousands of Tutsi men, women and children, even transporting the killers themselves.

The elder Ntakirutimana fled to Texas but was extradited in 2000. His son, accused of shooting many victims himself, was captured in Ivory Coast in 1996.

The second sentence, handed down last week by the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was no less significant. Biljana Plavsic, the former Bosnian Serb president, pleaded guilty last December to one count of crimes against humanity. Plavsic, a key associate of Radovan Karadzic, who remains at large, helped the Serbian strongman plan the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims and Croats. Unlike the Ntakirutimanas, she expressed remorse. She received an 11-year sentence. Prosecutors may call her to testify against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, on trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity. She is the most important figure to be sentenced by the national tribunal.

War crimes tribunals are no substitute for rapid UN intervention. In Bosnia and Rwanda, the UN disgraced itself by remaining passive and impotent in the face of massacres. Still, if the recent sentences seem like a small victory compared with the scale of carnage in Rwanda and Bosnia, they demonstrate that the UN can be more than the worthless debating society portrayed by its critics.

The UN is holding perpetrators of genocide accountable. It has successfully turned aside the claims of suspects that they were innocents or merely small cogs.

The Bush administration should keep in mind that possible war crimes trials for Saddam Hussein and his followers will need the credibility of the United Nations. —Los Angeles Times

The disunited nations of the world

By F.S. Aijazuddin

SADDAM Hussein is fortunate that the French, the Germans, the Russians and the Chinese do not speak English. Had they done so, he might have found the English-speaking axis of the United States and the United Kingdom considerably strengthened.

George Bernard Shaw once described England and America as two countries separated by the same language. Today, ironically, it is that very language which unites them both against the rest of the veto-wielding countries in the UN Security Council. It is that very lingua Britannica which both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair use to persuade their English-speaking counterparts to join their beleaguered alliance against Saddam, just as President Chirac woos hesitant ex-colonial Francophones in his own and their mother tongue, French.

Whatever may be the outcome of the conflict that no one outside the United States and Great Britain seems to want but everyone nevertheless expects, Saddam Hussein has in a sense already emerged a victor of sorts, for not only did he survive an attack by President Bush I but he has managed during the present reign of President Bush II to rout his opposition. Alone and without an ally, he has brought about an unprecedented degree of dissension within the United Nations and its Security Council.

Those who are not inimical to him might concede that he has actually succeeded — without firing a single shot — in disarming his foes by the artful stratagem of disarming himself (albeit under UN pressure). He has amassed without any direct canvassing a lobby of support, all located on the European side of the English Channel. Britain and the United States, two nations which, during two world wars led the fight for the liberation of the mainland of Europe from Nazism, now find themselves isolated and on the defensive.

Their chagrin is understandable. More American and British lives have been sacrificed in the defence of Europe than European blood has been shed to protect the British Isles or the Americas. More American and British capital has been invested in the post-war rehabilitation of the European economy than European capital has flowed westwards across the Atlantic. And yet, whenever Europe has been called upon to honour its cheque of gratitude, it has stopped payment.

Britain was the first casualty when, in the 1960s, President de Gaulle vetoed Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community, and now the United States of America finds itself holding a valueless promissory note of failed expectations. American veterans of the Second World War must wonder whether their country might not have been better off had it remained isolationist then, as Europe insists on being now.

Future historians will undoubtedly detect the irony in the present situation. An America that had to be dragged into the First and then the Second World Wars is now the belligerent protagonist, trying to pull a stubborn Europe, reluctant Russia and cautious China into its spat against Saddam Hussein. Winston Churchill’s hope, expressed in a speech at Zurich in September 1946, that ‘we must build a United Nations of Europe’ has proved to be over-optimistic, or to use his own expression in a different context, a triumph of hope over experience.

The second Iraq war has not yet begun, and already there is a likelihood of identifiable casualties. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair could be one. Judging by the turnout of the demonstrations in favour of peace, he seems to be at odds with his electorate. Unluckily for him, he has the unenviable task of persuading his countrymen that a war against Iraq is as necessary and justifiable in 2003 as Mrs Thatcher’s equally long-distance defence of the Falkland Islands in 1982.

Other leaders might find themselves weakened by an anti-war sentiment, although none runs the unique risk that Saddam Hussein does of having the most powerful nation in the world wish him dead. As cunning, as devious, as foxy, Saddam Hussein might well prove like Osama bin Laden (that other bete noire of the Americans) that he has an almost feline capacity of survival, the equivalent of a tenth life.

Leaders of small countries, especially those who find themselves trapped in the maelstrom of the UN Security Council, might emerge less unscathed. If they vote in line with their conscience, they might offend the Americans; if they side with America, they will certainly offend domestic public opinion. In countries like Saudi Arabia and the Arab or other Muslim states neighbouring Iraq, the public’s reaction might not be immediate, but it could be all the more lethal for being delayed.

Pakistan, yet again, finds itself in the wrong place at the wrong time in history. The Indians invaded the eastern wing of the country too far away to be defended. The Russians invaded Afghanistan and Pakistan found itself a frontline state with a ringside seat too hot for comfort. Post-9/11, the Americans retaliated against the Taliban and Pakistan found itself caught again between a superpower and the same hard place.

Now, Pakistan occupies one of the most sensitive seats in international diplomacy — a temporary seat in the UN Security Council during an international crisis. What might have been a comfortable sinecure threatens to become a political migraine.

Which way will Pakistan cast its vote? For the Anglo-American axis, and therefore against domestic public opinion? Against the Americans, and therefore in contradiction to every previous commitment made by President Musharraf to President Bush? Or simply abstain?

The repercussions of siding with the Americans have been debated during the two Afghan wars and demonstrated often enough thereafter. A factor that needs to be recognized, though, is that in effect Pakistan has no choice. It has to vote for action under whatever UN resolution may be finally adopted. It cannot be a party to an extra-UN course of action because Pakistan’s entire case over Kashmir is based on implementation of earlier UN resolutions. It cannot now take a contrary stand to the effect that a UN resolution is not necessary in the case of action against Iraq but it is an imperative in case of Kashmir.

If only we had not declared English a second official language. We could have feigned ignorance.

Man of the Year

AMERICA honours more people than any country in the world. Hotel ballrooms all over the country are booked up for banquets honouring those who have made their mark in life.

One of the groups that is noted for giving out awards is the National Republican Congressional Business Advisory Council. It specializes in recognizing men and women who have done the most for their country.

Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post revealed that the awards are not what people thought they were cracked up to be.

This is how it works. “Mr. Brody, I have good news for you. I am calling on behalf of Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader. You have been chosen Businessman of the Year.”

“Aw shucks. I don’t deserve it. I just do my job. I put on my pants just like everybody else — one leg at a time.”

“We will be holding a banquet for you at the Hyatt Hotel on April 7. Can you be there?”

“With bells on.”

“You will have a reserved seat at the head table for $5,000. Of course, if you want your award announced in the Wall Street Journal, it will only cost an additional $500.

“There will be a two-day seminar, which we would be honoured to have you attend. If you don’t come to the banquet, we will send you your ‘Man of the Year’ plaque for $1,250, plus third class mail charges.”

“I’ll get the money if I have to beg, borrow or steal it. After all, how often does someone like me become Man of the Year?”

“I’ll pass your acceptance on to Congressman DeLay.”

“Is it black tie?”

“Of course. What kind of banquets do you think the Republicans have? I’m sure your friends will want to take tables.”

“I know my lawyer will, my accountant will, and my brother-in-law better.”

“Besides the awards banquet, we would like your input on how the president can fight a war and give us a tax cut and at the same time. If you want to contribute more than $7,000 to us, Congressman DeLay says we can accept it. Now don’t get the idea this is a fund-raiser. We only honour men who deserve it.”

“Will I be expected to make a speech?”

“You can, Mr. Brody, if you buy two tables instead of one.”

“I’m curious. How was I chosen?” “We have a list of potential Successful Businessmen of the Year in our data bank. At least our telemarketing committee does.”

“Am I the only Man of the Year in Washington?”

“You are the only one who lives on Hawthorne Street.”

“I don’t know how to thank Mr. DeLay for the honour.”

“Buy three tables.” —Dawn/Tribune Media Services