Eyewash most foul

Published July 16, 2021
The writer is a journalist.
The writer is a journalist.

LIFE is full of little ironies — or, if you prefer, outright farce.

A friend was recently at a lunch hosted by an industrialist celebrating his purchase of an Audi e-tron, the luxury all-electric SUV that is all the rage amongst the country’s elites. The guests included a liberal sprinkling of business tycoons, industrialists, stock market players, bankers, etc.

The topic being bemoaned was that the Sindh government had just increased the minimum wage.

This was unfortunate, the diners agreed sagely, because not only would it eat into the profit margins of the said tycoons who had to deal with an unqualified labour force, but also the person working for their concern hardly deserved the increase for reasons of being unskilled, uneducated and ‘difficult’.

There’s the rich getting richer, all in the name of a good cause.

Hours before the provincial budget was to be introduced in the Sindh Assembly last month, government spokesperson Murtaza Wahab, announced (via Twitter) that the cabinet had already approved an increase in minimum wage to Rs25,000 against the centre’s proposal of Rs20,000.

The outrage expressed by the guests had to be heard to be believed, said my in-the-wrong-place friend — but, sadly, it is easy enough to imagine.

The contradictions that exist in Pakistan (though hardly unique) are so stark as to be ludicrously grim. Consider the contrast between this government’s laudable dedication to the environment, and the realities on the ground. Before the recently announced ‘Green Bond’, amongst the steps the PTI loves to pat itself on the back for was the ‘billion-tree tsunami’.

About a fortnight ago, Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted this message: “I want all Pakistanis, esp our youth, to gear up for the biggest tree planting campaign in our history. We have a lot of catching up to do.” This was accompanied by an infographic showing several countries’ trees per capita. I’m sure his information must be correct, though no source was quoted — it seems that the “World has 422 trees per person”, while “Pakistan has [only] 5 trees per person”.

Let’s dispense with the decimals and say this country’s population is 200 million. At five trees per person, basic maths tells us that according to the prime minister’s calculations we currently have a billion trees. So where is the ‘10-billion tree tsunami’ now?

Going back to where we began, EVs (electric vehicles) are without doubt the way of the future. Europe is providing millions of euros in subsidies to the cause; its Eco-Bonus programme aims to slash net emissions to zero by 2050, and stipulates that EVs will replace ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles by 2035 at the latest.

Recently, in Pakistan, the price of the Audi e-tron Quattro 50 decreased from Rs16.2m to Rs13.95m, and the same manufacturer’s e-tron Sportsback from Rs17.7m to Rs15.4m (according to PakWheels) because of a one-year reduction in customs duty on CBU (completely built unit) EVs.

No wonder, then, the celebration! There’s the rich getting richer, all in the name of a good cause. Bravo, PTI.

But now, check out the contradiction: according to Nepra, the national power regulatory authority, during the past year environment-destroying “Coal power generation has increased due to the commencement of the China Hub Power Generation Company [...].” The demand for furnace- oil and gas-based power fell due to the higher cost of production. The rise in the contribution of coal is disproportionate to that of cleaner sources of energy. (Fun fact: as compared to June 2020, by June 2021 the sale of the gas-guzzling Toyota Fortuner SUV had risen by over 200pc, according to the Pakistan Automotive Manufacturers Association.)

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum on which Audi counts as royalty, is the Suzuki, one of the most common vehicle brands in Pakistan because of its (relative) affordability. The company recently announced that in the Finance Bill 2021-22, the government had reduced sales tax and ACD from July 1. Resultantly, the Suzuki Alto AET306 VX is now priced at Rs1,760,000, and in the upper range the Swift is at Rs2,148,000, inclusive of sales tax, and freight charges. (Anyone thinking of mass transit systems, or are the trees going to uprooted eventually for road expansion?)

It would seem, then, that our ruling elites are continuing along their trajectory of a well-meaning but effectively bumbling-through approach.

Let us not, then, go into raptures just yet about the government’s so-called dedication to the environment.

The writer is a journalist.

hajrahmumtaz@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2021

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