Speedy justice
This refers to the news report ‘Baba Rehmatay delivers relief to people, says CJP’ (Mar 10). With all due respect, I would like to draw the learned chief justice’s attention to media reports that suggest more than a million cases are pending in courts.
Many of these are cases where the aggrieved parties and their heirs have either died or become old. Before he retires, the CJP should try to ensure that all these cases are heard with immediate effect.
Shakir Lakhani
The News, March 13, 2018

By Shakir Lakhani Published March 12, 2018

When Benjamin Franklin said that nothing is certain in this world except for death and taxes, he should have added inflation to the list of certainties. But perhaps inflation wasn’t much of a problem in those days.
We should not be surprised at the high rate of inflation in Pakistan. For one thing, we are unable or unwilling to bring down the population rate. I can’t understand why the government insists that the birth rate is just above 2%. How can it be when almost everyone in our rural areas has at least six children? Naturally, with an exploding population, inflation has to be high, with demand exceeding supply and more mouths to feed with every passing year.
On the inflation front, the PML-N’s period (2013-18) was not quite as bad as that of the previous government. In fact, the rate of inflation has been much lower in the present government’s tenure whereas there was rampant inflation during the PPP government of 2008-13. According to a recently published news report, prices of all essential commodities increased substantially when the last PPP government was in power. Compared to this, during the present government’s tenure, the rate of inflation has not been so much (except for chicken meat), with prices of some essential items actually being less than when the last government handed over power to the present one. Daal (lentils), for instance, is now available for Rs90 per kg, compared to Rs135 per kg in 2013. The price of another essential commodity (sugar) rose in 2008-13 from Rs25/kg to Rs55/kg, but today it is still available for Rs55/kg. Again, ghee now costs 10% less than it used to in 2013. Similarly, electricity prices rose every year by 25% per month from 2008 to 2013, compared to 8% in the present government’s tenure.
They say that inflation has a lot to do with crude oil prices. But this does not explain why petrol prices in Pakistan increased substantially in the PPP’s reign, despite crude oil prices going down in the same period. When the cost of a barrel of crude oil was $145 (in July 2008) the price of petrol was Rs63 per litre, yet in 2013 it was Rs103 per litre (despite crude oil price being $93-94 per barrel).
Then there is the effect of the exchange rate on inflation. For some reason, during every PPP government, the value of the dollar has always increased against the rupee. The first thing Z A Bhutto did after assuming power in December 1970 was to lower the value of the rupee from Rs4.50 to Rs9.90 against the dollar, with disastrous effect on the economy. During the last government’s tenure, the rupee decreased from Rs68.80 to Rs98.30 to the dollar (a slide of 43%). The present government has been able to contain the slide of the rupee, allowing it to decrease by only 12% in five years (from Rs98.30 to Rs110.50 per dollar).
Of course, the PML-N government has been lucky in that crude oil prices have been lower during its present tenure. But the fact remains, despite high imports as well as low exports (compared to the previous government’s tenure), the rupee has remained stable against the dollar.
If you told the average voter in Punjab that the national debt has soared during the PML-N reign, he would simply shake his head. Even if he is told that every Pakistani now has a debt of Rs94,000 (it was Rs90,000 in 2013), it would not bother him. What he knows is that prices of eatables have not risen as much as they did when Nawaz was not in power.
So, unless something happens in the next few months to cause food prices to soar, the common man, particularly in Punjab, is unlikely to vote for any other party except the PML-N.
Published in the Express Tribune March 12, 2018

When giving your child quality education only costed Rs10

By Shakir Lakhani Published: February 24, 2018
A Pakistani female student writes a sentence on a black board at a government school in Peshawar on October 25, 2012. PHOTO: AFP

During the 1950s, I was studying in a missionary school (St Patrick’s). Many people in position of power have studied from the same school, such as a president, a prime minister, many army officers, government ministers and the famous Indian politician LK Advani. I still remember how the school fee at that time was only Rs10.
But one day, in 1956 or thereabouts, the fee structure was changed. For some boys, the fee remained at Rs10, for some (like my brother and I) it was raised to Rs25, while the rest had to pay Rs37. Even though the school was informed that my father’s income was not enough for him to be able to pay Rs10 per child, they concluded that we were from a middle-class family – perhaps it was assumed so because my brother and I came to school in a second-hand car, while the families considered wealthy had new cars or maybe more than one car – and so had to pay the fee accordingly.
To the children of today, Rs10, 25, 37 or even 100 does not mean much, but in those days, a bank manager’s salary was Rs400 per month and it was sufficient for him and his family to live comfortably. It cost a total of Rs1,500 (including books) for me to get through four years of engineering college and acquire a degree.
It was Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s government that dealt a death blow to education. By indiscriminately nationalising most private schools and colleges (including some which were run by missionaries), he ensured that poor Pakistanis would never be able to get quality education, and only the children of the elite would get reputable jobs.
As the years went by, the standard of education deteriorated so much that it was sometimes very difficult to find a graduate who could write a simple sentence in any language. This was honestly not surprising though, considering that most schools had ghost teachers who turned up only to collect their salaries (as they were party activists who were otherwise unemployable). Men from the rural areas were appointed as school principals, despite not being able to sign their own names!
Private schools were allowed by General Ziaul Haq who also returned some schools to their original owners. But the damage had been done. Even today, those who set up new schools are afraid that some future government will nationalise their schools, which is one reason why the fees in private schools are so high.
The least expensive school today charges Rs1,800 a month, missionary schools Rs6,500, while monthly school fees in most other schools are Rs10,000-20,000. There are some which charge even more (from Rs20,000-117,000) but these are only a few, where the children of our feudal lords, smugglers and tax evaders go to be educated. To get a professional degree requires millions, as a result of which only children from very rich families can become doctors, engineers or graduates with business degrees from quality institutes.
The question then arises, where is a poor man supposed to send his children for quality education?
My driver has nine children, earns Rs20,000 per month and it’s obviously very tough for him to survive and sustain, and provide for his family. His sons study in a madrassa which charges Rs200 per boy, while his daughters, according to him, don’t need any education as they are married off as soon as they attain puberty.
Can you imagine what his sons will do once they leave the madrassa? They will have no technical and lingual skills, so they will not be able to earn enough to support their own families. Most of them will be recruited by religious parties as activists. However, one thing is sure – none of them will be hired as managers, and will have to settle for meager jobs such as that of peons or watchmen, if at all.
What of those who earn Rs35,000 to 40,000 a month and have two or three kids (officers in a banks or commercial organisations)? They would be able to get their children educated in missionary schools (provided their children are admitted there). But knowing the number of applicants desiring to be educated in good schools, it is doubtful if this would be possible.
When men cannot earn enough to survive, they turn to crime. Lack of proper training and education results in unemployment which drives them to resort to committing unlawful activities such as mugging and theft. No wonder we have so many street crimes in our cities!
The situation is hopeless. Even though there have been protests against fee hike, the situation has remained the same. The courts forbade private schools from increasing fees by more than 5%, but then, there are other ways for schools to make money, such as increasing admission fees (which in some cases is one to two lakhs). They can also increase other charges like sports fee – there is nothing to prevent them from extortion and plunder. The government is powerless because there is no law in place which can force private schools and colleges to reduce their fees, while the state has no funds to establish more quality schools and colleges.
Hence, I suggest all schools and colleges reserve 10% of their seats for children from poor families. Draws could be held to determine who would be admitted, and no fee should be charged from such students. This way, at least, some children from poor families would have an equal chance at educations and employment.
Every generation has certain responsibilities towards the next generation, and education being a vital foundation is one of them. If we cannot even provide basic necessities such as quality education and create a fair and equal environment for our children, why bother with bigger things and better opportunities?



Shakir Lakhani

Engineer, former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. Loves writing, and (in the opinion of most of those who know him), mentally unbalanced. He tweets @shakirlakhani (twitter.com/shakirlakhani)