Will the political elite please stand up?

Published: August 20, 2010

Are politicians willing to spend cash in the face of disaster?

While the world’s rich dole out money to help Pakistan’s flood victims, our own rich political elite have refuse to budge.

By now we should have seen members of the ruling elite buying tents, building shelters and providing gallons of clean drinking water to the homeless millions. But in every flooded district of the country, all you will find are Pakistani civilians and military volunteers – not politicians.

This is a lesson for the Pakistani nation. Compare the generous response to a nation wide campaign in Saudi Arabia to raise funds for the victims of floods to the reaction of the Pakistani elite:

What happened in Saudi Arabia?

On August 17, 2010, the first day of the Saudi campaign:

–         King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz Al Saud, donated $5.3 million of his private funds to victims

–         Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdelzziz Al Saud gave $2.7 million of his own for the cause

–         Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdelaziz Al Saud gave two million Saudi riyals

–         Governor of Tabouk donated 1 million Saudi Riyals

–         Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdelaziz Al Saud gave 10 million Saudi riyals

–         Businessman Eesa bin Mohammad al Eesa, president of the Samba Financial Group, donated two million Saudi riyals

Let us also not forget the sight of Saudi women visiting public aid collection camps in different Saudis cities, photographed by the international media donating their jewellery to King Abdullah’s campaign.

What happened in Pakistan?

Leaders in Pakistan, on the other hand, behaved a little differently:

–         Pakistani president Asif Zardari (considered a billionaire in terms of dollars by some) has reportedly donated Rs5 million to a fund named after his son and daughter – and only Rs1 million to the government fund. This is less than what he might have spent wandering in France and Britain earlier this month.

–         Shockingly, PPP is trying to get large companies to donate relief money into party funds. This means that the party is quietly trying to direct aid money to private funds rather than relief funds run by the government or the Pakistani military. The ruling party is reported to have convened a meeting in business hub Karachi where leading businessmen were asked to donate to a ‘Bakhtawar Fund’, named after the president’s elder daughter. The meeting was chaired by the president’s sister, Senator Faryal Talpur. But she also failed to get a pledge for a single rupee from the attending businessmen.

–         The Sharif family has donated Rs10 million, which is peanuts compared to what the family could have donated. Not to mention the fact that no one knows how this amount will be spent. Pakistanis are yet to see any member of the Sharif clan seeing off trucks carrying relief goods or opening clean water plants in the affected areas.

–         None of the 1,000 members of the federal and provincial parliaments have been seem in the affected areas helping people or distributing aid. If anything, a few of the shameless politicians were quick to jump in front of visiting TV crews. One, from Sindh, was seen seated in a boat run by the army for the media giving an interview to a leading anchor. The politician pretended he was organizing the rescue operations in Sindh. An unusual situation in Pakistan is that the country’s closed club of political elite monopolizes large chunks of the economy. So these politicians control everything, benefit from inflation, pay no taxes and are under no obligation to donate generously when fellow countrymen are in need.

–         The Pakistan Army donated one day’s salary of its soldiers, who mostly come from poor backfgrounds, for the relief effort. No politician is yet to take a similar step. Remember, we are talking about people who arrive to the federal parliament in expensive, imported, luxury cars, wearing expensive watches and jewelry and looking awash in wealth.

–         The millionaires and billionaires from Pakistan’s business community, unlike the politicians, are donating directly to the victims in the affected areas but refuse to route the money through the coffers of a government run by this political elite.

What have we learned?

While the country reels from a humanitarian tragedy, it is the Pakistani middle class, the Pakistani business class, a few religious charities and the armed forces that have come to the rescue of their fellow countrymen during the disaster. These are the groups that will always step up to help their countrymen.

Pakistan’s politicians, despite being among them the nation’s richest few, will disappeared in a flash during a crisis as they have done now.


Ahmed Quraishi

The author is a journalist and a public policy professional, with government & private sector experience across Pakistan and the Middle East. He tweets @Office_AQPk (twitter.com/Office_AQPk)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.