By Tayiba Ahmed
DRUMS recently held a quarterly debate on “This House believes that privatization has been a failure in Pakistan” with the Proposition including Dr. Nafisa Shah, Asad Umar and Dr. Aasim Sajjad and the Opposition comprising of Salman Shah, Mifta Ismail and Feisal Naqvi. The debate had a huge turnout, with people occupying every little space available.
The Dean of Gurmani Centre opened up the floor by introducing the speakers and describing the debate structure, which was to be started by one member of the Proposition followed by a member of the Opposition and so on. The debate started with Dr. Nafisa arguing for failure of privatization by giving an example of the Khairpur Textile Mill, which was privatized and all the assets were sold off, leading to the collapse of what she called “a very important industrial unit.” She made a compelling argument against the myths we were told about privatization as an ultimate solution to prosperity, pointing out the failure of their supposed ability to reduce debts and poverty. She ended her part by proposing that “the state recapitalize” and placed heavy emphasis on the lack of proper management as the central issue for public enterprises.
This statement called for a strong opposition member, and such was Mr. Mifta Ismail who opened up his part by engaging the audience and requesting a response to Dr. Nafisa’s statement. Mr. Mifta continued the debate by describing several successes of privatization, for example pointing out that landline phone took a little more than week to install where, previous to privatization, the time period was much longer. He introduced some figures to back up his debate, quoting profit raises in billions – all due to privatization of such enterprises. He ended his debate by raising an excellent point about innovation, or more precisely the lack of innovation in public sectors, favoring such creativity in private enterprises.
After the first round, the floor opened up to questions from the audience, wherein a young lady asked the opposition about privatization of education and the affordability issue that would follow. Mr. Mifta answered this question by proposing a somewhat over-optimistic solution: privatize education, but for the poverty-stricken, allot government funds to complete their education since the “single most important thing for the government is to educate its youth.”
After the applause died down, the second round began with Mr. Asad Umar – deputy of the proposition. An eloquent speaker, he opened up his argument by quoting the decline in market of PTCL after privatization. Similarly, he mentioned many failures of privatization including that of the power sector. He raised a somewhat ideological question towards the end about the underpinnings of privatization. And his answer?
“If our politicians are really thieves then why have they only taken the Steel Mill; why not your country?”
After such a speaker, the floor was handed over to Mr. Salman Shah of the opposition, who began by a brief history lesson about the various politicians and their continued practice of applying privatization. Why continue with privatization if it is a failure? This must mean that it was, and is, a success. After presenting this somewhat vague argument, he continued with criticizing the supposedly “public” enterprises, pointing out that they are actually not public, but run by bureaucrats and politicians. “We should liberate the economy of Pakistan, liberate the youth of Pakistan and create an environment where people can contribute.”
After the second round, the audience was once again engaged in voicing their queries. Four questions later the best speaker of the debate so far, Dr. Aasim Sajjad took the floor and completely turned the tide of this debate. His eloquence, his arguments were all flawless! He brought up the Global Financial Crisis which everyone seemed to have skirted, pointed out that privatization success stories ultimately ran into crisis and ended his part to a loud applause by his suggestion that “If we want to privatize anything, I think we should think about the privatization of our army.”
Mr. Feisal Naqvi was the last speaker of the debate from the opposition, and his focus was on the job security aspect of the public sector. His point of people having a job forever without getting the work done was in fact an excellent point. His closing remark was a plea of awarding jobs to only the deserving.
The two and a half hours went by rapidly in this riveting debate full of animated speakers. The voting results came out to be 164 to 92 in favor of the proposition represented by Dr. Nafisa Shah, Mr. Asad Umar and Dr. Aasim Sajjad.
A big thank you to these debaters, as well as the DRUMS society for hosting this event.
- An interview with Shahrukh Swati, founder Nearpeer - March 5, 2016
- The Great Nearpeer Debate - March 1, 2016
- Politics and Islam in Pakistan: The Structure of Public Reasoning - February 27, 2016