Wednesday, July 27, 2011

India: Democracy or Oligarchy?

Is India an oligarchy controlled by its 55 recently-minted billionaires whose wealth equals one-sixth of their country's GDP?

The answer to this question came when, as part of India's 2G scandal revelations, the Billionaire businessman Mukesh Ambani was quoted as bragging that the ruling Congress Party is "Apni Dukan" (our shop), implying that he owns the ruling party. The scandal also produced evidence of collusion of India's corporate-owned mainstream media in their deliberate attempts to impose a blackout on the whole affair until it was finally broken by the relatively obscure Open magazine.



Here's an excerpt from today's New York Times story that captures the essence of crony capitalism and the rise of Indian oligarchy as being among the world's largest:

"India’s billionaires control a considerably larger share of the national wealth than do the superrich in bigger economies like those of Germany, Britain and Japan. Among the Indian billionaires included on the most recent Forbes rich list, a majority have derived their wealth from land, natural resources or government contracts and licenses, all areas that require support from politicians."

Among India's powerful billionaires, the New York Times story particularly features Gautam Adani whose cozy relationship with Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has made him the tenth richest man in India. It says that "Mr. Adani has benefited from various governmental approvals and also bought coastal land from the Gujarat government at very low prices — in one instance paying as little as $540 an acre. Once he completed infrastructure, Mr. Adani sold land at a handsome profit to corporations locating inside the economic zone, including one parcel to Indian Oil Corporation, a state-owned firm, for $54,000 an acre."

The New York Times compares India's new billionaires with America's robber barons during the Gilded Age, a period of rapid economic growth which preceded the deep depression of 1893-1897.

The extraordinary power and influence of India's super rich has played out to the detriment of ordinary Indians who make up the world's largest population of poor, hungry, illiterate and sick people. It poses a serious challenge to India's democracy, often claimed as the world's largest, to meet the very basic needs of its people in whose name the rulers supposedly govern the country. It also raises the specter of significant social strife which could spark a bloody revolution shaking the Indian society to its core.

Back in 1988, Pakistani economist Dr. Mahbub ul Haq said that "our system has all the worst features of oligarchy and democracy put together." It now appears that India's system today is not much better than Pakistan's which has less inequality between the rich and the poor.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

India's 2G Scandal

Bloody Revolution in India?

Is There a Threat of Oligarchy in India?

Political Patronage in Pakistan

India at Davos 2011: Story of Corruption and Governance Deficit

Challenges to Indian Democracy

India After 63 Years of Independence

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Perils of Pakistani Politics of Patronage

Pakistan's economy is suffering from stagflation, a very unhealthy combination of very slow growth and high inflation, since 2008. These three years have also seen significant turnover in the nation's top economic management team.

Pakistan is now on its third finance minister, Dr. Hafeez Shaikh, in three years. Mr. Shahid Kardar, the third central bank governor since 2008, has just quit amid serious policy differences with the PPP-led government. Kardar is the second central bank governor to leave in just over a year and the third senior policymaker to quit in less than 18 months. During this period, the IMF has also suspended its loans to Pakistan on concerns about lack of progress on budget deficit reductions through revenue enhancements committed by the government in 2008.

"Differences of opinion on policy actions and on the implementation of certain directions that I, in my best judgment, did not consider to be judicious have compelled me to resign from office," Kardar told Reuters in response to questions about the reason for his resignation less than a year after he was appointed.

"Such differences are impeding the State Bank from discharging its mandate to safeguard its own integrity and autonomy, to ensure prudent conduct of monetary policy and to maintain the safety and stability of the banking system."

In simple terms, the biggest problem Mr. Kardar had with the government was sustained and excessive borrowing from the central bank to fill the large gap between revenue and spending. This has fueled inflation, and made a mockery of the central bankers' tight monetary policy. Rather than accept the advice of his own team of experts, it seems that President Zardari has essentially been following his own economic policy of "print the notes", a quote attributed to Mr. Zardari by the New York Times in a 2008 story.

In February 2010, there were rumors that the ruling PPP politicians, particularly President Zardari and his inner circle, ignored former Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin's key recommendations to address the acute power shortages in the country. Zardari's insistence on pushing rental power projects, rather than fix the huge circular debt problem in the energy sector first, specially frustrated the outgoing finance chief, when he first reportedly threatened to quit 2009.

To put it all in perspective, let's recall how late Dr. Mahbub ul-Haq, the renowned Pakistani economist who is credited with the idea of UNDP's human development index (HDI), explained the corrosive impact of political patronage on economic policy in Pakistan.

In a 10/12/1988 interview with Professor Anatol Lieven of King's College and quoted in a recent book "Pakistan-A Hard Country", here is what Dr. Haq said:

"Growth in Pakistan has never translated into budgetary security because of the way our political system works. We could be collecting twice as much in revenue - even India collects 50% more than we do - and spending the money on infrastructure and education. But agriculture in Pakistan pays no tax because the landed gentry controls politics and therefore has a grip on every government. Businessman are given state loans and then allowed to default on them in return for favors to politicians and parties. Politicians protect corrupt officials so they can both share the proceeds.

And every time a new political government comes in they have to distribute huge amounts of state money and jobs as rewards to politicians who have supported them, and short term populist measures to try to convince the people that their election promises meant something, which leaves nothing for long-term development. As far as development is concerned, our system has all the worst features of oligarchy and democracy put together.

That is why only technocratic, non-political governments in Pakistan have ever been able to increase revenues. But they can not stay in power for long because they have no political support...For the same reason we have not been able to deregulate the economy as much as I wanted, despite seven years of trying, because the politicians and officials both like the system Bhutto (Late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) put in place. It suits them both very well, because it gave them lots of lucrative state-sponsored jobs in industry and banking to take for themselves or distribute to their relatives and supporters."


To summarize, there is insufficient revenue collected by the state of Pakistan, and the diversion of this very limited revenue to political patronage fosters dependence on foreign aid and impinges on the nation's sovereignty. It also seriously harms Pakistan's ability to invest in education, health care and infrastructure development in terms of school and hospital buildings, roads, rails, and water and energy projects for Pakistan's future.

Discussing the politics of patronage in Pakistan, Professor Lieven, the author of "Pakistan-A Hard Country", sees a silver lining to it by describing the difference between Nigeria and Pakistan in the following words:

"Rather than being eaten by a pride of lions, or even torn apart by a flock of vultures, the fate of Pakistan's national resources more closely resembles being nibbled away by a horde of mice (and the occasional large rat). The effect on the resources, and on the state's ability to do things, are just the same, but more of the results are plowed back into the society, rather than making their way straight to bank accounts in the West. This is an important difference between Pakistan and Nigeria, for example."


I personally see no better explanation for the boom under President Musharraf in 2000-2007, followed by current economic crisis since 2008, than the prevailing system of political patronage continuing to trump good public policy almost 23 years after late Dr. Mehboob ul Haq described it so well.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan's Tax Evasion Fosters Aid Dependence

Finance Minister Shaukat Tarin Resigns

Musharraf's Legacy

US Fears Aid Will Feed Graft in Pakistan

Pakistan Swallows IMF's Bitter Medicine

Shaukat Aziz's Economic Legacy

Power and Patronage in Pakistan

Pakistan's Energy Crisis

Karachi Tops Mumbai in Stock Performance

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Gigawatt of Wind Energy in Pakistan

Pakistan is prepared to approve a Norwegian company’s plan to build a 150-megawatt wind farm, the first part of a $1 billion plan that could boost by a third the announced capacity for clean-energy power plants, according to Bloomberg News. Joar Viken, the CEO of NBT, a Norwegian company focused on building wind farms in China, Norway and Pakistan, said he plans to tap financing for his project from one of three Chinese turbine makers that his company is talking with about supplying machinery for the facilities in Pakistan.

Wind Farm at Jhimpir, Sindh, Pakistan


Pakistan has about 1000 MW of wind power plants at various stages of planning and construction, and another 498.5 megawatts of wind programs announced, mostly in Jhimpir, Gharo, Keti Bandar and Port Qasim wind corridors along the Arabian Sea coast in Sindh. The output from these plants will provide much-needed additional power for Pakistan, improve the country’s energy security, and lower reliance on natural gas and furnace oil. It is estimated that the Gharo to Keti Bandar corridor alone could produce between 40,000 and 50,000 megawatts of electricity, says Ms. Miriam Katz of Environmental Peace Review who has studied and written about alternative energy potential in South Asia.

Other major wind energy projects in Pakistan include American AES Corporation's 150 MW farm, Turkey's Zorlu Enerji Electrik Uretim's 56 MW farm, and Pakistan's FFC Energy's 50 MW farm.



Pakistan is fortunate to have something many other countries do not, which are high wind speeds near major population centers, according to data published by Ms. Katz .

Near Islamabad, the wind speed is anywhere from 6.2 to 7.4 meters per second (between 13.8 and 16.5 miles per hour). Near Karachi, the range is between 6.2 and 6.9 (between 13.8 and 15.4 miles per hour).

In Balochistan and Sindh provinces, sufficient wind exists to power every coastal village in the country. There also exists a corridor between Gharo and Keti Bandar that alone could produce between 40,000 and 50,000 megawatts of electricity, says Ms. Katz who has studied and written about alternative energy potential in South Asia. Given this surplus potential, Pakistan has much to offer Asia with regards to wind energy. In recent years, the government has completed several projects to demonstrate that wind energy is viable in the country. In Mirpur Sakro, 85 micro turbines have been installed to power 356 homes. In Kund Malir, 40 turbines have been installed, which power 111 homes. The Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) has also acquired 18,000 acres for building wind farms.

In addition to high wind speeds near major centers as well as the Gharo and Keti Bandar corridor, Pakistan is also very fortunate to have many rivers and lakes. Wind turbines that are situated in or near water enjoy an uninterrupted flow of wind, which virtually guarantees that power will be available all the time. Within towns and cities, wind speeds can often change quickly due to the presence of buildings and other structures, which can damage wind turbines. In addition, many people do not wish for turbines to be sited near cities because of noise, though these problems are often exaggerated.

Pakistan has a goal to generate at least 5 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2030, according to Pakistan Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB). Last year, 53 percent came from natural gas, 30 percent from oil and the rest from coal, nuclear and hydropower, according to data from BP Plc. The London-based oil company didn’t measure any sources of renewable energy there.



The country’s electricity shortfall reaches as much as 3,628 megawatts per day, according to demand-supply data available on the ministry of power and water website.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistan Launches Wind Farm Projects

Renewable Energy to Solve Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Electrification Rates By Country

Wind Turbine Manufacturing in Pakistan
Pakistan Pursues Hydroelectric Power Projects

Solar Energy for Sunny Pakistan
Wind Power Tariffs in Pakistan

Pakistan's Twin Energy Shortages

Pakistan Council of Renewable Energy Technology

Renewable Energy for Pakistan

Abundant Cheap Electricity From Pakistani Coal

Pakistan Policy on Renewable Technology

Sugarcane Ethanol Project in Pakistan

Community Based Renewable Energy Project in Pakistan

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