By Sardar Khan Niazi
Food prices continue to soar higher thanks to the greed displayed by food corporations stubbornly raising prices by taking advantage of inflation. If the current trend holds, prices will remain high even during the month of Ramadan which is nearing.
Economic pressure has begun affecting the ordinary Pakistani’s most essential needs. Forty percent inflation and a debt-ridden economy with no firm political leadership and a self-centered elite have worsened the situation. Traders, particularly importers, corporations, and millers are controlling the supply chain and exploiting inflation.
Why traders will abstain from profiteering for a month when people’s abstinence can bring rich dividends on a daily basis? If the state does not care about public suffering, why will traders? Large firms and corporations are to blame for this exorbitant price as they manipulate prices in various ways.
As a result, not only are the poor being deprived of their right to protein food but ordinary entrepreneurs in the poultry sector are also being driven out of business. What we are witnessing today is astonishing corporate greed on a historic level and the total collapse of any market regulation of the state.
The consumer price inflation for food items in Pakistan was 45.1 percent in February 2023 on a year-on-year basis, the highest in South Asia after Sri Lanka with 54.4 percent, says the World Bank.
The handful of items that were the poor man’s protein is no longer accessible to the poor. The problem is, while prices of essential food items have increased manifold, real income for most people has remained the same as before.
Of course, for the public, inflation statistics are nothing but meaningless humbug, just as those rosy figures about GDP growth and per capita income peddled by politicians. Inflation goes up and down but somehow prices appear as if they have been engineered to go upward.
If you ask the government, it will deflect it by either playing down the problem, citing examples of countries where inflation is higher, or reminding you of its limits and other social protection schemes to help the poor. However, it does not answer the question about the price increases.
The fact is, welfare initiatives cannot be the mainstay of the state’s response to poverty. Nor is its definition of the poor inclusive of all families currently in need of support. There is a vast group of silently suffering middle-class families. They are vulnerable to economic shocks just like the lower middle class.
Sadly, the government’s response to the high inflationary trend that followed the Russia-Ukraine war a year ago, or the economic pain due to the pandemic, leaves a lot to be desired. The economic fallout of the war has been massive and wide-ranging, but it cannot be used as a crutch when there is so much suffering.
What makes this worse is the fact that so much of the fallout is of the government’s own making, through its poor governance and failure to check corruption. Where’s the initiative to ensure proper market monitoring and interventions? Where is the urgency to raise people’s income level?
This must change. The government must address the cost-of-living crisis, it must also address the profiteering crisis, which is at the heart of the chaos and lawlessness prevailing in the consumer market. It must dismantle the influence of avaricious profiteers and their political backers. A raise in petrol, gas, and electricity bills raises the prices of nearly everything.
With Ramadan just days away, the prices are already insanely high. We need concrete actions, rather than empty rhetoric, to bring them within the purchasing capacity of the poor. The time has come to stop giving excuses and start delivering results.