In Pakistan, for greater part of the year we are on leave from work. It is either a National Day or a Public Holiday. Or, it may just be a Regional Holiday to observe a ‘Festival of Kites’.
And then, there are 104-plus Saturdays and Sundays when the government offices remain closed. And often holiday spells are longer than justified as it was this past Eidul Fitr when holidays which lasted five days, an improvement of almost 100 percent over last year.
How quickly one restarts work in full-gear is a moot point. But it is the man-days lost that really matter. Last year, the country lost exports worth around 356 million dollars due to that long holiday, says APTMA Chairman S M Tanveer. As Pakistan remained cut-off from rest of the world throughout that long period, he says, all kinds of export and manufacturing activities were stopped.
Obviously, there is every reason for the business community to be greatly perturbed over this trend, that has called upon the government to rationalise the number of holidays in line with genuine occasions – unlike this Eid holiday spell that is perceived to have been extended just to escape public anger over power loadshedding and accommodate the babus in Islamabad and our top political leadership to spend Eid with their kith and kin who reside abroad.
But, as electric power was transferred to domestic users the industrial production and export schedules were adversely affected. And when the external flows slow down meeting the fiscal-deficit targets becomes problematic. And how come what the government gives by one hand to the man in the street by diverting electric power from industry to him it takes away by the other hand by robbing the daily wager of work for the day.
Long time ago when the country didn’t have democracy it had everything else that made Pakistan an ‘Asian Tiger’. Given effective governance, well-thought-out policies and promptly delivered incentives to increase industrial production, resultantly, the country’s economy was on an upward trajectory.
Above all, the number of holidays was limited to the essential, in line with prevalent practice observed by other Muslim and regional countries. That is unfortunately no more the case – much to the exasperation of those who thought under a business-minded Prime Minister the country’s economy should have grown and expanded.
But that is not happening. Former FPCCI Vice President Khalid Tawab thinks, rightly that the government was making ‘important decisions without taking stakeholders into confidence’. Such a long furlough as on this Eid was uncalled for, especially when the industrial sector was already facing myriad difficulties, including high cost of production, a decline in export orders, energy shortages, a fragile law and order and a tough competition in local and international markets.
Perhaps, as another former office-bearer of FPCCI, Zubair Tufail, thinks, the long holiday was ‘just to please government employees’, unmindful of the perception that our bureaucracy is ‘one of the most incompetent and dishonest in the world’. No wonder, according to media, on the day following the end of five-day holiday the attendance in government offices was very poor. After all there is something called ‘jetlag’.
Apparently, the decision to spread Eid holidays over five days was political in nature, more as an appeasement sop to the public than a considered, rational move. The principal stakeholders in this case are business and industrial sectors, for they take the main brunt of closedowns when power supply is snapped and workers go home.
It is therefore in the fitness of things that representatives of industry and business are taken on board while deciding the timings and spans of holidays. Yes, unlike a number of other Muslim countries where yearly holiday calendar including religious days is set in advance, in Pakistan it is moon-sighting that sets dates for the Eid and other religious holidays.
But that too doesn’t require an additional one day holiday as we had it on last Tuesday. S M Muneer of Korangi Association of Trade and Industry (KATI) is spot on when he argues that Pakistan must curtail the number of holidays, as is done by countries like Malaysia, China and Turkey.