Like most other things, our leaders have not been able to determine the kind of economic system that can optimise the potential of our people, raise the standard of their living and promote even distribution of wealth. The system we have adopted is capitalism, while our wishes and our thinking lean towards socialism.
Capitalism is an economic system based on the creation of goods, means of production and services purely for profit and capital accumulation in the private ownership.
Capitalism and capitalist economics are generally considered to be the opposite of socialism. In socialism, returns on the means of production accrue to the society at large, goods and services are produced directly for the utility of the public and profit-making figures only as a secondary factor.
In the Western world, capitalism has substituted feudalism that has freed the common people from the shackles of dependence that borders on slavery in several regions of our country. In our system, feudalism exists, prospers and complements capitalism. The common people remain under the grip of the mighty feudal that provides them protection from the police, revenue collectors and the courts. Their personal well being, health and education is of no one’s concern.
The corporate capitalism in a free or mixed market economy dominates the hierarchical and bureaucratic corporations. Capitalists along with feudals control the economy, which eventually controls the politics. The only roles that the poor play in our politics are to cast their vote and be herded to public meetings. There is no way the poor stand a chance to lead politics. Only the landed gentry and the capitalist possess the clout and the resources to get elected to the Assemblies. Subsequently, they utilise the privilege unscrupulously to serve their personal interests that may not necessarily coincide with the interests of the state. The poor voter and their problems have to wait for their attention until the time of next elections.
In our most recent history of the democratic rule of last five years, there have been numerous instances where cases have been highlighted by the media in which political influence has been used to unduly benefit a few as against the larger interest of the nation.
The likes of rental power fiasco, Haj scam, hefty commissions in purchase of locomotives and aircrafts and inflated licences for drugs that exceeded the domestic medical requirement are often talked about. But among the real issues of human sufferings that affect the rural population are schools that have no water or shade, lifesaving medicines not being made readily available due to the monopoly of importers, children and adults being administered outdated or contaminated vaccines, etc.
The case of large-scale production of interferon, the only therapeutic drug against Hepatitis B&C, is a prime example of how the capitalist cartel protects their financial interests at the cost of human lives. A group of government employed researchers developed products of national economic importance and public utility, and 100,000 injections of 3 MIU interferon were prepared in 2008. However, the permission to undertake human clinical trials was hindered by corporate manufactures, working allegedly in league with the government officials.
The injections produced locally at a fraction of the cost of imported injections could not progress towards marketing and commercial production, resulting in their expiry in 2010. A stock of nine to ten grams of highly purified interferon also decayed. Not only a substantial loss was incurred, but numerous hepatitis patients that could have been cured remained untreated. By bureaucratic manoeuvring, the work group was also disintegrated. Serious unverified and unproved allegations of embezzlement of government funds were made against the scientists. Propaganda was also made to create doubts among the welfare organisations about the quality of locally produced interferon. A venture likely to produce extremely helpful medicine at considerably lower cost was pushed to cold storage.
Hepatitis is high in poor people for whom treatment costs are unaffordable. Pakistan imports over Rs 2.5 billion worth of interferon. The locally produced interferon injection of 3 MIU dose would cost Rs 50 and peg-interferon injection Rs 2,000 that is considerably lower than the cost of the imported product. The Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology established under Ministry of Science and Technology possess the expertise to produce this and several other products for the needs of the poor. It is a self-sustaining unit that is equipped with state-of-the-art facility; the job should be left to the competent scientists that developed these programmes.
The overseas Pakistani scientists attached with or aware of this innovative research programme continued to pursue the government for not abandoning the production of interferon and relevant research and development work. The twin Centre of Molecular Biology in Lahore has published over 200 research papers. It houses some of the best facilities in certain specialised areas such as DNA squeezing and its research has yielded products and processes of national importance in the agriculture and health centres.
Nations have developed not by hard labour, but by innovation and research. The few institutions that have developed core of researchers in our country are not provided the encouragement and incentives they deserve. Instead they become the victims of political, bureaucratic and corporate victimisation.
The matter eventually caught the attention of the Public Accounts Committee that appointed a sub-committee, MNA Yasmin Rehman as its Chairperson and other eminent persons as its members. The probe proved the charges of embezzlement against the scientists unfounded and the committee is endeavouring to revive the lost programme. Our nation, society and systems survive solely by the presence of such few good men and women.