Pakistanis are one of the most generous peoples of the world and many go out of their way to share what little they have with relatives, friends, and even strangers. Miserliness is culturally reproached as it is condemned in their religion. Despite these noteworthy qualities, Pakistanis have little respect for public property, that is, the natural and human-made properties accessible to all members of the society. Unfortunately, the people of Pakistan trash parks, roads, rivers, lakes, beaches, forests, government buildings; they also steal from public utilities, such as Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA), Pakistan Railways (PR), and Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). This lack of respect for public property reinforces corruption that runs through every artery of the Pakistani economy. Politicians, bureaucrats, retired army officers, and even ordinary persons, all are inclined to misuse and misappropriate public properties one way or the other. As a result, public properties are grimy, unkempt, dysfunctional, inefficient, and furrowed with pandemic greed and self-interest.
In 2012, Pakistan scored a meager 27 points out of 100 in the Corruption Perceptions Index, trailing many Muslim and regional nations. Unless the cultural habit of trashing and pilfering public property is transformed, Pakistan will remain a mucky, problematic, and poorly managed country. Without cultivating genuine respect for public property, no form of democracy and no economic planning, no matter how sound in theory, will succeed in solving the shortage of energy, water, and other chronic problems associated with Pakistan's public properties.
Trashing Public Property
While most Pakistanis maintain their individual houses studiously, they turn around and trash public property without any guilt or mercy. Throwing the household garbage out on the street is still the popular method that the people use in many neighborhoods, a practice that poses serious health risks. Trash in the form of garbage, plastic bags, hospital waste, and raw sewage befouls roads, parks, rivers, and other public spaces. While waste generation is on the rise, waste management is non-existent in most towns and villages. Poorly designed waste management systems frequently break down in big cities including Lahore and Karachi.
The people, showing utter disrespect for public property, adopt non-cooperative behaviors that undermine garbage disposal systems. Municipalities employ thoughtless methods for waste collection. It is common to see uncovered garbage trucks and trolleys, littering streets as much as collecting litter, eventually causing outbreaks of cholera and malaria. The practice of burning garbage in open spaces produces toxic gasses that pollute the environment. Every year, Pakistan produces thousands of engineers and even exports them to foreign countries. Yet, no credible effort goes into designing waste management systems that would effectively collect and dispose of household and industrial garbage. Incompetence and indifference wreck public properties seething with foul odors, flies, and insects, ravaging public health.
Pilfering Public Property
Much more than trashing, pilfering public property is Pakistan's chronic social behavior. Misappropriating, embezzling, and outright stealing public property define the national character of this nation comprised of, ironically, religiously conservative people. Take electricity, an asset placed in the public sector. Electricity worth millions of dollars is stolen each year because a powerful mafia sponsors the electricity theft. The PR and the PIA, the two transportation giants in the public sector, are the prime examples of theft and corruption. Politicians and bureaucrats who negotiate locomotive and aircraft deals take kickbacks and end up buying faulty equipment requiring expensive maintenance costs. Locomotives and aircrafts frequently break down causing delays and cancellations of trains and flights. The President of Pakistan, notorious for taking kickbacks and known in the whole world as Mr. Ten Percent, captures the moral tragedy of a nation that can trust no one in power to protect public properties from thieves.
Kleptomania is not confined to the ruling elites. Even ordinary people pilfer public property. The people steal iron bars, bricks, and even concrete blocks laid in bridges, roadways, and waterways. The theft of drain and sewer manhole covers is a common criminal activity. In Islamabad, the nation's capital, young and old thieves armed with hammers and crowbars come out at night, break open the iron covers sealed with cement, and sell them the next day in the scrap market. The uncovered manholes located in the middle of roads and sidewalks trap motor vehicles and pedestrians, causing injury and death.
Of all ills, tax theft is the most significant factor that undermines Pakistan's fragile economy. First, very few people pay taxes including income tax, sales tax, excise duty, or customs duty. The rich and the powerful find legal and illegal ways for tax avoidance and tax exemptions. The lawmakers themselves rarely file tax returns, even though most of them are wealthy. Second, revenue officers take bribes to unlawfully lower taxpayers' liability. In every revenue department, businesses and individuals find illegal ways to evade or reduce taxes. No taxation without representation, a political slogan of the American Revolution, is well known in Pakistan. However, Pakistan has yet to learn a more fundamental concept that a nation without taxation disintegrates.
The people of Pakistan need to understand that no nation can survive, let alone thrive, unless its people safeguard public property. Political and religious leaders, the media, teachers in schools and universities, and parents, all have first to teach themselves and then to others that public property, be it rivers, lakes, beaches, roads, railways, airlines, or utilities, is a sacred trust that one generation passes to the next, preferably with improvements. When public property is trashed and pilfered, the people are deprived of essential services critical for living a normal life and raising families. And in this process of trashing and thieving the nation loses its moral character.