Saturday, May 30, 2009

Open Letter to President Obama

Open Letter to President Obama

President Barak Obama,

Please allow me to open by thanking you for your exemplary leadership and services to our nation.

However, a lot of work remain to be done. We still need to take lead in assisting nations like Pakistan where 60 years latter, democracy has yet to find a firm foothold. Besides, numerous military takeovers and wave of religious extremism, rampant corruption is the primary reason for its instability. Paradoxically, while it’s ordinary citizens are inching ever closer to destitution, its leadership is becoming even wealthier. By smuggleing billions of dollars of public funds to secret overseas accounts, the elite have built financial empires abroad.

Mr. President, no amount of financial aid or blind support of the Pakistani rulers will turn its fortunes for the best. If we are serious about helping Pakistan then we will have to force them to become fiscally responsible. Towards that goal, demanding transparency and accountability could be a prudent opening step. Since we pour billions of dollars in Pakistan, we should require its President, Prime Minister and rest of the parliamentary members to publicly declare their total assets, both domestic and abroad.

To this day nobody knows the nature of assets of President Zardari. The Western media puts his assets’ worth at minimum of $1.5 billion. For 3 years Zardari lived in his 2,800 sq. ft multi-million dollar luxury apartment in the upper East Manhattan. Though during his last official visit to the U.S., he stayed in the $6,000 per night Presidential Suite at the Roosevelt Hotel. The 3,900 sq. ft suite has 4 bedrooms, a kitchen, formal living and dining areas, and a wrap-around terrace. In addition, he stayed in a $5,000 per night room at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel in Washington.

When millions of Pakistanis are struggling for a single meal; for the life of me, I fail to understand how Zardari could have stayed in a $5,000 per night luxury suite, paid for by public (foreign) funds? If such actions are not unconscionable enough, while he was on the official visit to the U.S. with a begging bowl, he was busy with personal affairs, in addition - for example, on May 12, he put up his upper Manhattan for sale. Asking price: a cool $4.5 million.

Even more tax-payers money was wasted on his son and the army of ministers who accompanied him. Media reports allege, his minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and Nazar Gondal were caught indulging in ungentlemanly activities like a bar brawl, and $14,000 in tips were showered on dancers of an Indian dance club, known as ‘Ghunghroo’. Eyewitness even noted the license plate number of the Jeep in which Kaira was whisked away before police arrived at the scene of the brawl.

The question before us is the following: how a president of a country in war, with 1.5 million refugees, on the verge of defaulting, and begging for billions in U.S. taxpayers’ dollars decide to stay in a $6,000 per night suite? Why couldn't he stay in a $600 per night luxury suite available at the same hotel; or even better, why couldn’t he stay in his vacant luxury apartment? On the other hand, ex-President Musharraf packed and moved to London. We still don’t know what he did with the $10 billion we spent in Pakistan, during his era alone. All we know is that Musharraf along with ex-Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz own multi-million mansions near Islamabad in Chuck Shahzad.

Mr. Presidents, if our presidents like you can publicly declare their assets and taxes then why couldn’t the same be expected the Pakistani so-called leadership when we and others fund their actions? In fact, every public official in Pakistan elected or otherwise is expected to declare his (or her) assets. Zardari is taking advantage of an anomaly that this is not specifically stated for the President's office.

Only good governance can bring Pakistan from the brink of failure. Good governance starts from the top; therefore, we should demand transparency and accountability from the top. It should be stipulated that every top elected and unelected Pakistani official declares his/her total assets, before a single penny is earmarked to their constituency or their pet-projects.

Rome wasn’t built in one day; similarly Pakistan will not become a vibrant democracy either with just a money transfer. In my humble opinion, one way to help Pakistan to overcome its challenges is by introducing accountability of its leaders. And what could be better way to introduce accountability then demanding transparency? One of the ways we can push transparency is by requiring the leadership to fully declare their assets in and outside Pakistan.


Adnan Gill


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