Couple of days ago I was confronted by an alarming fact. Sitting amongst a group of housewives – three of them told me that every month they convert their pin money into Dollars, thirty percent of those present! Why? I asked out of surprise as well as interest. One very innocently replied, every year when we go on holiday, I buy myself a handbag and I realized that the value of the Dollar is going up and I am paying more Rupees for it every year. So now I just convert my savings into Dollars each month.
When the front page of leading newspapers in Pakistan declare “Move to stop citizens from taking over $3,000 abroad” or “Forex reserves equivalent to less than one month payment” or “Dollar traded at highest level of Rs 109.20,” it is pointless to get into the morality of whether dollarization is good or bad for the country. The simple fact of the matter is that money is a store of value and it is the governments responsibility to ensure that the rupee continues to remain the medium of exchange by instituting and implementing the correct economic policies.
Since 2008 the Pakistani rupee, which in Feb 2008 was around 62.50, has been on sale and by now its price has decreased by a whopping 75 percent! In a country where
the ‘sale season’ usually involves reducing prices by a measly 5-10 percent, I am surprised that there has not been more headline news over this particular item. No-one has come out on the streets to strike, close down markets, burn tyres or cars and set alight gas stations, or any other way that Pakistanis usually express their displeasure with what is happening! Not that I condone any of these actions.
While the cynical government and bureaucracy hierarchies will tell you handbags for housewives don’t matter – Yes they are right, but does the cost of petrol not matter – does
the cost of edible oils we use in our daily dishes not matter, does the price of sugar and tea that is imported not matter! Or as one government minister in the previous government put it ‘Sugar is a luxury and we should not use it without thought’. In Pakistan, increasingly, thanks to rising cost of transportation onions, tomatoes and other vegetables are also a luxury and indeed very soon survival of life itself will be a luxury. Recently, the FAO estimated that over 24 percent of the population in Pakistan is severely malnutritioned.
It is no surprise that the housewives of Pakistan are converting Rupees into Dollars. Today for handbags tomorrow for sugar and tea!