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Can We Even Afford VIP Culture?

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Every action and reaction of a person or society has a cost. This cost may be manifest or it might be latent behavior.

Pakistan is paying the costs of the Very Important Person (VIP) culture in one or the other way. To label some people as prestigious or very important has become so common that nobody bothered as to how much we are paying its costs. I could not find official statistics on VIP culture, but we may estimate hypothetically. For instance, we see it on the road on a daily basis. Roads are blocked because a VIP caravan is on the way. Hundreds of vehicles are stopped and waiting as the VIP motorcade is prioritized.

Suppose there are a hundred vehicles ranging from two-wheeled ones to multi-wheelers. On average we can estimate a conservative fuel cost for those stranded vehicles. We can then double the price due to carbon emissions. We also add the rent of the vehicle, as well as the costs of the manpower that is restrained involuntarily on that road. Let us say a minimum of 500 people are waiting for the VIP to pass by.

If we calculate their cost for a minimum of 15 minutes and give a round figure of 100 per person, the cost will be about PKR 50,000. We also add the opportunity cost that a person adds with his/ her exceptional personal capacity or skills that they might have used during this period if permitted. We can also add the cost of the security guards; on average 50 personnel for a motorcade. Moreover, police officers are engaged and alert on the VIP movement route. Vehicle maintenance, fuels, and associated costs can be factored in.

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Thus, on the minimum, a VIP movement costs about PKR 250,000 depending upon the distance and nature of the movement. If we take a minimum of 10 VIP movements in a day and 300 in a month in Islamabad alone, the cost of the VIP movement will cross 7.5 million rupees every month.

Meanwhile, if this money were used in investment, welfare, literacy, technology or another productive activity, it can become a productive resource. It can be used to make the country smarter, safer and more secure.

VIP culture does not have only economic costs, but it has social costs as well. It should be seen as a kind of harmful delusion among elites – both actual ones and those who think they are. If they do not receive their so-called due protocol, they feel insulted. Subordinates believe they have to provide the protocols to the VIP. They feel they are bound to do so otherwise they will be punished. This behavior is entrenched in the social norms and values of Pakistani society. People give respect and honour to the other person depending on their social position (status) or wealth. Unfortunately, this behavior can be observed in every segment of society.

The Government of Pakistan must abolish VIP culture, also because it was part of the PTI’s electoral manifesto. All symbols of VIP culture should be banned. They include but are not limited to the green/yellow/red number plates of vehicles, VIP caravans, security entitlements and immunity to certain office holders without any exception. Abolishing the VIP culture will not only save billions of rupees, but it will give a sense of real freedom, equality and ownership in the country.

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In short, doing away with VIP culture may bridge the gap between state and society.

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