The bureaucratic Olympic creed

First there was the news that Pakistan was sending more officials than athletes to the Olympics: “‘Pakistan contingent will include seven athletes and 17 officials,’ a Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) official told APP.”

and now there is this awesome story about Indian officials behaving badly at the Olympics.   It is aptly titled “India’s Olympians deserve a medal just for putting up with their country’s officials.”  You could probably delete the word Olympians from that title (and replace Indians for India’s) and still have an accurate sentence.

Here are some of the best details:

a. India’s sports minister, Vijay Goel, has been in Rio and has been so rude that he was almost banned from attending events.  Here’s a quote: “‘We have had multiple reports of your Minister for Sports trying to enter accredited areas at venues with unaccredited individuals. When the staff try to explain that this is not allowed, they report that the people with the Minister have become aggressive and rude and sometimes push past our staff.'”  Goel of course was unapologetic and said it was a mere misunderstanding.  Way to represent your country  Mr. Goel.

b. “A nine-member team representing the state of Haryana arrived in Rio ‘to encourage the Haryana players.’ However, the group, led by the state sports minister Anil Vij, has been noticeably absent at key events—even those involving their state’s athletes. Instead they were found sight-seeing and frolicking on Rio’s beaches.”   In addition, many of the Indian delegates flew business class while athletes were relegated to coach.

c. Frugality seemed to be saved only for the athletes, not the officials. Dipa Karmakar, who came in 4th in the vault finals, was not allowed to bring her physiotherapist with her because it was “dubbed wasteful.”  Only when she qualified for the finals did officials react: “the physiotherapist was rushed to Brazil soon after.”  

 

 

Privatization is not for the faint of heart

Pakistan suffers frequent power outages that have a huge negative cost on businesses and general quality of life (story here: “Pakistan utility company fights to power chaotic port megacity“).  Here is why privatization seems like an obvious choice:

1. “Power cuts lasting 12 hours a day or more have devastated Pakistan’s economy. The loss of millions of jobs has fuelled unrest in a nuclear-armed nation already beset by a Taliban insurgency.”

2. “At the state-run Peshawar Electricity Supply Company, the majority of staff are illiterate, most new hires are relatives of existing staff and 37 percent of power generated was stolen.”

In 2008, the government decided to privatize the Karachi Electric Supply Company. The new owners fired about 1/3 of the workers, cut off customers who didn’t pay their electric bills, and cracked down on people illegally tapping into the electric system.

The response was quite telling.  First, in a sign of how dysfunctional things were before privatization, fired workers offered to work for free because of the profitability of holding the post.  Apparently they don’t know much about efficiency wages.  Management told them no way, so they “camped outside the building for months” and more than “200 actual employees (who were forced to cross picket lines every day) were injured.”
Second, the new boss came under fire (literally) at his home.  Legislators tried to have him arrested for “not attending sub-committee meetings in the capital.” What in the world can these sub-committee meetings be and how could non-attendance be a jail-able offense? They sound instead like a huge waste of time and bureaucratic idiocy.
Third, the wealthy were offended that they might have to start paying for electricity.  In my favorite quote of the story, one wealthy man said “he couldn’t possibly start paying because his colleagues would think he had no influence left.” How would anyone know that he started paying?
Fourth, cracking down on illegal connections is dangerous business.  The mafia controls these connections and utility staff that take them down are often attacked.  Apparently 10 workers were taken hostage because of this last month. And some areas are too dangerous for workers to even enter: “Some slums are held by the Taliban or gangs, and KESC staff can’t even enter. They are experimenting with licensing powerful local businessmen to collect bills and cut off non-payers.”
Despite all of this, privatization actually seems to be working:

Last year the company made its first profit in 17 years. Theft has fallen by 9 percent in four years. Half the city, including two industrial zones, does not have daily power cuts.”

Perhaps the experience in Karachi will convince other cities of the benefits of privatization, although clearly buying and operating these utilities isn’t for the faint of heart.