The section of the ruling elite currently in power has turned out to be as parasitical as its predecessor. It is merrymaking at the expense of the tax payer, totally unconcerned about the plight of the common man who has been forced in sheer desperation to take recourse to measures unheard of before. On Tuesday, three parents were forced to abandon eight children to the mercy of a charity in Karachi. These were not unwanted newborns, but children who had been tended fondly by parents for five to twelve years. They found that it was no more possible for them to look after the childrens' needs. Several incidents of parents selling their children have been reported in the press. There was also the well publicised incident of a mother in Lahore who got herself and her children crushed under a train leaving behind a note that she was forced to commit suicide and take the children with her because she could not feed and educate them. The political leadership has meanwhile continued to live off the fat of the land. It was shaken out of complacency only when it discovered that with the foreign exchange left in the treasury the elite could not import luxury goods for more than two months. Even then there was no talk of ending the luxurious style of living. The government decided to go begging for aid as the ruling elite has done in similar circumstances earlier However such was the trust deficit in the Zardari-headed administration that none of the allies was willing to hand over cash to it. While friends said they were keen to help the country avoid a meltdown, everyone advised the government to knock at the IMF door. The Plan A i.e. recourse to multilateral agencies and Plan B i.e. approaching friendly countries turned out to be non-starters. There were good reasons for the distrust. At times of economic crunch everyone expects the political leadership to make sacrifices. The least they are supposed to do is to cut on luxuries and opt for simple living. The government leaders from common legislators to the president have simply refused to realise this. Days after the new government was sworn in, PPP MPAs who could not be accommodated at the Punjab Assembly Hostel demanded stay at Five Star hotels as a matter of privilege. When Prime Minister Gilani declared that no Cabinet member would use cars above 1300 cc, nobody listened to him. What has the fun being ministers if they could not have Land Cruisers, BMWs and Mercedes'. A visit to the Parliament House's car park during a session would indicate the ruling elite belongs to a highly prosperous country rather than one on the verge of default. Instead of reducing the size of the Cabinet in view of the financial stringency, the country has been burdened with as many as 55 Cabinet members and ministers of state. Of these forty were added a day before Mr Zardari left for Saudi Arabia to seek deferred oil payment and other support on grounds of financial crunch. The delegation from the poor country that he took with him comprised about 200 officials, press reporters and hangers on. The Cabinet has been over-expanded by creating new portfolios to oblige miniscule groups like PML-F and individuals like Israrullah Zehri and Hamid Saeed Kazmi. Besides the Cabinet members there are also 'advisers' with the status of a minister, the latest addition being Dr Shahid Masood. Then there are cronies appointed roving ambassadors. The IMF has agreed to help but wants in return sacrifices that include reduction in defence spendings, agricultural tax as well as tax on income derived from the share market and real estate transactions. It also wants polices that would cut development expenditure, lead to the contraction of business activity and end subsidy on fertiliser. While the government does not mind carrying out orders that have a negative impact on the life of the man in the street, it is unwilling to put burden on powerful lobbies. It was straightaway maintained that defence expenditure could not be reduced. A large section of the ruling elite comprises big landlords who are unwilling to pay income tax. There is an across the board consensus among parliamentarians to resist the measure. The powerful land mafia and equally strong share market manipulators are not willing to be taxed either. Whatever fiscal discipline is going to be imposed by those unwilling to live within their means would be due to the pressure of the IMF. The government would have improved its image if it had voluntarily cut down expenses and its leaders had opted for a simple living style soon after taking over power. But this was against the grain of Pakistan's ruling elite. E-mail: azizuddin@nation.com.pk