According to one estimate, nearly 75 percent of the people of this country live on less than $2 a day. The gap between the rich and the poor is widening as the prices go up. Utilities like gas and electricity are becoming unaffordable even for the shrinking middle class. The Supreme Court(SC) has criticised the cavalier attitude of the government as electric prices go up. Taking suo moto notice of the increase in electricity charges in spite of unprecedented power outages across the country, the court has stayed any further increase until they have decided the issue. World Bank has just reported that prices of electricity in Pakistan are 60 percent higher than those in India and 45 percent higher than in Bangladesh. They have regretted that National Electricity Price Regulatory Authority (NEPRA) is a retirement cushion for superannuating officers. The SC too has berated the arbitrary manner in which NEPRA treats its duties. Besides this, the prices of diesel and petrol have also gone sky high, although they are going down in the international markets. And that has also affected the prices of other goods creating a surge in general inflation. In the absence of a decent mass transit system in the cities, and a corrupt and ineffective regulatory mechanism over the mafia controlled local transport that does exist, public transport fares are too high for daily commuters, mostly domestic servants and other daily workers who are hopelessly cash strapped. Here too the SC has come to the rescue of the consumer and stopped the recently imposed carbon tax on motor fuel. On the other hand, law and order has spun out of control. The government and the media focused on terrorism, street crimes, the bane of everyday life here, are going up. Police resources diverted to VIP protection, roadblocks and other security duties, their capacity to prevent and detect day to day crime has diminished. Killings and kidnapping for ransom, theft and car snatching are becoming frequent in big cities and theft and burglaries remain undetected. At a time like this when the government should be concentrating on law and order and the fallout of IDPs due to the military action in the North, resources are being frittered away in road construction and such other projects without a credible environmental impact assessment (EIA). Obviously, this is so because of a significant margin of corruption in the construction industry. Billions of dollars have come into this country from the US and other donor countries, mostly for adding to its coercive capacity against terrorism. But where is this money going, no one is really clear because the common man remains unable to make both ends meet, constantly short changed in this country by the government. The only area where expenditure is visible on a massively wasteful scale is the government. None of them shows the slightest awareness of how poor this country is and how carefully its resources should be utilised. The government, for example, seems to have a lot of money for foreign tours and top of the line staff cars for the Cabinet and senior officials; but hardly spends on as vital a sector for development as 'education'. A 'public enemy' budget for 2009-10 has just been passed by the Parliament. I'm not an expert but know as a consumer that the prices are shooting up. The PM's secretariat budget has doubled and so has that of the president's secretariat. Why this is happening in the presence of dozens of ministries, most of them white elephants, is incomprehensible, to say the least. An example of where the money is going is the National Assembly that costs the people dearly to maintain. It has 342 members in all. Zia placed five million rupees at the disposal of each MNA ostensibly for development in their constituencies. Increased from time to time, this amount stood at the high figure of 10 million each. But our dapper PM has (post budget) of increased it to 20 million rupees per MNA because, good boys and girls all, they passed the budget unanimously. This is political bribery at its most blatant and yet another answer to where the money is going. And anybody who thinks this amount of Rs 6,840 million will be spent on anything resembling development, needs to have his head examined. Life for most people here will remain squalid. The writer is a former ambassador at large