Illiteracy meets high finance

In Shikarpur today, the govt handed out prepaid visa cards to ppl who don’t understand them in places where they can’t spend them.

Yes, really. They gave them out. Riots ensued. UBL regional chief clutched his head in despair. Some interesting numbers jumped up out of the whole affair, though not the numbers the card holders wanted:

*Number of ppl who managed to get money out:* Zero.

*Number of shops or anything for that matter in a 45km district accepting cards, or even having telephone lines to connect card machines to:* Zero

(46km to the nearest store accepting visa cards in Sukkur. It’s a seperate issue that their machine doesn’t work and they sell chocolates and pastries, not atta.)

*Number of idp’s who could understand the speech about the cards:* the few who understand Urdu, which is not their language. Informational content of said speech: Close to zero

*Number of flyers distributed, or any other means of transferring information to IDP’s used, at speech location or at any of the camps a stones throw away:* Zero.

Promotional photos: A lot, but not of the most fun part, the riots.

*Number of refugees who now think of this card as a magical touchstone from which will spring forth money for all eternity, or grow forth like the fabled money tree of many fables:* a very large number, which means there are that many hopes and dreams about to be dashed cruelly once they reach the front of the line for the one ATM for tens of thousands of refugees and once UBL stops smashing it’s collective head on a brick wall and gets around to talking Sindhi and filling up this one ATM. Time estimated: infinite, for before anything happens which enables refugees to use their ATM cards, the numerous middlemen waiting in the wings will have bought them for a song.

*Opening hours for this atm:* 9am to 4pm, Monday to Thu. Friday is a half day, and weekends are closed as this ATM is inside UBL’s one and only bank branch.

*Efforts underway to convince IDP’s these cards are useless and they should have them over:* What number do you get when you add all the politicians and govt. bureaucrats up? A hugely negative number, in normal circumstances, but these days it’s a very large number, almost as large as the number of rupees they stand to make from these cards.

*How evil and stupid and idiotic is Visa, for aiding and abetting the govt. in this mad, mad scheme:* In a country populated with companies like Haliburton and Enron, yet another one coming out of the woodwork in it’s true evil colours is no longer a surprise, sadly.

*Number of idiots out there who will think this is a good idea:* Too many. Obviously Visa and it’s shareholders like this idea. Their partner, UBL doesn’t, else they wouldn’t be running around in circles complaining to all they see. The IDP’s don’t, because it doesn’t make any sense to them. You, reader, don’t, because if you’re literate enough to use the internet you’re smart enough to understand how horribly wrong this whole scheme is.

_Those are the numbers, some of them above. Now here is my imagined description of future chaos, based on talking to IDP’s, and govt. officials:_

Based on the IDP’s walking around clutching Visa cards and desperately asking people to convert them into money, they are going to walk into a bank and demand their money.The bank says go away, you have to go to UBL, which is in god forsaken Shikarpur. The refugee starts walking to Shikarpur, as he can’t afford money for a bus. He gets there a few days later, and walks into UBL, where he’s refused entry for smelling bad.

Somehow, he finally makes his way into the bank, and demands money which his magic visa card entitles him to. UBL politely points him to the ATM machine, which is lined up all the way 6 blocks away and is running it’s own private eco system, with vendors selling coconut pieces and tea on their wireless visa powered machines. Refugee stands in line, while the ones in front disappear away, in a haze. He is too tired, thirsty and tired to notice where they go. Finally, he reaches the ATM and stares at it blankly. It has messages in Urdu and English, which he doesn’t know even if he could read. After much fumbling, his visa card goes in the right slot, where it’s spat back out and nothing happens.

UBL guy: “What is your PIN number, sir?” Blank. “What is your pin number? If you no have PIN number no cash”. The refugee whips out his pin number – but oh no, no one ever told him a pin number. UBL pushes the refugee out of the line and the next one stands up.

The poor refugee joins the rest of his brethren as they curse and wail at the bank, the govt and just about everything else but god, while they figure out how to put their lives back together, on their own, clutching their one bag of food left from some NGO or the other.

In esssence, people are using their visa cards like a cheque. They have a piece of paper, plastic, whatever, they want cash – so why not use the time tested technology of a cheque – it’s much cheaper, faster to print, no need to contract with Visa or anyone else – there are so many factors going against the Visa scheme that I still can’t believe it’s happening. Again.

While all this is going on, a few lucky (or connected) people are getting cheques from the government.

2 thoughts on “Illiteracy meets high finance”

  1. Interesting observations KO. A similar concept was done in the west by a Toronto Star reporter. She handed out prepaid cards to pan handlers to see what the reactions would be instead of cash. The reporter’s offer was frequently declined, which seems surprising at first. But panhandlers are savvy businesspeople. They didn’t want a short-term and potentially risky venture interfering with their main panhandling income stream.–how-panhandlers-use-free-credit-cards

Leave a Reply