View Full Version : Sins in Sindh - UMAIR JAVED - 22nd June 2015

22nd June 2015, 03:52 AM
A COUPLE of weeks ago, egged on by a Rangers’ press conference on corruption and the illegal economy in Sindh, I engaged in a thought experiment of sorts. I suspended every single conviction I hold concerning civil-military relations in this country, I cordoned off the part of my brain that stores my interpretation of Pakistan’s political history, and I distanced myself from my normative belief in social democracy, and the right of an electorate to govern itself.

And so I began drawing up a new personal disposition using as a starting point the most basic and agreeable of all ends — the greatest welfare for the greatest number of people. I told myself it doesn’t matter how we get there. It doesn’t matter who, which institution or person, gets us to this coveted point. All that matters is an improvement in the day-to-day existence of the many millions who can’t seem to catch a break in this country.

A particular institution of the state — the most autonomous, and hence powerful, one — says its new, better-than-ever-before leadership has a plan to resolve all of our issues. It says it’s currently busy fixing law and order, and the plague of criminality in Karachi.

The older me would’ve balked saying it’s not their job, but now armed with this new outlook of ends-justifying-the-means, I make peace with their enhanced role. The older me would’ve balked at the tactics being used — strong-arming political party leaders, using extra-judicial processes, making death-row prisoners sing — but I can look past all of this too. I’ll also look past their historical record of ‘ethnic neutrality’ while fixing law and order, and believe them when they say Karachi will be safer this time around.

Will someone always be around to make sure the ‘danda’ treatment is delivered if the next lot decides to make a few rupees for itself?
Then I hear they’re expanding their ambit beyond the fight against terrorism, and picking up a new fight against corruption and incompetence. These two ills, everyone is told, are the (presumably joint) number one problem in the country. The new line is that you can’t fix militancy without taking on corruption and incompetence because the latter finances and fuels the former. No empirical evidence of the said connection is provided, but given how I’ve suspended disbelief, I jog along with it.

Soon we hear big numbers being given on the scale of corruption in the province. Every year Rs200 billion is collected illegally, says one uniformed gentleman. That’s a lot of money — approximately 1pc of our GDP. Research, sourcing and citations are weak (well, non-existent), but the man in uniform is probably right. His voice sounds authoritative enough.

Shortly after we find out that the offices of a Sindh government agency dealing with land regulation have been raided. Whispers abound that another modification in the institution’s ambit has taken place. The new mission says the party in power in the province needs to be dealt with. There’s simply too much corruption, malpractice, and not enough governance happening on its watch.

Here’s where my newfound faith begins to falter ever so slightly. Is an institution designed and trained to fight wars and protect borders also skilled in financial auditing and public-sector performance evaluations? Does it have a wondrous secret game plan in place to fix workplace shirking, procurement rule violations and collusive practices in public tendering? Is its strategy to fight corruption built on empirical evidence, which suggests such practices are outcomes of skewed incentive structures, and in part, represent the ‘costs’ of maintaining a social coalition in power?

Does it know that wherever in the world corruption and incompetence have been reduced it’s been because of political pressure from the electorate (BJP’s consolidation in India), from the prolonged rise of groups and parties wanting a reconfiguration of the existing spoils system (the advent of the fourth party system and the Progressive Era in the US), and from a redesign of human resource laws and rules in the public sector (civil service reform in Britain)?

I have a feeling — and may God forgive me for being wrong — it doesn’t. Because right now, its strategy appears suspiciously similar to the one advocated by uncles in my father’s drawing room: take out the top few people with a danda, and the rest will all fall in line.

Even if one buys this line of thinking, it implies some degree of perpetual oversight. Is this most competent of institutions going to spend the rest of our time on Earth monitoring corruption and incompetence in the Sindh government? I ask this only because — for better or for worse — the law says that someone or some party chosen through a competitive election has to be in charge. Will someone always be around to make sure the danda treatment is delivered if the next lot decides to make a few rupees for itself?

My faith falters a bit more when I hear reports that this most esteemed of institutions is concurrently fighting with the Sindh government over some prime land in Karachi for itself. It falters slightly more when I hear that villagers in Hyderabad are resisting acquisition by the cantonment board, which wants to build a new wedding hall on their agricultural land. I try to shut out my ears to rumours that an appendage of this institution is somehow implicated in Karachi’s water crisis. I run out of the room when someone tells me that we don’t know what happened to the three NLC officers who were supposed to face justice for a Rs4bn misappropriation.

I, too, like many others, am weary of governmental incompetence and corruption. There’s simply too much of it in Sindh, and elsewhere. But, despite my best efforts, it is increasingly difficult for me to see that the means currently being chosen can in any way deliver the ends we all seek.

The writer is a freelance columnist.


Twitter: @umairjav

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2015