HEORETICALLY, a political leader must be upright to earn the loyalty of his followers. However, in order to buy blind and unwavering support a politician in Pakistan must necessarily be the opposite, bestowing undue favours on his ‘supporters’.

Similarly, in order to obtain a government job the correct way, one has to work hard, appear for competitive exams as well as interviews, and perhaps even pray for success. But in order to bypass this path, all that a diehard ‘supporter’ has to ensure is that Bhutto stays alive forever or a Sharif establishes a monarchy under the garb of democracy every few years or so.

A couple of years ago, I had highlighted in an article titled ‘No short cut to success’ on these pages, the violation of the principle of merit by the then government that had regularised the contract of employees without having them take competitive exams. Some people then moved the court. A couple of years later, the court seems to have endorsed the argument against the regularisation.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the Islamabad High Court, in a recent judgement, declared null and void the decision of the former PPP government’s cabinet subcommittee, headed by Syed Khursheed Shah, to regularise the services of the daily wage and contract employees of the federal government. Mr Shah has already indicated that he will appeal the decision, and what will follow is bound to be at least a couple of years more of litigation.

What we are seeing is the politics of patronage.
Apart from upsetting those who had in fact been recruited on merit, the delay in litigation will keep promotions and postings in limbo — until the status of the beneficiaries of the subcommittee’s decision is clear. Needless to say, the billions paid to these employees as salaries are unlikely to be reimbursed by them, even in the event of the high court’s decision being upheld. The number of employees that have been regualrised is 110,000; the requirement of such an army of human resource is questionable but even if it was required, why were contractual appointments made instead of recruiting the candidates through the proper channels? Contractual appointments are supposed to be a stop-gap arrangement and not a permanent solution.

This is not the only case of its sort; another one has been pending for two years in the Sindh High Court and concerns 62 audit officers who were inducted without having to take any competitive exam thus affecting the seniority of the assistant audit officers appointed through the Federal Public Service Commission.

The obvious remedy to this painfully slow dispensation of justice is the reform of the judicial system. True, the judicial system does need reform but until the necessary changes are made, our democratically elected leaders need to perform.

Why has it been so difficult for the incoming government to issue a notification declaring all such orders, as demonstrated by the two examples, null and void?

In the regularisation case, when the defence counsel argued that such a decision would render thousands of people jobless Justice Siddiqui remarked that we had buried the ‘doctrine of necessity’ and that everything should be done on the basis of merit. The doctrine of necessity might have been buried but politicians seem to have come up with a new euphemism for unconscionable corruption — ‘the doctrine of the politics of conciliation’.

The ‘wait and see model’ of governance which stalls action against the wrong done by the previous government until another institution intervenes belies the claims of transparent governance.

The shortcomings highlighted here are not just one political party, or a couple of leaders, they are entrenched in the system itself. The politics of patronage is mistaken as democracy in this country. For a political party to do well irrespective of performance, the diehard follower must thrive and for the latter to thrive, the principle of merit is made to suffer.

The essence of democracy is contained in periodic accountability provided by elections; unfortunately, in Pakistan, accountability is nowhere to be seen because people choose more of the same — primarily because there are few options. Democracy in Pakistan is not threatened by an intelligence agency, an emigrant ‘revolutionary’ or a former cricketer; it is in danger of being destroyed by a corrupt system.

Meanwhile, hats off to the few officers who managed the resources to pursue the regularisation case, otherwise the subcommittee’s decision may never have been challenged.

The fight for rights in this country is getting expensive by the day. Women have to pay for their right to justice by torching themselves; the cost for a member of a minority community to exercise his right to practice his faith may be a hail of bullets; and a government servant might have to pay for the right to survive by selling his soul to the highest bidder.