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Back to the square one

Let’s congratulate ourselves for completing the process of reviving colonial-era commissionerate system in Pakistan with Punjab putting it into effect through an ordinance. The reason is that we can’t part with the legal system and structures the British India had devised to transform people into’ loyal’ subjects.

Blame the lethargy of legislators to think innovatively in matters that involve personal integrity or human rights, or a certain socio-economic structure of our uneven society that believes only rod, not reason, keeps individuals on the right path.

After the 18th Constitutional Amendment 2010, whereby the law of the land was revised para-wise and provinces got power and autonomy to set the socio-economic development agenda for the uplift of their subjects, the provinces found the Commissionerate system a better way of governing rather than the elected local governments. Moreover, the restoration of the Commissionerate System by provinces seems not novel at a time when a penal code of the 18th century is in practice across Pakistan.

If we try to locate the position of local government in the provincial laws that sanction them we would find that local governments are simply toothless. They do not have the powers to provide people public goods at the grassroots level. This can be contrasted with their position in the constitution according to which, “Each Province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments” (Article 140-A).

Education and health are out of the domain of local governments. They have been made to coil back to their traditional job of maintaining streets and providing recreational facilities to the people of their localities. Restoration of the Commisionerate system makes bureaucracy shine like a star. Mega development projects, law and order, and prices and quality of products and services delivered to the people have fallen back into the hands of the bureaucracy yet again.

Democracy, by ensuring liberties and improving standards of life, glues states with people. It evolves a sort of nationalism that makes people take pride in things indigenous. It includes landscape, arts, crafts and culture. In the global era, when foreign invasions have become a rarity, democracy with its unshakeable resolve to preserve human dignity, is the best available system of government to preserve the integrity of states.

Take the case of Pakistan. The British-era penal code is intact. If something had gone missing for a decade, was it the Commisionerate system, which is now effectively restored? What kind of social order one should expect to evolve in Pakistan? Should one suspect the civilian leadership of lacking brains or blame Indians of scheming against democracy in their neighbourhood? Now when we have been delivered local governments, so crucial in restoring human dignity, lacking powers and short of the authority to hold local police and revenue officials accountable, we must only curse our stars. It has been done by none but democratic parties. Is something wrong with their decision-making structures? Have they become merely puppets in the hands of reactionary powers? Why this brazen violation of Article 140-A? How judiciary can be helpful in rescuing the nation from this state of affairs?

If democracy can prove worse than dictatorship there is a serious flaw with our socioeconomic system, so delicately designed to exploit natural and human resources to the benefit of only offshore enterprises. Feudal, mullah and generals all are a part and parcel of the story.

The sort of political system we have evolved is inhuman. It simply extracts wealth from the society, places it in hands of the few and transfers the most to unknown destinations. Dictatorship or democracy, no system of government makes any difference. Have a look at local government laws passed by provincial assemblies and you will find a particular mindset at work. It wants to rule, not to govern. Its passion for power knows no bonds.

Democracy stands on three pillars: human rights, deregulation of economy and free trade. About human rights, the penal code and the Commisionerate system without any political oversight speaks volumes of the indifference of the civilian leadership to this end. Very recently, the regulatory bodies have been taken over by a ‘business friendly’ government. As far as trade is concerned, let’s wait till Kashmir becomes part of Pakistan.

So, it is time to deliberate and reflect on what sort of democracy is in place in Pakistan. And also whether it is real or flawed? To what direction the post-2008 Pakistan is heading to? What goals the political system is geared to achieve? What path political parties are treading on? And, finally, who is controlling our political parties?

We are living in Pakistan where capitalism is taking roots belatedly but with every ruthless tool devised so far. Democracy is there but only to clear its way. Companies are making huge profits with the freedom to shift them to the destination of choice. There is no bar on accumulating wealth and no tendency to keep accounts open to public scrutiny. Governments levy taxes through arbitrary methods and collect them without any responsibility to improve standards of life.

We have democracy but political parties make sure that wealthy are represented in legislative bodies. The majority party is granted the right to rule but opposition is not interested in accountability of the government. Corruption and nepotism has virtually rendered institutions dysfunctional but bureaucracy is not thinking of reforming its ways — it has yet made another effort get back what was due for the elected local governments.

Tribalism has infected professional bodies. Legislators, bureaucrats, lawyers, judges, generals, doctors, journalist and many others just think about privileges without realising that their indifference towards collective life is pushing the state and society into anarchy.

Source: Daily Times

Byline: Riaz Missen

December 28, 2016

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