“But there will be no justice, there will be no government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as long as the government and its officials permit bribery in any form”—John Jay Hooker
Someone once remarked that in Pakistan it is much easier and faster to get illegal work done rather than legal. With due apology to the very few (needle in a haystack) who represent nobility, what this probably means is that the moment one greases the palms of officials or uses ‘connections’, all stringent regulations vanish in thin air, laws are twisted and orders are issued in relaxation of all existing rules. In contrast, if the right procedure is insisted on being adopted, ignoring the illicit expectations of those who matter, suddenly all hell breaks loose and the most intricate of procedures are dawned upon every government official in the chain of command. A serious concern for the country’s welfare springs up from nowhere and one gets to face the most ‘patriotic’ Pakistanis on the face of this earth. An applicant who ‘dares’ to transgress authority is made to appear like a potential threat to the very survival of the country and is therefore considered fit to be humiliated, battered and screwed to an extent that he forgets the magnitude of his own issue but only remembers to prostrate before the demi-gods of power.
There is absolutely nothing unique in the bureaucracy of our country as all others have more or less similar systems in operation too but what makes Pakistan distinguishable is the extreme nature of pressure tactics from operators that forces the common man to succumb to illegal methods in passing through official formalities. Anyone embarking upon the idea of sailing smoothly across the ocean of red-tape is clearly harbouring a misconceived notion. Not only would he be compelled to make repeated visits for each incomplete task, he would also be made to feel embarrassed about attempting to approach government officials with ‘clean’ hands as if this is committing an execrable crime. Compared to this ‘offender’, those who are well-connected with bureaucratic elements or who have the prudence to carry envelopes with suitable amount of cash, face no ordeal and overcome all obstacles fearlessly, going home with a smirk and satisfaction at accomplishing mission impossible.
Those at the helm of affairs appear totally oblivious to the plight of the common man who is victimized by his own brothers and now even sisters, sitting in seats of varying powers. From the lowest in the rank (the orderly outside an office) to the clerks, supervisors, assistants, deputies, right up to the head, everyone seems bent upon teaching lessons to the unsuspecting applicant who just so happens to approach these ‘dignitaries’ considering them to be public servants who have been appointed for the sole purpose of attending to his needs. Little does he know that the people who are dependent upon his taxes for their salaries and perquisites are there to treat him like a slave who has yet to compensate further and undergo penance for daring to seek his rightful claim.
The population of our country is growing disproportionately with faulty official census to support a comprehensive vision for the future. Day by day government offices are facing enormous tension from the public for various matters (the list is endless) that need to be settled. Whether it pertains to one’s national identity card, passport, different forms of registration, admissions in schools, colleges and universities, submission of fee, payment of utility bills, applications for electricity or gas meters, obtaining water or telephone connections, getting clogged sewers fixed, filing different complaints or whatever, long lines of people are observed awaiting their turn to present their petitions.
This was inevitable as we had never braced ourselves to cater for the rapidly growing needs of our ever explosive population. Despite the fact that the government was fully aware of massive rural to urban migration, no concrete measures were taken to uplift the smaller towns and districts in order to provide the residents of these areas with facilities and services enjoyed by their brethren living in the larger cities. Consequently, the principal cities have lost their metropolitan culture due to the rural influx and have become unmanageable administrative monsters lacking sufficient resources to fulfill the needs of their residents. As a result, those offices that could earlier tend to the people leisurely are hard-pressed and in dire need of competent manpower.
The existing human fabric is too frail and callous to handle the voluminous work and even if they were extremely diligent, they are too over-worked to maintain their cool as well as display a courteous attitude. Under the circumstances, one can only expect heated arguments, pushing and jostling, exchange of foul language and at times even physical use of force. Such uncivilized behavior, although abhorrent is none the less our new emerging culture of getting work done in the public offices.
Who is to blame—the impatient public or the over-burdened officials? Or maybe one can shift the entire responsibility to our planners whose myopic vision has brought the country to the brink of collapse or the vested-interest who were too full of themselves to bother about others in the country.
Whatever may be the reasons, the reality is that amid all this chaos, the actual beneficiaries are the officials in the system, who are now exploiting this mammoth growth of grievances and their atonement by proudly filling up their personal wallets with gratifications received from those who are too eager to get their work completed, bypassing others. With expansion in procedural hiccups, increase in people wanting to pass through these channels, mounting number of cases cropping up for redressal, there is also an increase in the aspirations of officials hoping to supplement their meager salaries.
It is very easy to lay one’s finger on problems or malaise but difficult to provide viable way-outs for their resolution. However, when seeking solutions there is always the necessity to be fully aware of the basic issues hence the need to know, analyze, understand, dissect and earnestly address the problems with a view to arriving at suitable proposals that must be implemented with the same level of sincerity. As these questions are highly pertinent in today’s scenario, ignoring them at this stage would be giving the last shove to a heavily laden carriage that is tilted over a precipice with nothing below except a ravine of utter disaster. Not only is the society tearing apart with regard to class distinction on the basis of false values but the very character of the entire nation is at stake. The focus of majority of our population is now directed to attaining wealth overnight irrespective of the costs in terms of values, culture and civility—gradually fading into oblivion and leaving in its footprints a quagmire of immorality, unethical practices, tattered social structure, inhumanity and eventual disintegration of what was once a peace-loving nation with treasured principles. Besides, under these excruciating circumstances, claim of democracy, is nothing more than a false pretense.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)