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The rot within!

Huzaima Bukhari

“All you got to do is look around. This country’s getting worse and worse and more and more immoral, and we’re rotting from within”—Terry Bradshaw-American football quarterback

According to Benjamin Wittes, a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, who works principally on matters concerning American law and Security: “It is possible for great nations to rot from within”. This clearly implies that nations getting destroyed by outside forces like the inroads of Mongols or the Vikings in the past or atom bombs in the last century can still hope to revive with a vengeance but what about those who appear to be gold plated but gradually decomposing from inside? For a nation, an external foe may not be as deadly as internal enemies who like leeches, suck its blood dry leaving in its wake a frail, easily superable people.

What can be worse than governance which is so faulty that it can fester a country into decay without the need of any type of a foreign antagonist! High levels of destructive cells of corruption, incompetence and malpractices are enough to render any nation cankerous. In Pakistan, over the last few decades these cells have multiplied and mutated so aggressively that one shudders to think about the future of this country. Pakistani citizens as well as those of some other nations, coming in contact with the government agencies would testify that there is not a single federal or provincial department that is not free from these malaises. Those trying to get their routine work done have to pass through a rigmarole of bureaucratic hurdles that can only be overcome by means known to one and all. When faced with a so-called honest official, then it becomes an even worse nightmare because of either incapacitation for want of knowledge or complex regulations sprouting up, other than delaying tactics adopted in most of the cases. Where by chance able officers do get posted they become victims of leg pulling or envy wherein their true potential drowns in the whirlpool of insane departmental politics.

A highly able retired Secretary Labour Department, Punjab lamented about its affairs saying that money rightfully belonging to workers has been plundered over the years by successive governments. Workers’ unions established to agitate and protect the rights of labourers were sold out. He further stated that while in active service, he had taken some initiatives that included allotment of a universal identity number (preferably CNIC) to every worker to ensure that their contributions are personally accounted for even if they move from one factory to another enabling disbursement of pensions which are now denied for non-maintainability of contribution records from Punjab Employees Social Security Institution (PESSI) and Employees Old age Benefit Institution. Unfortunately, he retired before these ideas could materialize.

His most horrifying disclosure was the impudent act of the last two governments of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) that illegally diverted funds belonging to EOBI and Workers’ Welfare Fund (WWF) to other uses instead of disbursing the same to workers as death grants, marriage grants, educational scholarships and pensions etc. for which these are actually meant. He firmly believed that downfall of these governments was due to divine intervention for inflicting cruelty on the poorer classes. Quite obvious is the helplessness of this noble officer who, despite enjoying a senior position was prevented from performing his functions because of ill-intentioned governmental policies.

Another glaring instance of rot within is the misuse of public office. There are certain departments of the federal and provincial governments that cater to the well being of citizens. Among these are ones related to social welfare and distribution of Zakat and Ushr—in Pakistan, the system of compulsory collection and distribution of Zakat and Ushr began in 1980 with an Ordinance by military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, later frequently amended by federal and provincial legislatures.

As evident from their nomenclatures, these are intended to address the woes of the downtrodden. One would expect that officials posted here would have some empathy for them and guard their rights with utmost sincerity. Alas, this is not so! Rampant corruption, extensive misuse of funds and facilities, disregard for performance of duties, and the worst ever, is taking undue advantage of vulnerable children and females, forced to take shelter in these institutions. This has led to psychological traumas, suicides and even murders but all conveniently shoved under the carpet with a deaf ear and blind eye turned towards the wretchedness of the innocent victims. Anyone, no matter how powerful must always remember that retribution will strike back with great ferocity wherever rights of the miserable are ruthlessly violated or where charity meant for them is used to nurture officials’ children.

Another case of rot within is the shamelessness of certain government officials responsible for approving and paying budgetary amounts to other departments, which is done only after they receive a percentage cash-back that is shared by all in the hierarchy. One wonders why they are paid hefty salaries if they have to resort to such extortions. This is perhaps the height of decay where one government servant fleeces another government employee what to talk of the miseries, members of the public are subjected to every day. The best part is that these are all open secrets bragged about and in everyone’s knowledge yet it is part of the status quo which no one wants to disturb, not even the so-called justice promising government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI).

In a letter to the editor of El Paso Times, William James’ words written almost eighteen years back hold eternal truth: “The most successful nations are those whom the civic genius of the people does the saving day by day, by acts without external pictureueness; by speaking, writing, voting reasonably, by smiting corruption swiftly; by good temper between parties; by the people knowing true men when they see them and preferring them as leaders to rabid partisans or empty quacks.”

If these are the attributes of a prosperous nation then it is evident that a failed nation would display the exact opposite qualities which we, as Pakistani nation are widely gifted with. Each word is still applicable today. The number of gold-seekers being recruited in government service is on the increase. Anyone unable to secure a private sector job or one who lacks the courage to start a business, finds entering the civil service as a most convenient way to money and power.

The level of leadership unequivocally emerging from the typical societal mindset is deficient in addressing the erosion that is rendering weak the foundations of this country. When corruption and incompetent public office holders incapable of seeing beyond vested interests, join hands, the thing most imminent is death of that nation. Exploitation of the masses cannot go unaccounted. The sole medium of deliverance from these ills is the people but expecting this nation to rise as one unified force is nothing more than wishful thinking because it is extensively divided on political, religious, ethno-lingual and many other bases and of course, the common perspective to cleanse the country of decaying values is conspicuous by its absence.

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The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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