Trouble with caretakers

By Syed Sharfuddin

THE idea of holding free and fair elections under a neutral caretaker government sounds attractive for two reasons: a level playing field for all contestants and an administration which is entirely neutral safeguarding the integrity of the ballot. Both these assumptions, even though well-intentioned, have adverse implications for the future of democracy.

Appointment of a caretaker administration implies that the incumbent government does not enjoy the confidence of political parties for facilitating a free and fair election and should resign before the poll. In developed democracies, there is no concept of swearing in a caretaker government to conduct the immediately following general election. The outgoing government remains in office until such time elections have been held and a new parliament is formed, although such governments do not take policy decisions nor act in a manner that may impact on the function of the new administration.The 1973 Constitution of Pakistan envisaged a similar setup for the conduct of general elections. However, the death of General Zia in 1988 and subsequent dismissals of governments in the 1990s under Article 58-2(b) necessitated the formation of caretaker governments to oversee fresh elections. Regrettably, the elections conducted by those caretaker administrations did not result in setting any high standards which should justify the continuation of this practice. No election in Pakistan has been without controversy.

The caretaker clause in Article 224 of the Constitution, which was introduced by the military government under the LFO of 2002, allows the president and the governors in the provinces to appoint caretaker governments and cabinets without any defined parameters. The only restriction imposed is on the caretaker prime minister and the chief ministers who are not eligible to contest the immediately following election of such assemblies.

Caretaker governments are usually a feature of new democracies or countries coming out of the shadows of a civil war. Pakistan does not fall in either category. Pakistan’s democratic institutions are fairly developed and its political parties and civil society have a degree of sophistication which is comparable to that of advanced democracies.

Another difficulty with caretaker cabinets is that these are not responsible to anyone except the president or the governors in the provinces. If the president becomes controversial in an election, the credibility of the entire caretaker government is at stake.

Like other issues in democracy, elections are a process of acquiring maturity over time. If anything requires strengthening it is the power of the election commission to conduct a fair election and prevent abuse of power or authority by those not authorised to exercise it under law. It should be ensured that the army, police and the bureaucracy are placed at the disposal of the election commission.

Those cabinet ministers who intend to actively support their party candidates or those who themselves wish to contest the election should not be allowed to misuse government vehicles, property, staff and funds for the campaign. The challenge of democracy lies in accepting responsibility and following the rules; not by keeping the practitioners of democracy insulated from the reality of politics.Whatever the outcome of the popular vote, it should be respected in the true spirit of democracy and the Constitution. Even a hung parliament deserves the right to be given a chance to cobble together fragile coalitions. Democracy comes stronger with such experiences. Artificial solutions based on expediency actually harm democracy in the long run.

If a national consensus is not developed to show zero tolerance for electoral fraud and polling irregularities, and a culture of honesty and integrity is not promoted actively, a caretaker cabinet or government, howsoever neutral and honest, can do very little to reverse the systematic rigging of elections. Bangladesh offers living proof of the limitations which undermine public confidence in the caretaker government’s ability to conduct a transparent and credible election.

What is more important is a level playing field for all political parties, a state broadcaster which allocates equal time and coverage to all contestants, a community of media which sets its own codes of conduct for the coverage of election, a civil service which is completely apolitical and an election commission which is financially and administratively autonomous and enjoys the confidence of political parties and civil society.

What is also important is an electorate which is free from violence and intimidation to express its will on the day of the poll, without ghost voters lurking in the electoral rolls or stuffed ballot papers found in the boxes irrespective of whether these are transparent or opaque.

A caretaker government can never be a replacement for these important features of a free and transparent election, even if that cabinet is truly committed to its goals.

The tradition of appointing a chief election commissioner from the judiciary also needs to be reviewed. In India, the post of the chief election commissioner is regarded as an administrative position because elections require constant administrative supervision and management. The judiciary performs a highly specialised function. It interprets laws enacted by the parliament and also decides on issues of law when disputes are brought before it for a ruling.

The argument that a senior judge has the ability to interpret electoral laws better than a civil servant does not hold much ground because 90 per cent of the work of the chief election commissioner is about the management and administration of elections, and only 10 per cent is concerned with the framing of electoral laws and their interpretation. Besides, a chief election commissioner can always appoint a senior lawyer as a member of the commission, or request a court to interpret a law if there is doubt on its application in the context of elections.

An election commission which is headed by a judge of a superior court cannot substitute the court itself. Any person can challenge the decisions of the election commission before the higher judiciary. That being the case, it makes sense not to appoint the head of the election commission from the judiciary. What we need is a complete separation of powers.

The 1973 Constitution, as amended by the LFO, provides for a caretaker government to supervise the next election. It is a foregone conclusion that after the assemblies are dissolved on completion of their term in November, the present government would leave office and a new caretaker administration would be formed.

In ideal circumstances, this should not be the case. Article 224 deserves to be rewritten to recapture the spirit of the 1973 Constitution. This would be yet another step towards restoring full democracy in Pakistan.

The writer is the chief executive of Commonwealth Consulting and Risk Analysis Ltd in London and is a former special adviser for political affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London.

Can DSK rescue the IMF?

By Zafar Masud

THE future is not ours to see, but we modern human beings have access to the infallible instrument known as statistics that affords us at least the illusion of prognosticating with exactitude now and then. French President Nicolas Sarkozy will be 57 by the time the next election is due in 2012. A relatively young age to have a go at a fresh presidential term!

Those who do not like him much have already started saying that through a Machiavellian move Sarkozy has got Socialist rival Dominique Strauss-Kahn to head the International Monetary Fund, thus shoving aside the biggest threat to his own ambitions five years from now.

The important thing is that DSK, as the new IMF chief is known in France in the media, is quite happy with his new job and swears that has little to do with the $420,000 per annum tax-free salary that goes with it.

He says he is impatient to serve the international community, tackle the challenges of failing economic growths and employment by giving the Fund its legitimacy back. ‘There is a view in some countries,’ Strauss-Kahn told Bloomberg News recently, ‘that IMF has been a disaster for them.’

He is not too off the mark. Given the bitter memories of the crash of the last decade, many former Southeast Asian ‘Tigers’ are working on sharing foreign exchange reserves in future through regional cooperatives and many Latin American countries are not far from creating their own ‘Bank of the South’.

All this in a clear message of distrust to the IMF and with an intention to supplanting the Fund’s traditional role through a mechanism of self-sufficiency.

True, all those countries salvaged in the 1990s, Russia, Indonesia, South Korea, Argentina or Mexico, have repaid their debts or have nearly done so, but the IMF suffers from a severe identity crisis with only $300bn of operating income left in its reserves. Not enough to cope with a major global economic disaster should it decide to visit the world tomorrow.

To a question from the daily Le Monde if he would consent to the sale of the 3,217 tons of the Fund’s gold reserves to remedy the situation, Strauss-Kahn said most of the central banks he had questioned on the issue were in agreement with the idea but that he would need a wider consensus once he officially takes over as director-general of the IMF on November 1.

He also said he would concentrate on the Fund’s new role of offering advice and technical help for averting crises rather than the traditional one of bailing countries out of them.

Former IMF executive and currently professor at John Hopkins University Anne Krueger put it aptly: ‘You have to think of the Fund now as an insurance policy for member countries.’

Strauss-Kahn’s frequent references to alleviating world poverty, helping poor nations, reaching out to Africa, Asia and South America and avoiding trying to be the ‘gendarme who swings his baton’ whenever someone is not able to pay back the debt, have already won him a few detractors at the other end of the Atlantic who say if the IMF does not stick to its role of monitoring international economy and tries to encroach upon the World Bank’s terrain, it will very quickly lose its relevance.

The biggest challenge for the Frenchman, say some analysts, will be to take cognisance of the rising economic powers like China, Brazil and India, and use wide consensus to shrug off the influence that the United States and Europe have traditionally exercised over the

IMF. Everyone agrees that decision-making, which largely used to be the precinct of governments, has passed into the hands of market forces in the 21st century.

Maybe so. But if you go back into the history of the Fund, you learn that when it was created in 1945, its raison d’être precisely was the Keynesian theory of mixed economy.

In response to the Great Depression of the 1930s that had confronted the modern world with a frightening level of unemployment and deflation, John Maynard Keynes had promoted the idea that only macroeconomics, in other words governments working side by side with market forces, can help upset the micro-level behaviour of the individuals and right the damage caused to the country’s economy by laissez-faire trends.

But let’s return to Dominique Strauss-Kahn for a while. He served as finance minister with the Socialist government from 1997 to 1999, a critical juncture when France, like the rest of the European Union members, was getting ready for conversion of its currency, the franc, into the euro and a cut in the public deficit was a mandatory requirement to qualify.

He succeeded in that mission pretty well and paved the way for the privatisation of a number of state-owned French firms, winning in the process quite a few friends in the financial markets (and losing a few within his own Socialist camp!).

The tone of Le Monde’s editorial following the confirmation of the Frenchman’s appointment on September 28 tended to remain far from jubilatory: “The nomination of a politician at the helm of such an institution is risky business.

His predecessors, the German Horst Köhler and the Spaniard Rodrigo Rato had not succeeded in their missions. Staying away for such a long time from their countries and from their respective electorates they were taken over by boredom. Who knows if the temptations of home politics and the excitement of the 2012 presidential race will not rapidly get hold of DSK?”

So we are back in the future-telling business. But a comment from Jeff Powell, head of the London-based Bretton Woods Project, says it all: ‘Being the head of the IMF has never been less powerful and more stressful than it is now!’

The writer is a journalist based in Paris.

Devolution & elections 2008

By Ahmed Sadik

THE general elections 2008 appear to be rapidly closing in on us. There is general expectation in the country that these elections will be free, fair and impartial. For this purpose, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), which is the fulcrum organisation for the conduct of general elections, needs to be extremely well organised with units effectively spread out all over the country — in the provinces as well as in the districts.

This is imperative, even more so because these elections are going to be critical for us as a nation.

The question that arises is whether or not the ECP actually has the necessary wherewithal for its effective functioning. Has it the ability to conduct on its own the arduous and painstaking exercise of holding elections in the entire country in one go? The answer is tentative.

What does the ECP normally do in order to overcome or mitigate its serious resource gaps? And how does it go about marshalling the resources required for the ultimate objective of holding clean and credible elections in the country?

To start with, it looks in the direction of the federal government for its initial funding for expenses like POL (Petrol Oil and Lubrication) and allowances for the staff seconded to it for election duties.

Most of this staff consists of employees of the various provincial governments, autonomous corporations and federal government departments.

This arrangement is indeed far from satisfactory but the ECP has to make do in an overall situation of shortages and re-train personnel in order to get on with immediate work requirements.

The heaviest dependence of the Election Commission, therefore, is on the provincial governments of Punjab, Sindh, the NWFP and Balochistan.

For the purpose of the coming elections, there is yet another staff component that can be made available to the Election Commission.

This is the staff of various ex-local bodies now known as the devolved units of the local administration in the four provinces.

Whereas they can augment the staff strength for election duties, they are raw, untrained and too exposed to local political influences. Therefore, they are more of a liability in terms of quality and output in the professional handling of election-related duties.

In the aftermath of the introduction of the devolution scheme in the four provinces, there has indeed been a qualitative lowering of the tenor of the local administrations of the districts.

The reports are that the old administrative districts and the local bodies, instead of merging, have taken to being competing bureaucracies operating in the same fief or jurisdiction.

This has naturally increased the tensions generated by the devolution process and has lowered the quality of local administration.

It is, of course, too early to predict whether the said course is going carry on or if things will settle down between the two aforementioned bureaucratic brands or whether they will go down a self-destructive collision course.

One thing appears certain and that is that politicisation of the local government service cadres, which is a fairly old feature, is beginning to spread its tentacles to the federal and provincial service cadres, which are in the early stages of adapting their styles to suit post-devolution realities.

But whatever the outcome of this ongoing coexistence of service cadres in the districts and subdivisions and talukas, one thing is clear that it is about time the ECP began to evolve into a permanent, substantive organisation on the ground with a permanent staff carefully recruited and trained professionally for the purpose of holding transparent, fair, free and impartial elections wherever they may be positioned.

Until now, elections in Pakistan have been taken to be something of a part-time business of the state. Even the chairman of the ECP has usually been drawn from the higher judiciary as a part-time functionary in addition to his normal duties elsewhere.

Obviously, this sort of status and organisation for the ECP is far too ad hoc and will not do if democracy has to take firmer root in Pakistan.

In this context, the example of India is pertinent and worthy of being studied and followed to impart greater expertise and confidence and even a sense of pride to the performance of the officers and men who constitute a permanent election commission.

India has the advantage of being a vast country where elections are a regular feature of state activity involving the handling of much larger volumes of work in respect of planning and providing for polls across a huge territory.

But Pakistan is no small country either and it is high time that we started putting in place serious substantive measures for the holding of elections in our country at different jurisdictional levels, and thus raised the domestic as well as international credibility of election results.

Likewise we need to follow the Indian precedent of appointing a senior whole-time professional administrator to be chairman of the ECP.

But, at the same time, it is important to understand and stress that the most potent threat to Pakistan’s federal constitutional system of government happens to come from a devolution lobby that is very active at present in this country.

Its elements that could be interested in rigging the next elections are the very same ones who sponsored the ongoing devolution fad. We need to abide by the 1973 Constitution and defend it to our very best ability. It is indeed our best bet for survival and prosperity as a viable federation in an otherwise dangerous world.

Needless to say, if we are to hold the coming elections in a free, fair and impartial atmosphere it will be essential for us to shut out the devolution lobby from taking up any role in the management of the elections.

As a first step in that direction, the current local government units that are working in the four provinces ought to be suspended in the run-up to and the holding of the elections in 2008.

If this measure is not taken the elections of 2008 would have been rigged and comprehensively stolen from the people of Pakistan.

There is a solution to the traffic chaos

By Sami Mustafa

EVERY time a DIG Traffic is asked to explain the traffic mess in Karachi, he explains it by pointing to the increase in vehicular traffic, the absence of an adequate public transport system, insufficient flyovers and underpasses and the shortage of nafree (policemen), money and equipment.

When asked how he would explain buses not stopping at designated stops, motorists driving with fancy and illegal number plates without fear of the law, and people travelling precariously on bus rooftops, his reply goes back to the nafree and money issue.

The point is that the traffic situation in Karachi is going from bad to worse. There must be a solution.

Early this month I was invited by Ziaul Hasan Khan, the IG Police, to make a presentation on suggestions to improve the traffic in Karachi.

In the discussion, I tried to explain that without establishing the writ of the government and correcting management practices within the police department, to raise the issue of the shortage of nafree and money was like placing the cart before the horse.

I also told him that despite the phenomenal increase in the number of vehicles on Karachi roads, managing traffic properly could be done within the existing resources.

For reasons best known to them, senior police officers seem reluctant to enforce the law with the full legitimate authority of the state.

This reluctance comes from a paradigm that seems to be close to their way of thinking. They believe that:

(a) the people are inherently ill-disciplined and it is very difficult to make them obey traffic laws, and that ‘traffic week’ banners, urging motorists to follow road rules, and awareness campaigns would one day make motorists follow the law;

(b) if the traffic police were to strictly enforce the law, it would cause road users to protest;

(c) setting a target for challans by the policeman would result in him harassing the public; and finally;

(d) they take some kind of comfort in the belief that this is Pakistan where it is difficult for things to change for the better.

What is urgently needed now, more than money and nafree, is a shift in paradigm. The IG and the DIG Traffic must be receptive to new ideas, even if they come from people who are not from their ranks.

In the new paradigm, there will have to be a commitment to the enforcement of the law on a zero-tolerance basis so that traffic rules are strictly enforced for the rich and for the not-so-rich with evenhandedness.

When we, as members of the Traffic Management Programme (TMP), had managed traffic on Sharea Faisal in 1998 through a Standing Order issued by the then IG, Mohib Asad, we had taken the then corps commander and the then chief secretary on board and the police was issuing challans army vehicles, GP and GS vehicles, cars of the rich and well-connected, buses and motorcycles.

With such strict enforcement, many violators must have been inconvenienced when they were stopped and issued challans, but there were no agitations and no protests.

It was the first step at re-establishing the writ of the traffic police. Unfortunately, when the army seized power in October 1999, a successful traffic management programme was put in cold storage.

In my presentation, I also raised the issue of generating additional revenue through traffic challans. Karachi has 1.7 million vehicles. According to one estimate, approximately eight per cent violations take place on any given day.

If that figure is correct, then 130,000 violations take place in Karachi every day. If one were to take even 15 per cent of that as the target the police should challan, then they would be fining 20,000 violators per day. If the fines for traffic violation were to be increased to a minimum of Rs400 (from the present average of Rs50-100), then the provincial exchequer would earn Rs3bn a year.

We propose that this money should be used for the purchase of motorbikes and the latest equipment for building up a modern communication infrastructure, for increasing the salaries of the traffic police personnel, on housing for policemen and for establishing good schools and hospitals for their children and families.

Our recommendations include that a committee should be set up consisting of the DIG Traffic, a senior representative of the nazim, a representative of the Traffic Engineering Bureau (TEB), a representative of Siemens (which manages all the traffic lights in Karachi) and a few professionals.

This committee should prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) outlining the responsibilities of the traffic policemen so that once and for all traffic enforcement is not left to the whims and preferences of the traffic bosses.

The IG would request the enhancement of the fine amount so that it works as a deterrence for would-be violators. The nazim should be given a list of all the traffic engineering changes that need to be done.

A Control Room (CR), manned by committee members, should be set up to implement its recommendations and bring about some semblance of order on the roads of Karachi. The committee should report to the IG on a fortnightly basis.

In principle, the IG agreed with much of what we had to say but said that our recommendations were idealistic and ambitious.

All change is ambitious. All change is difficult, but change must happen if we need it, and it is in the larger interest of both the police department and

the public to develop a professional approach towards managing traffic in Karachi at the


We must do this soon because we have no choice but to make the roads of Karachi safer.

© DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2007


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