“VIRTUE is more to be feared than vice, because its excesses are not subject to the regulation of conscience.” This quote by Adam Smith is very well explained when we have a look at the educated upper middle class of Pakistan. This class has harmed the country more than anybody else but knows how to stay clear of controversy and conveniently shift blames to the politicians or uneducated masses who are labelled as having no civic sense.
The British gave this country a most modern railway system back when they ruled. The rail tracks started from Karachi and went all the way up to the serpentine Khyber Pass, but this is no longer the case. The British legacy which should have been held on to has been lost and the one which should have been let go of has been embraced. The culture of government functionaries considering themselves superior to the masses and behaving as rulers has been tightly held on to by the civilians as well as the military bureaucracy.
The cantonments in well-settled cities, which were a requirement of the British Raj, have been portrayed as indispensable when they could have easily been done away with as they are a burden on the national exchequer. Smokescreens such as ‘austerity measures’ or voluntarily foregoing any increase in the defence budget work a lot better with the masses (and also get the prime minister to tweet his gratitude) than any sincere steps in this regard.
This educated upper middle class gets its sense of entitlement from the training imparted to it and the tag of its profession — doctor, engineer or lawyer. If the nincompoop politicians can enjoy such a privilege, why can’t we, they ask. After all, I scored high in the CSS exam, or I stood first in the medical college exam, or I was brilliant in my studies, or I topped the war course, and so on and so forth.
The script is the same: a promising start followed by collapse.
How do we manage to turn various government-run organisations into such huge liabilities? Because they are operated by the same class. Any department with a better salary structure or reasonable career prospects is hijacked by the educated elite (which includes politicians, the military establishment and the bureaucracy), and inductions are made left, right and centre, to the point that the burden breaks the back of the department. The majority of the budget allocation is spent on salaries and pensions of the employees. The primary function of the department is neglected. The script is almost always identical — a promising start followed by virtual collapse. A few examples would be pertinent.
It would be stating the obvious that Pakistan Railways has followed the same route. As if things were not already beyond repair, the minster has recently indicated he would have a ballot to fill vacant posts which don’t even need to be filled as most of them would end up doing chores at the Railway officers’ residences. This ballot is basically a euphemism for exercising influence to induct people of choice. I have a funny feeling that, if this so-called ballot goes ahead, people from Rawalpindi, the minister’s constituency, are going to get very lucky.
The Pakistan Steel Mill has become the Pakistan ‘Still’ Mill, thanks to the same approach which has resulted in no investment in infrastructure improvement and mindless inductions. PIA was one organisation which promised better pay packages and the same mafia decided to flood it with so many employees that the bulk of the budget goes towards either paying salaries or pensions, instead of being focused on infrastructure investment including the purchase of new aircraft. The Pakistan Television Corporation recently was in the news for not having the requisite infrastructure to relay the prime minister’s speech recorded in high-definition video, but the number of employees it has is enormous. The private TV channels are run better with far less employees.
Then, it is sometimes said that there are courts which are ready to shoot down any attempt at downsizing, read right-sizing, these organisations because of the same sense of entitlement the educated elite enjoys in our society.
Meanwhile, the culture of bribery is not the invention of the corrupt businessman as is often portrayed; it is the doing of the educated Pakistani. Who do you think takes the most bribe in terms of percentage — the class IV employees or the senior officers in position to make impactful decisions? Who is more educated? The educated middle class is usually an asset for society; in fact, its members are the ones a society banks on to bring about change for the better. But sadly, our education system that includes conventional education and societal learning has failed to inculcate any sense of morality in our educated class. Unless the educated ones turn the page, change will remain a pipe dream.
The writer is a former civil servant.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2019