PAKISTAN'S parliamentarians and ideologists are both out to garner public laurels: the former for amending the constitution to make it more democratic and accountable; the latter for blocking amendments to the blasphemy law.

Neither will have any bearing on the material or spiritual well-being of the common man. The gulf that separates political leaders from the people is a wide one. The one separating the people from the ideologists is wider still. The 18th and 19th amendments to the constitution and the NFC award (which is yet another achievement the politicians boast of) will not create new jobs nor bring the soaring prices down nor reduce crime — the problems that are of real concern to the common man.

And the reverence in which the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is held the world over is not in any way owed to the death penalty decreed by a military ruler in the recent past. It is embedded in the hearts and minds of the people.

All that the people expect of the constitution and other laws is to guarantee an equal opportunity to all citizens in all walks of life and a speedy remedy when it is denied. If only this much were assured, they would not need a politician or a theologian to take care of their rights or faith. The rule of law on which much emphasis is laid loses all meaning if the laws are not uniformly enforced and violations not promptly punished.

It must be said that Pakistan's legal code is, by and large, just and applicable to all citizens alike. The delay and discrimination arise only in its implementation. And the remedy is hard to come by when those who make the laws also choose to break them, routinely when it comes to jobs in the government or the disposal of land owned by the government.

For appointment to jobs in the government and in organisations controlled by it, the rules and procedures are laid down. But with the possible exception of the Federal Public Service Commission, which deals with but a few superior service cadres, appointments are generally made in violation of the rules.

Even the provincial public service commissions are said to be amenable to pressure from political quarters. In recruitment against posts where the authority vests in ministers or officials merit is hardly ever taken into account.

Interestingly enough, it is mostly teachers and police officials who are randomly appointed. No other explanation is needed for the falling standards of education (I came across a teacher who had a degree in economics but could hardly pronounce the word) and the rising incidence of crime (some policemen are former street toughies).

To dispense favour or, more deplorably, for the sake of bribe, the people in authority are destroying the peace and prospects of future generations. When influence or bribe can get an applicant no better job, he must be content with being a teacher. It is a small mercy that thousands of them get paid without teaching.

Through successive regimes, competitive merit has been making way for nominations. Benazir Bhutto when she first became prime minister in 1988 found it hard to tell a youth who had been lashed in Ziaul Haq's regime that the rules did not allow her to appoint him as an excise inspector. Again, it was with some hesitation that she broached the subject of appointment of stewards in the PIA with the airline's then chief executive Air Marshal Daudpota.Those could be called the good old days. Surely, it wouldn't have occurred to Benazir Bhutto then that one day in the government of her own party unqualified cronies who had in no manner suffered in a public cause would get to head national organisations like the Oil and Gas Development Company — and would still have been robbing but for the intervention of the Supreme Court.

The exploitation of employment in public service no longer raises any eyebrows. Ministers, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and their henchmen all indulge in it. Departure from the rules is itself a rule now. The ombudsmen, inspection teams, etc. remain unconcerned. Only the superior courts take occasional notice.

The remedy lies in a smaller government and in narrowing the sphere of its activity. On the contrary, the district governments have added enormously to the size of the establishment and proportionately to its nuisance value.

In the administrative and local government reforms now in the making, the federal, provincial and local jurisdictions should be clearly demarcated. As a measure of economy and for better performance, schools and dispensaries, basic health and family-planning centres should be handed over to local communities or NGOs wherever forthcoming.

A door also needs to be opened to private effort and philanthropy in the semi-urban and rural areas. Thirty years ago, Karachi had no more than 20 ambulances. The entry of Edhi and others who followed has taken the number close to 1,000. Increase in the number of private schools and hospitals is equally phenomenal. In small towns and villages, the government should make capital investment in social projects but let the community manage and share the running cost.

State enterprises which are inefficient and losing money should be privatised and where that is not found possible operations should be entrusted to the private sector. The much-plundered Pakistan Steel and the much-mismanaged Railways and PIA should be the foremost candidates for such treatment. Were these organisations to be made profitable, Pakistan would not have to borrow from the IMF.

When all has been said, hope must wilt before it buds. Knowing the misfortune suffered by the Punjab and Khyber banks, the Sindh government has launched a bank of its own. There must be a bank for unbankable projects and a corporation to employ the unemployable.

kunwaridris@hotmail.com

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