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Governance by exceptions

February 01, 2009

SHAHID Javed Burki concludes his article, 'Unresolved issues' (Jan 27), with the emphasis on the need for the present government to let the people know exactly what it has in mind when it comes to providing them with good governance, in order to arrest the economic deterioration in the country.

In the same issue of the newspaper appeared a news item, 'Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani issued 2,788 arms licences of prohibited bore [as exception] during his first six months in office, the National Assembly was informed on Monday....'The whole structure of governance in our country has come to stand on one set of exceptions or another. People don't count, even principles don't. So how can anyone expect good governance to be happening?

Why does it not register in our collective psyche that those countries that have attained dignity and progress drag into truly independent courts their prime minister's children, and the sitting president himself where required, for violating laws of the land.

Individuals have to bend in order to fit the inflexible laws, not the other way round, as is the case in Pakistan. That principle applies in the formulation and success of economic policies as well.

Red traffic signal means 'stop' for everybody — except some, usually with a convoy trailing behind. Tinted glasses of vehicles are against the law — except for some. Murderers are hanged or imprisoned for life — except some. Taking bribes is a crime — except for some. Tampering with the Constitution of the country is high treason - with exception for some. Government servants are not allowed to enter politics and hold a public office for at least two years after leaving their government job, but — you get the point!

All and sundry among the rulers go hoarse guaranteeing good governance in the country, in fact have been doing so for years. However, apparently more of their time, energies and public money are spent in searching and fighting for 'exceptions'. Out-of-turn promotions, postings for which they don't qualify, and the like. Remember the extended clandestine hopping from one country to another, (negotiations extravaganza at public expense), for the NRO?

What was it if not an endless exercise of haggling over which side gets greater exceptions (in the guise of amnesties, guarantees, safe passages, withdrawal of cases in the courts, third-term as PM, etc.). Therefore, if the attitude of the rulers does not single-mindedly target the welfare and betterment of the people, without exception, no critical area of the social setup can improve, be it education, health, law and order or economic development.

During his ADCship of the Quaid-i-Azam, Maj Gen Gul Hasan narrates the incident when he got down from the car he was travelling in with the Quaid (no other escorts/bodyguards, by the way) to get a closed railway barrier raised. He was stopped by the real leader and sternly advised patience, because if the rulers didn't obey the laws, how can the common man be expected to do so.

We weren't always the way we are now. And for us to begin straightening up, the drive needs to start from the top. That is if good governance is an honest goal and not a mere manipulative expedient slogan.