Privatization, Authoritarianism and Democracy

Source: Express Tribune

Source: Express Tribune

Nothing has aroused my curiosity about the Constitution of Pakistan as much as the plethora of executive decisions issued out of the Prime Minister House and the Federal Cabinet. Is that even democratic?

Whatever the answer, most people do not even bother about that.

There is no surprise that a parliament that unanimously voted to pass the 18th Amendment containing the Article 63 (A) would find excessive executive power the least of its problems. It goes without saying that most Pakistanis are not only happy with that, but many of them have no problems with authoritarianism in general.

There is no shortage of people approving excessive executive power all around the world, even in the United States, since things get done faster this way. Who wants to waste time in stupid voting procedures when the executive can get everything done with the stroke of a pen?

Well, there is a right way of doing the right thing, and then there is the wrong way. Which by the way, is what you think is the right way. It could really be a solution, or not.

This is why a lot of people think that a lot more things get done when dictators rule the country. Well, that is true, but their unchecked progress is also matched by unchecked tyranny and no accountability. This is why such authoritarian measures should have no place in a democracy.

Take privatization for an example. Consider the news report of the approval of the sale of 26% of shares of national airline PIA by the Privatization Commission Board and the relevant Cabinet Committee. Note how it reports that the decision of the Privatization Commission Board would be final. While it seems logical that experts are making the decision, it makes no sense politically.

Even if the Constitution allows for this channel of decision making, it would be largely flawed, in my opinion.

There is hardly any doubt that privatization is the need of the hour for Pakistan. I am all for it. Not only because of the burden of massive losses, but because the government is not supposed to and is unable to run corporations. Simply because these corporations are supposed to be managed like businesses and governments would not do that.

However, it matters how the process of privatization is carried out. It cannot simply be the decision of one man, or the Privatization Commission Board or ministry bureaucrats to convert ownership of the shares of an institution from public to private. The parliament must vote on the motion, in both the lower and upper houses.

As a matter of fact, the Constitution of Pakistan does provide that a Money bill should originate in the lower house, as per Article 71 (I), if I am not wrong. The sale of share of PIA or any other public entity could easily be considered a matter pertaining to money, as it would concern the change in capital, if not revenue, of the state at the federal level.

A lot of people would argue that referring the matter to the parliament would be another way of killing the issue at hand. That voting in the legislature encourages obstructionism. It may be so, but that is the right thing to do.

I am worried that Pakistani federal and provincial legislatures hardly ever vote for important issues, other than electing each other. Which makes me think they are not doing what they are hired to do.

And this, along with many recently introduced constitutional provisions, hint toward increasing trends of authoritarianism among democratic legislators in the country. Though it was never absent, arguably.

Allowing obstructionism is necessary for upholding democratic values.

Serving the Servants

It is often said that Pakistan was created for Muslims. This statement should be amended to replace the word Muslims with Muslim government servants.

And for a good reason. Because government servants, especially the ones in the military and some particular departments of the civil bureaucracy (of course, some government servants are more equal than others), get the facilities from the state that even most millionaires in the country cannot dream of.

I know Pakistan is not the only country in the world in which such practice is prevalent. As a matter of fact, there would be very few countries in which government servants are not being offered special treatment of some sort. But then again, in many of those countries, the people are offered as good facilities as the ones the government servants are availing.

We, the people of Pakistan, have been taught since childhood, most probably by the same government servants, that Pakistan was meant to be an Islamic welfare state. So what exactly does a welfare state do? It provides for the welfare of the general public. Very few signs of that in Pakistan.

The military and certain civil bureaucrats get guaranteed free medical and healthcare insurance and facilities, almost-free, if not free, housing from the state and many many more perks.

Then there is this perception of government servants being superior to common people or civilians. Though not politically correct, you can hardly consider this perception false, as in every way, power, authority, security protocol, preferred treatment and luxury, these government servants, and their friends among civilians, seem way superior to other ordinary people.

This is why middle class children like me are strictly instructed to become a government servant. So that I can be granted entry into the echelons of power, luxury and authority, and not to forget, money, that the rich and lucrative powerhouses of government service offer. Doesn’t everyone want to live an exclusivist dream? Sour grapes for someone who would try and fail, but even if I got there, I would have only become guilty of doing the same which I criticize. But then again, is there something to feel guilty about at all?

Perhaps not. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with enjoying the perks that come with a certain professional position. But what indeed is wrong is being neglectful of the responsibilities towards the people that those offices sanction. What indeed seems inappropriate to me is the way these personnel are trained to treat “common people”, who they are actually supposed to answer to and serve, and who are actually paying for their lifestyle.

Not only have I been in contact with such people at one time in my life or another, but I have even seen the world from their viewpoint. They are welcomed into their training academies with the realization that they are the best among the people they have been chosen from, and certainly have a reason to be proud of themselves. Or at least have a right to consider themselves superior to their former equals.

Of course, there is no doubt that these personnel work very hard for their country and deserve all the care they get. My point is not really to deny them of their pleasures, but to at least provide just a fraction of that to the general public, who like it or not, are paying for their housing authorities, medical facilities, education, foreign tours and even their salaries.

It certainly does become frightening when people start making a distinction between the state and the people. Because after all, there is a distinction. Through very elementary observations, you would find that there is hardly anything in common between the state and the people, in which the former plays the captor, while the latter, the enslaved.

I am not even morally pissed off at the rightful arrogance of these able and qualified professionals. First of all, it’s meaningless to object to it, and secondly, a third person could possibly extract little to no pleasure to take their special attention away. All I am asking for is free health and education for the general public of Pakistan.

If a little girl living in Lodhran or Badin needs a surgery for a transplant, why cannot the state pay for that, if it can pay for the surgery of an army officer’s child?

Why is that the domain of the corrupt and incompetent politicians?