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The writing on the wall

As more cases of mega corruption surface- a daily affair now- the PML-N regime feels more uncertain about its continuation in power but, instead of showing signs of support for tougher accountability of the corrupt within the ranks of the politicians and the bureaucracy, it is relying on its traditional slogan warning about “derailment of democracy”.

Despite voicing his fears, the Prime Minister prefers going on long foreign visit like the one that began on September 22. But former president Asif Ali Zardari appears truly worried, and to nobody’s surprise, left Pakistan soon after threatening the Army. Warned by his well-wishers to refrain from such outbursts, he is now faulting the federal agencies conducting the operation “clean-up”, largely in Sindh.

Although no election after the 1970 election was fair, politicians insist on being the defenders of democracy- a dispensation whose ills impacted every Pakistani. The harsh reality that Pakistanis have lived with for decades is, that during democratic dispensations, state administration was politicised, cronies were appointed in high places, and national wealth was wasted.

That this happened has now been exposed beyond doubt, but PML-N and the PPP keep blaming each other for bigger acts of mismanagement of the state; not denying the commission of such acts, is no more the focus of their mutual criticism. What neither party realises is that this blame-game won’t absolve either party of the accusations they now confront.

That accountability of the in-power regimes and the establishment steadily became a low priority is manifested by the way NAB became partisan and silently allowed mega crimes to skyrocket. What made this scenario worse was the judiciary’s failure to play its role in this context, as admitted by a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk.

Just one example of sidelining accountability is that only in 2015 did the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee began examining the violation of rules by the National Highway Authority in 2008 by awarding 10 contracts worth Rs 493 million to a single entity, that entity’s poor project execution, and outlay on the projects far exceeding their PC-1estimates.

Not building dams, especially the Kalabagh Dam, implied that the expanding gap between power generation and consumption would become the biggest economy-crippling factor, but both PML-N and the PPP ignored it; instead, they privatised this sector via suspect deals with IPPs that set up oil-fired power generation units when a rise in oil price was building up.

No wonder, last week the Auditor General of Pakistan reported resource waste amounting to Rs 980 billion in the power sector due to incorrect billing, poor monitoring of bill collection, misappropriation, misuse and embezzlement of public funds, theft of materials, non-implementation of commercial procedures, and violation of the provisions of the power policy.

The real shocker in his report was that irregularities worth over Rs 4.2 trillion discovered in the past few years (oddly, excluding frauds, misappropriation of funds, and other irregularities amounting to less than Rs 1 million) weren’t rectified. But in the past five years, besides doubling the consumer tariff, the federal government injected nearly Rs 2 trillion into the power sector.

While politicians claim giving Pakistan a democratic set-up, the “Republic” of Pakistan doesn’t reflect any attribute that Plato specified in his historic book “The Republic”. Nor do politicians realise that, after being exposed as the lot that used state power for self-benefit, not for giving the country a progressively fairer and more responsible administration, their game is over.

No democratic regime (including in the West) portrays the republic Plato advocated because no political party made his theory the basis of its philosophy the way did the philosophies of Karl Marx and Mao Zedong. But the failure of these philosophies too revived the demand for the system Plato advocated, and the rise of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of Britain’s Labour Party too won’t work.

Plato authored 36 books, mostly on political and ethical issues, but in ‘The Republic’ he expressed in detail, his concept of an ideal society- a society administered by the most ‘competent’. According to Plato, the best form of government is an aristocracy – neither hereditary nor a monarchical – but one that consists of the meritorious “guardians” i.e. the best and the wisest in a state.

According to Plato, every citizen has the right to become a ‘guardian’, but those aspiring to avail of this equality of opportunity must convincingly exhibit mastery in theoretical principles and have practical experience which they can apply to enhance public welfare. Impliedly, have the ability to hold the bureaucracy accountable fairly and accurately. Does the conduct of our parliamentarians reflect any of these attributes?

Besides, these pre-requisites the other pre-conditions for becoming guardians – owning minimal personal property, and no land or private homes – cannot attract the rich and the expedient. Finally, guardians are to receive fixed (not large) salaries, since, for these philosopher-rulers satisfaction of the public with the services provided by the state is to be their real compensation.

By stipulating that those aspiring to become parliamentarians must have a record of being “sagacious, righteous, non-profligate, honest and ameen”, Article 62(f) of Pakistan’s constitution resonates Plato’s philosophy, and the demand for its enforcement in letter and spirit has been triggered by the expanding rich-poor gulf courtesy sustained corrupt governance practices.

The view – expressed by politicians, the media, the legal fraternity, and accepted by the Election Commission- that it is impossible for candidates to fulfil the conditionalities of Article 62(f), reflects how corruption has been accepted as the irreversible reality, although advocating this view implies that our society is “civilised” no more.That those not fulfilling these conditionalities could be elected to the parliament proves it.

But this shameful view is untrue; despite politicians’ trampling ofthe social values, we have many who qualify on the yardsticks set by Plato. This lot must come in the forefront if the system is to become economically and socially responsible and equitable. But if the present breed of politicians continues to adore the legislature, this change will remain a dream.

It must be accepted that this change is in the interest of not just the Pakistanis but all those around the world who want Pakistan’s youth to shed petty crime and terrorism as their pastime to become true value-generators. More than anyone else, this stark reality must be accepted by those trying to put things right. Sustaining a democracy that has out-lived its utility isn’t the remedy that can undo the ills Pakistan suffers from. Merely exposing corruption without pulling out its roots won’t work. That’s the bold writing on the wall.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2015

A B Shahid, "The writing on the wall," business Recorder. 2015-09-29.
Keywords: Political science , Political parties , Bureaucracy , Democracy , Politicians , Economy , Administration , Terrorism , Pakistan , PPP , IPPs , PML-N , PC , NAB