COMMENT: Less we expect, the less we get —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain - Monday, October 25, 2010

Source :\10\25\story_25-10-2010_pg3_3

The private sector in Pakistan is still vibrant and works hard to make the proverbial buck. Unfortunately, there is no way to infuse that entrepreneurial spirit into the bureaucratic setup

As Pakistan muddles along from one crisis to another, everybody and their uncle keeps wondering why the ‘masses’ just do not rise up and throw out the ‘rascals’ responsible for this mess. There are two major reasons why the masses do not do it. First being that the aforementioned rascals are now in such preponderance among our ruling and governing classes that throwing them all out will leave the country bereft of any government that actually has the ability to function and at best only result in exchanging one set of rascals with another set of rascals.

The second reason why the masses do not really get too excited is due to what might be called a nationwide ‘dumbing down’ of expectations. There was a time that some of us of a ‘certain’ age might remember. In those days the government actually tried to govern, the police actually felt the need to protect ordinary people, the judiciary attempted to provide justice for all and the civil servants as a group believed that they were there to serve. Unfortunately, those days are long gone. People no longer expect much of those responsible for running this country and those that sort of run this country are quite willing to oblige.

This ‘dumbing down’ involves not just the bureaucracy and the political apparatchiks but almost everybody in the public sector. The sad part of it all is that most people working in the public sector are capable of doing a much better job than they are doing at present but it seems they just cannot muster up the desire to do it. I must, however, admit that there are many good, honest and hardworking people working in the public sector doing the best that they can and but for them this country would indeed fall apart.

Much is made of corruption and how it undermines the ability to govern. The more I see the system from the inside and from without, the more I realise that corruption by itself is not the cause but rather the effect of this generalised ‘malaise’ of low expectations. Doing the right thing is not a priority for government functionaries so the general public when it needs to get things done has no choice but to grease a few palms.

Here it is important to differentiate between the two basic types of corruption that go on. The first type is the one that facilitates things and then things do get done properly. The malign form of corruption is the one that is aimed at preventing the right things from getting done. An example of what I might even dare to call ‘good’ corruption is the bribe that a contractor offers to public employees to get a contract. But once the contractor has the contract, the work gets done to specifications. This form of corruption has existed for a long time and still exists in some form or other in more advanced countries.

The malign corruption is where the contractor gives a bribe to get the contract and then pays more to build things poorly resulting in the sort of disaster that happened in the 2005 earthquake when virtually all ‘government’ buildings in the affected area collapsed. Corruption of this sort presumes that both the builder and the ‘overseer’ have a complete lack of regard for the well being of people that will eventually use these facilities. Also the official responsible for making sure that things get done properly finds it much easier to sit in his office, receive his share and let the builders do whatever they want.

This unwillingness on the part of the people in authority to try and do the right thing extends to the entire spectrum of public services. As an example, many appointments in public sector teaching establishments including medical colleges and universities are often made without any regard for appropriate qualifications or demonstrated ability. It is indeed much easier to appoint people who are well known to the appointing ‘competent authority’. Trying to find the right person for an important job is hard work. As a consequence more and more people of doubtful capabilities are selected for important positions thus perpetuating this culture of indifference to ability and performance.

But then we among the ‘masses’ better known as members of ‘civil society’ must also accept some responsibility for this mess. These politicians, bureaucrats, policemen, government functionaries, teachers and doctors who we love to complain about are all from us. They are our relatives, our neighbours and often our friends. We all moan and groan about the lack of governance and corruption except when we are personally in a position to benefit from those that are responsible for this state of affairs.

As far as the real ‘masses’ are concerned, they are too poor and too worried about where their next meal is coming from to give much thought to the state of national affairs. More importantly as I have said above, most of the poor and disadvantaged among us have already decided that those that have the power or the authority at this time or those that might replace them in the future have no real interest in doing anything for them. In essence there is now a complete lack of expectations among most of the ordinary people in this country that any of the alternatives available among the potential rulers will be better for them than anybody else. What this means is of course that most people no longer expect elections to make any difference.

What then can be done to change things? The private sector in Pakistan is still vibrant and works hard to make the proverbial buck. Unfortunately, there is no way to infuse that entrepreneurial spirit into the bureaucratic setup. However, what can be done is to reward those public officials who perform rather than those who have perfected the art of sycophancy. But where do we start?

The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

No comments:

Post a Comment