One of the main complaints against government officials is that they do not perform their duties diligently. And everyone readily agrees with this observation. But many a time those blamed for negligence of duty face problems which create hindrances in them performing their duties. Such problems remain concealed from public knowledge.
Last month, journalist Umar Cheema wrote about how Ziaullah, a patrolling officer of the Motorway Police, was penalised in 2015 for imposing a fine on the chairman of the National Highway Authority for exceeding the speed limit while driving on the motorway. When the chairman’s car was stopped for the same infraction twice within 25 minutes, instead of feeling contrite, he rebuked the officer on duty for not having shaved that day. Ziaullah was later transferred from Swabi to Gwadar, the farthest motorway outpost.
On the same subject, I quote from my piece ‘Supporting the dutiful’ published in these pages in November 2016: “It so happened that motorway officials on duty flagged down a speeding SUV, without knowing it carried the NHA chairman, a VIP in his own right and in his own domain. Instead of stopping, the SUV sped on until it was again waved down to stop within the next 25 minutes for the same violation – speeding. Visibly upset, the VIP paid the fine but not without giving a tongue-lashing to the officials on duty, and ticking off one of them for not having shaved that morning. Before taking off again, the mighty chairman mockingly asked the lowly official to look at his face in the mirror. This was nothing short of pure hubris and VIP culture at display.”
Owing to the chairman’s displeasure, the then IG Motorway Police demoted Ziaullah to the rank of head constable, and later terminated his services. Interestingly, as Umar Cheema pointed out, the NHA chairman went on to occupy a senior position in the World Bank and the IG Motorway was selected to hold a top position in an institution meant ‘for steering police reform efforts’. Ziaullah who had been nominated for a ‘departmental award’, which carried a handsome cash prize of Rs150,000, in recognition of his outstanding performance found himself without a job. Poorer by Rs150,000 he continues to fight his case in the court of law, while his tormentors move from strength to strength.
The Motorway Police has the reputation of being one of the best run organisations in the country. Why do the VIPs consider themselves above the law? The only plausible answer could be: what is the point in being a VIP if one were to follow the rules just like the hoi polloi of the land?
While performing their duty, the traffic police have to maintain a delicate balance. For instance, at turnings on Lahore’s main roads, traffic wardens stop motorists to check whether they have their seatbelts on or not. At the same time, they ignore serious violations of driving, such as driving against one-way traffic.
Recently, I stopped to chat with a traffic warden to know his part of the story first hand. I asked him why they only check for seatbelt violations but ignore other infringements such as the changing of lanes without indicating, driving in the opposite direction on a one-way road; motorcyclists zigzagging on the road without wearing helmets are also ignored. The warden replied that they were only deputed to check whether the motorists were wearing seatbelts or not.
On further inquiring why they did not impose heavy fines on the violators of traffic rules to prevent them from breaking the rules again, the warden stated that they were not allowed to do so. The orders are clear: a) don’t stop government vehicles, Prados, Land Cruisers and luxury vehicles; b) don’t meddle with lawyers who have their legal status displayed on the number plates of their cars and c) avoid aggressive and querulous motorists.
No wonder then that our traffic is in such a terrible mess. Had Ziaullah followed the traffic warden’s advice, he would have not lost his job.
The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.