Mulberry bush syndrome

Majyd Aziz
September 20, 2021

All around the mulberry bush /the monkey chased the weasel /the monkey thought it was all in good fun /pop goes the weasel.

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All around the mulberry bush /the monkey chased the weasel /the monkey thought it was all in good fun /pop goes the weasel.

This nursery rhyme depicts the monkey chasing the weasel. In other words, the monkey has issues and to resolve these issues, it has to run around trying to get relief from the weasel but the weasel uses tactics and tricks to frustrate the monkey in order to delay the solutions or to provide assistance. The nursery rhyme is to a large extent applicable even today and is a normal everyday source of consternation for the business community, in particular, and the citizens, in general. Nary a day goes by without any distress or dismay faced by the citizens. There are cases galore and some need to be highlighted.

The prevalent mindset in utility organizations (electricity, gas and water), and even in organizations such as Sindh Building Control Authority, Capital Development Authority, Lahore Development Authority, or even Defence Housing Authority, is to let matters take their own course, albeit as per the peccadilloes of the competent authority (maybe the clerk, maybe the section officer, or maybe the top person in the hierarchy). Citizens, homeowners, agents, and lawyers are seen outside these organizations, with frustration, resignation and despondency written on their faces because either the officer is not present, or the file is in transit between departments, or the file is somehow misplaced, or the office has put an objection and wants this or that affidavit, or just for the heck of it, the decision on the file continues to be delayed. Another going round and round activity.

The judicial system has been a dilemma, both symbolically and substantially, for those citizens taking recourse of the law. A high profile case gains priority, publicity and importance while files of thousands of cases keep getting placed at the bottom for years and years. When a plaintiff, thanking the stars that the case would finally be heard on such and such date is soon discouraged because the legal community has called a strike for whichever and whatever reason. Back under the pile of file goes the plaintiff's case. Usually on each working day, the business class section of the flights from Karachi to Islamabad are mostly occupied by top notch lawyers making a beeline at the highest court of the country. Ditto is the scene on the return flight returning home. And this goes on as a matter of routine. Of course, the client soon receives a fat bill for this unproductive activity, usually all that the lawyer does is take a date for the next hearing. Another going round and round activity.

Somehow there is a peculiar mentality in the various ministries. Try going to a ministry for a meeting with a Grade-21/22 officer. The stock answer is that the officer is in meeting with the Prime Minister, or in the meeting of either the Senate or the House Standing Committee. Try calling for an appointment, say for two weeks hence. Same response. The officer would be, where else? Yes, at one of the three places. Maybe it is time that there should be two federal secretaries for each ministry. One to attend these meetings and one to run the ministry. But till then, it is another going round and round activity.

The representatives of corporations are über busy flying into and from Islamabad to visit FBR and other ministries, weeks before and weeks after the presentation of the federal budget. There are many rent-seekers among them, hustling their way to ensure that their interests are not only protected but that more gravy comes their way.

At the same time, leaders of the business community and office bearers of chambers and associations are in the same boat too. They have been elected to espouse the cause of their members. The annual ritual of preparing budgetary proposals and presenting these to relevant ministries is one of their prime responsibilities.

However, they are now well aware that the bulky output painstakingly prepared by their organizations are seldom read by decision makers and that these presentations are neither filed nor studied but are disposed off into the proverbial dustbins. There should be pity for the top business leaders, who being involved in myriad activities of their trade organizations, as well as running own business enterprises, enjoying the publicity value of their activities, having easy access into the corridors of power, do feel that all this is too heavy a toll on their health, family, and business. But they have to continue this going round and round activity.

"Fast track", "priority", "urgent" can have different connotations for competent authorities. Political leaders have to create a climate that is easy for doing business, and their obligation to the people, the nation, and the overall environment should occupy an equally high priority. The culture of primordial decision making has aggravated the situation and it is high time someone at the top pushes through and gets implemented some reformatory sanity in the whole system. It is generally obvious that most of the initiatives and policies are splendidly progressive and ready to speed on the highway, but then something happens at the implementation stage and the racing car transforms into a tortoise, crawling at its leisurely pace. However, for the citizens, another round and round activity.

What is imperative now is the need for a true democratic dividend which abandons a past full of inequality and denial. This is the only viable and lasting way instead of encouraging a false and deceitful optimism among the beleaguered denizens of the country. A colonial mindset, a charade of superiority, a disdain attitude towards the people, and blatant allegiance to personalities or dynasties, do not make a progressive nation. Pakistan has to become a merit nation.

Andrew Sullivan, the British-American author and blogger, stated, "If we don’t change we don’t grow, and if we don’t grow we don’t learn, and if we don’t learn then we don’t change. Do you see the cycle? The round and round of the mulberry bush syndrome". And this reminds all of the old nursery rhyme, "Here we go round the mulberry bush/the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush/Here we go round the mulberry bush/on a cold and frosty morning".

The writer is an ex-president of Employers Federation of Pakistan



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