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February 13, 2015

Start with the minor irritants


February 13, 2015


Every governing dispensation in Pakistan’s history has harped about good governance before coming into power. Once in power, though, those claims usually disappeared as the focus shifted from matters of governance to matters of personal finance.
The examples of misgovernance, corruption, nepotism, rent seeking, dishonesty, mediocrity and incompetence in Pakistan would take millions (if not billions) of pages to document. For this article, I am only going to state one to demonstrate how a common citizen’s life is made miserable by boneheaded laws that lack any semblance of common sense.
Recently, I was fined by the Islamabad traffic police (rightly so). The total fine amounted to Rs200, which I was asked to deposit it in a particular bank’s branch. One such branch is near my office. The first time I went to deposit the fine, there was a long queue of people. There was only one bank employee (operating from a narrow window) catering to all the customers. Having taken time off of office for this supposedly trivial affair, I had to come back knowing that it would take at least an hour and a half for my number to come.
Two days later, I tried my luck again and went a bit earlier. On reaching the bank, I was greeted by an ensuing pandemonium. It later occurred that a senior citizen, above 70 years old, had got into a scuffle with the guards at the bank. In short, his gripe was that it was his third consecutive day coming to the bank, and everyday he had to stand for hours without getting his issue resolved.
I tried a third time, thinking that perhaps that time I would get lucky. I went pretty early, hoping that I wouldn’t find any queue this time. To my sorrow, I was greeted by the sight of an even longer queue than the ones I encountered before. Moreover, the payment window was closed despite it being half an hour after official opening hours. The guards at the main entrance gave people the news that sahib was having chai, and there was no

guarantee of when he’d be back.
Frustrated, I asked a traffic policeman about whether there was an alternative to my problem. He gave me the ‘good’ news that since seven days had passed, I would have to pay more now. Moreover, I’d have to pay the fine at a katchehry from where I would also get my licence. I again took time off from work to go to the katchehry in F-8. Once there, I was told that my licence was now at an office in G-11. Having no other option, I went to the G-11 office, where I was directed to go to the G-9 office.
The moral of the story is that, despite wasting lots of time and petrol (worth at least Rs1500), I was unable to pay a fine of Rs200 and get my licence back. I am more than sure that millions of Pakistanis across the country have to go through such frustrating behaviour everyday at government run institutions. And all this due to a plethora of laws that are enacted in the name of the government by ‘competent’ authorities, which make everyday life miserable for people.
First of all, why should people be limited to paying traffic fines only in one bank? And why only in one city (I tried paying the fine in Rawalpindi, but was told that I could only pay it in Islamabad). After all, the main purpose is to collect a fine that will go to the government’s coffers. Does it matter from which bank it comes from, and from which city? Common sense and sound governance principle suggest that it shouldn’t, but in Pakistan it obviously does. And here’s where we encounter the dark world of favours and rent seeking among public officials.
The simple story is that banks offer certain favours to those sitting at top positions in government run institutions. The return for these favours is in the form of opening the institution’s monetary account in that bank only. Whoever can offer the best returns (in terms of favours) will get the sought-after account. In some cases, there is the added dimension of enforced account opening and the quest to make it look profitable. Those serving in the government sector (permanent or temporary employees) are forced to open an account in a particular bank. This is true of government run organisations too (like thes motorway police), who are ‘directed’ to open an account there. In doing so, decision-makers can tout institutions like such banks as a success story by putting up figures which would show impressive growth of accounts in these banks.
But in doing so, the damage inflicted upon the people is nowhere visible. I stated the expenses (in terms of time and money) that I had to bear just for a trivial monetary amount. You can multiply these kinds of expenses by millions per day across all of Pakistan. The end result is that the transaction costs of laws and regulations like the above stated run into billions of rupees per day, causing substantial losses to the economy as a whole.
If there were anything resembling good governance in Pakistan, these kinds of laws should have been done away with long ago. And those who had been responsible for implementing such laws would have been punished. There is another important lesson here, specifically for the present ruling dispensation. Good governance is mostly about removing the minor level irritants that people have to encounter every day. Grandiose schemes like the metro bus can come later, and they are not necessarily symbols of good governance. This holds true for those aspiring to be in power.
Good governance, in turn, is mostly about common sense and being innovative in running the affairs of an institution or a country. I am afraid that both of these seem to be in short supply in Pakistan.
Tailpiece: Readers may question why I didn’t go to another bank branch. Well, thanks to the metro project, Islamabad’s roads have been turned into a guessing game. The nearest bank branch would have taken at least half an hour to reach, and there was no guarantee that there wouldn’t be a queue there.
The writer is a researcher and has taught at Bahria University and Iqra University.
Email: [email protected]




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