Delivering the law

Had there been an effective implementation of laws, the state of service delivery would have been more reassuring

Delivering the law


ecent developments in Pakistan have put to question the purpose of the constitution: is it meant to safeguard and protect the interests of the elite while leaving the poor alone? A general impression is forming that the judiciary is not the guardian, perhaps only an interpreter of the constitution and that the interpretation effort is undertaken mostly to benefit the elite. How frequently, for example, have judges held courts at midnight or on holidays to give instant relief to the poor?

Some people in important state institutions have time and again crossed the limits prescribed in the constitution and interfered with the working of other institutions. Lahore High Court, for instance, removed the Board of Governors chairman of the Lahore Arts Council within days of his appointment by the caretaker chief minister. Many of the government departments have not been performing the tasks they have been assigned under the constitution. The police, for example, instead of assuring security for all citizens, are often seen deployed for security of the elite. The Election Commission of Pakistan is seen looking for excuses to postpone the constitutionally mandated elections.

The constitution is considered the mainstay of a country’s governance system because it determines the forms and the systems of government. Moreover, it lays down where powers lie within the state and how various institutions are intended to operate. Its structural provisions – e.g., separation of powers and functioning of the institutions – ensure good governance. In other words, the constitution is the reference point for the legality of administrative and legislative actions.

Needless to say, effective implementation of the constitution results in good governance, which, in turn, provides essential public services such as security, the rule of law, economic governance and guarantees basic needs like housing, education and healthcare. The achievement of this goal requires empowerment of the institutions, a clear separation of their powers and transparency and accountability. Weak institutions and overlapping powers result in poor governance and ineffective service delivery.

Let us see how service delivery in sectors like security, rule of law, economic governance, and provision of basic needs has been affected by inadequate adherence to the constitution.

To begin with, assuring security – life and liberty – of all citizens is a primary duty of the state irrespective of their religion, race, colour, creed, language or ethnicity. Article 9 of the constitution states: “No person shall be deprived of life or liberty, save in accordance with law.”

Unfortunately, the Pakistani state has visibly failed in securing and protecting its citizens. Too often the state itself has been accused of abducting its citizens for dissent.

The term “rule of law” comes from the French phrase “le principe de legalite” meaning “the principle of legality” or “the supremacy of law” as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary. This indicates that decisions must be made in accordance with the laws, not out of ‘necessity’ or in exercise of ‘discretion.’ The rule of law is the cornerstone of the constitution. Articles 4 and 5 read: “To enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law is the inalienable right of every citizen,” and “Obedience to the Constitution and law is the [inviolable] obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan.” Despites these assurances, Justice Athar Minallah of Supreme Court of Pakistan is reported to have observed that “there’s no rule of law here, but the rule of the elite.”

Good economic governance – requiring a system of laws and regulations, policies and practices, and institutions and individuals – is essential to enable effective provision of basic services. The constitution states, “The state shall secure the well-being of the people, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, by raising their standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest and by ensuring equitable adjustment of rights between employers and employees, and landlords and tenants.” However, a huge income gap between the rich and the poor and across genders, subsidies to the rich, and heavy taxes on the poor show that the state has miserably failed in performing one of its prime duties i.e., good economic governance.

Finally, the state has duty to create the administrative foundation and infrastructure required to provide basic services such as housing, education and healthcare in a non-discriminatory and effective manner. Clause (d) of Article 38 reads: “The state shall provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment.” Despite these assurances, a large fraction of the population is deprived of basic necessities such as education and healthcare. Moreover, a substantial number of people are homeless and a considerable number are facing food insecurity.

The abovementioned show that service delivery in the country has been very poor mainly due to the ineffective implementation of the constitution. Had there been an effective implementation of laws in letter and spirit, the state of service delivery would have been better. The level of adherence to the constitution determines the quality of service delivery. Pakistan is in need of radical measures to implement the constitution, among other things, to avoid an imminent default on external payments, chaos and collapse. The sooner this is realised, the better it will be.

The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University. He is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be reached at He tweets at @MazharGondal87

Delivering the law