Punjab’s feedback model


The South China Morning Post has carried an article in which Professor Dan Hough Director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex, UK said: “To fight corruption, Beijing should look to Pakistan…and that the citizens should be empowered so that they could report bribery, as it was the matter Lahore had.” China indeed has taken steps to fight corruption and there is zero tolerance in higher echelons of Chinese leadership, yet it is an honour for Punjab government that in one particular aspect, it was suggested that it should be emulated. In Punjab, corruption particularly in land transactions had assumed alarming proportions. It was in this backdrop that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif introduced a system; the Citizen Feedback Model, that would enable people to report corrupt transactions. It is a matter of record that over 2.1 million text messages have been dispatched since 2010 and over 8,000 cases of corruption have been reported.

Shahbaz Sharif visited Turkey, China and India. Their leaderships and media are all praise for his caliber and vision. Even the chief minister of Bihar has praised the good governance of Shahbaz Sharif. Moreover, Transparency International acknowledges that the level of corruption is lowest in Punjab, if compared with other provinces. Anyhow, Punjab government continues to do legislation work to check corruption such as Access to Information bill to achieve the laudable objective of good governance. In December 2013, Provincial legislators passed The Punjab Transparency and Right to Information (RIT) Bill 2013. With a total of 25 clauses, the bill aimed to provide transparency and freedom of information to ensure that citizens have improved access to public information; to make the government more accountable to citizens and to enforce the fundamental right of access to information in all matters of public importance. It is too well known that unequal access to information can reflect and reinforce inequalities in access to other resources and power. This exclusion is often based on gender, age, class, race, etc, which is reflective of inequality.

Despite these inequalities and constraints on flow and access to information, people everywhere are increasingly demanding more transparency and claiming their right to know. Article 19A of Pakistan’s Constitution states: “Every citizen shall have access to information in all matters of public importance subject to regulation and reasonable limits imposed by law”. In every field of activity, be it business, profession or vocation; be it a private or public institution, decisions taken on the basis of reliable information are more effective than those of taken in the absence of information. It provides the tool to take correct decisions, and there is maxim that “Information is power”. Government servants or even those at the helm in private organizations have the tendency to keep the information to themselves, because they feel a sense of power. But sometimes withholding information can cause a great loss. In Pakistan, low literacy level, abject poverty and ignorance of citizens have placed society at low spectrum of social awareness on the right to information.

Anyhow, only in a society where democracy has taken roots, the people are aware and conscious about their rights, that they can exert pressure on the members of the parliament to pass appropriate laws to acknowledge people’s right to information. In the developing countries, bureaucracy often holds back the information because it feels that releasing information is not in public interest. In Pakistan, secretive style of governance in the past, weakened the state and society. In developed countries, citizens’ access to public records and transparency in processes that affect their lives have a ‘disinfecting’ effect on the administration and the government. People today wish to be informed about the way three pillars of the state conduct them, and how it affects their lives. In the recent past, sugar, cement, flour and stock exchange scams adversely impacted the national exchequer and people’s lives. Investigative reporting helped expose the elements that exploited the people or caused loss to the exchequer. Yet, a lot has to be done to end the corrupt practices, wrongdoings of some parliamentarians and members of the bureaucracy.

Chief Minister Punjab and leader of PML(N), Shahbaz Sharif has been visiting Turkey, India, China and other countries, and he has been admired for running the largest province of Pakistan successfully. Shahbaz Sharif, true to his reputation, has undertaken major development works across the big cities of Punjab and this contributed to a significant expansion in the province’s infrastructure. Of course, all of which seems to be a response to the needs of an articulate urban population that votes for his party. During the last two years, the urban youth have also factored into provincial governance and the government tried to engage and mobilise this particular segment of Punjab’s population. Establishment of Danish schools, distribution of laptops to students and facilitating cultural activities have made Punjab as an envy for others, and other provinces wish to emulate. Having that said, Shahbaz Sharif stands out for his responsiveness and ability to set the parameters of governance right as compared with chief ministers of other provinces.