Merit and corruption


Corruption is not the characteristic of the public servants but rather of the system

They are not very good businessmen. They’re not very good politicians either. They lack the necessary ingredient for both, tolerance and the customer/constituent is always right attitude. Had not the senior Mian sahib worked tirelessly to the end of his days, it is only a matter of speculation if the junior Mian brothers would have been able to build an empire half as expansive, or accumulate even a portion of the wealth they inherited.

The Achilles heel of the politics of Sharifs would prove to be their massive egos and an unwarrantedly high perception of the family’s abilities. Nobody is above the democracy and rule of law, except of course the relatives. Critics have started analogizing theirsystem of governance with a certain American don of the middle twentieth century – keeping all important positions within the family; one is often made curious about the private dining room discussions that must be had between the Sharifs, with national repercussions.

Leading the country like a fiefdom is one thing, however treating everyone else like a Muzaaray (dependents) quite another. It is this characteristic of the Mians that brings them foes from all segments of life much more often than friends.

A gentleman may avoid confrontation cue Jahangir Karamat, but a gentleman is rarely allowed to progress cue Musharraf and Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Then there are lesser Gods; young doctors of Punjab, the poor bureaucrats unfortunate enough to be the administrators of the places witnessing an event that which may catch the Chief Minister’s eye, and the bakery workers – the common plebian class which deserves the least.

Lately, it has been the revenue department, and most importantly the perpetual target of derision, the patwaris. For a nation continuously riled, perturbed and agitated by this cadre of servants, there was no better news than the computerisation of land records.

Admittedly, there are absolutely no qualms to be had about the merit and necessity of this process – for years on end we have allowed a few to hold onto the keys to the treasures of Qaroon, and they have feasted like vultures upon it.

Then there are tales of the state the record is actually kept in; anecdotes of the record room burning being all too abundant. The dusty messed up rooms keeping the record books are themselves a narration of neglect, wherein a singular hired hand transcends unnatural heights (up to 30 feet) to take down registers, stepping only on shelves and enduring without so much as a ladder being available.

Yours truly personally had the opportunity to visit one such room where a cat had given birth right in the middle of the registers holding records of land worth billions. Yes, it had actually made a home of the record room without being disturbed by the men in control.

Thus the calls for computerisation being justified, the debate herein is about the necessary mobility for the public servants, and for that, one needs to play the devil’s advocate.

In this context one news deserves special attention, more than 11,000 patwaris submitted their resignations en masse in the recent past, in protest against apprehension of being sidelined by the government after being made to work like cattle sowing a barren land in the computerization process.

This is a community which has done mutations and held records all its life and knows nothing better. Despite the grouse against them, they do possess an indispensable skill, and if the facts are to be believed, the corruption rate of 40-55 percent (depending on which survey you prefer), indicates the presence of atleast 45 percent of people from this class that are not venal, and thus refuse to accept bribery.

Not incorporating these workers within the new system may produce some desirable austerity, but it would, with the same stroke, make thousands of bread earners unemployed, and therefore thousands of families would be denied the food security they hitherto held.

In this summer of discontent, the N league would be better of making a few friends. The hubris that has defined majority of policies, and the stress to have them implemented overnight may prove counterproductive, with unparalleled damage accruing to N league’s own political base.

Until such a time that the registration takes place, proper computer training of the patwaris need to be undertaken, and if that proves too much of a hassle, alternative jobs should be provided. No institution is without bad fish – some more than others – but with a proper accountability mechanism in place, people can always seek the doors of the anti-corruption departments for their grievances.

The policymakers need to realise, especially given the case point of growing trend of bribe being sought by the highly educated traffic wardens, that corruption is not the characteristic of the public servants but rather of the system. If it were to be rooted out, more assiduous measures than the facile decisions such as dispensing off with the plausibly corrupt needs to be favoured. For the newly hired would just as equally indulge in this activity otherwise.

As for the government, it knows only too well the political mileage that this community brings besides their capability of working in sasta bazaars, election duties, peace maintenance and protocol duties among others. Utilising them in a changed culture may do a better job than aiming for politics that could only lead to a spectacle. One that would potentially stall the working of the revenue department, and in the stretch of affairs make the computerisation of land records a distant dream.