Friday, 24 July 2009

Rafay Alam: Great thinking on urban issues!

"Slums, however, are not the problem. Every developing city has at least one. Slums are not indicators of poverty so much as they are indicators of the failure of city fathers to estimate the future needs of their city. Slums are, in fact, places of great human and commercial activity. It's just that don't have the same water, sewage, electricity utilities, and space, found in places like a Defence housing colony. If it weren't for the slums, our cities wouldn't have the people that make, for instance, Karachi the commercial capital of the country. (The same is true of the slum populations and economies of Lagos, Mumbai, Calcutta, Sao Paulo or any other thriving third world city.)

No, slums are not the problem. What is the problem is the fact that our cities are not being planned for the future. Our cities are being planned to favour the elite and to favour foreign investment. They are designed with thoughts of London or New York in mind. They are designed and planned, in other words, without a thought to the reality that Pakistan is not an economic giant. It is not a place five-star hotel chains want to set up business. Its cities are not places where everyone will live in little bungalows, eat food prepared in the cooking oil ads we see on TV, and drive leased automobiles."

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The long Azaan!

I thought a part of “enlightened moderation” was regulating the moulvi’s use of the loudspeaker. But he seems to be increasingly empowered to abuse the loudspeaker.

Contrary to the teachings of Islam, there is now not one time for Azan or prayer. Each moulvi is waiting for the other to finish before saying his Azan. The result is that each morning our neighbourhood has Azans for 45 minutes. Is this not sacrilege? Should there not be one call for a prayer?

Not every moulvi is a good muezzin, yet each chooses to yell into a mike that is full volume. I thought that the tradition was for the person with the best voice to call for prayer.

An Azan by a moulvi who has no talent for it and into a distorted loud amplifier really takes away from the beauty of the Azan. And to keep on hearing it being repeated over and over again for 45 minutes cannot be in keeping the teachings of our beloved religion.

In many Muslim countries that I have been to the rule is that in each neighbourhood there will be only one Azan. In addition, they also have a taped Azzan by a reputable Kari that is played over a speaker system. Then most of us also know that the volume of a public address system has to be set in mid range. Setting it too loud distorts the sound ruining the music.

The state is ready to regulate everything but the moulvi. Sounds bizarre! Why does the ministry of religious affairs not regulate the moulvi and his behaviour? He should not be above the law and stick to the fact that the time for prayer does not vary according to the whims of the moulvi.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Raza Rumi is spot on on AID

"Thus far, there is little evidence to suggest that the US assistance has been pipe lined through meaningful and constructive engagement with the elected representatives who despite their lack of experience, unfamiliarity with development jargon and history of corruption are better placed than the usual suspects. The big, fat contracts currently floating in the development marketplace are scary to look at for more of the same has been undertaken in the past by other multilateral and bilateral saviours of Pakistan. Billions of dollars poured in after 2001 to improve Pakistan's governance and at the end of the day it has been civil action movements that have made noticeable impact on the governance culture. Similarly, massive injections of aid in the agricultural sector have been made with little or no results. There is no question that the drafting of strategies and roadmaps is vital for us. But there is absolutely no point in letting consultants write fancy documents what the local actors ought to be doing themselves. "

Mosharaf Zaidi says it well

"One of the things it needs is a serious conversation about education that contextualizes philanthropy as a useful demonstration of the realm of possible, rather than as a replacement for the state. Philanthropy can contribute to the conversation by helping Pakistanis acknowledge that an overwhelming majority of Pakistani teachers are unqualified to teach, and cannot be fired. That democratic MNAs, MPAs, Senators, and Ministers have helped teachers get their jobs. That the Supreme Court will invariably help them keep those jobs. That the World Bank building new schools for incapable and disincentivized teachers—much like putting stale wine in fancy new bottles—will simply not do the trick. That the Ministry of Education with no reason to exist other than to keep its officers and naib qasids (and drivers and clerks) employed, has no capacity to think. That the provincial departments of education, with the best civil service officers busy getting Masters and PhD degrees, are bereft of talent, even when the political and administrative will to perform does exist."

Friday, 10 July 2009

Civil Service Reform---Please do it Right!

Minister Hina Khar reiterated the government’s commitment to do a Civil Service Reform (CSR) by December 2009. I am concerned like other reforms the government might botch this up too. So let us all write our thoughts on what kind of reform we are expecting to set up a standard for the government. Here are my ideas.

Let us begin by recognizing that civil service comprises the bulk of the executive and affects all aspects of society. The configuration of the civil service for a new society in a new century should be of serious interest to all. Consequently this reform should not be done in back rooms by the bureaucracy who are to be affected with at best some donor aid.

Reform should be developed through a process such as an independent commission comprised of (or backed up by) serious technical skills, intellectual firepower and certainly some fresh faces. The commission must do open consultation with civil society and many segments of society. Donor input if any should be subjected to local public scrutiny and not just implemented.

The Key principles of reform must be clearly understood and debated in Parliament and passed into law. CSR is too important to be left to administrative change in rules alone.

What then are the principles that such a reform should seek?

First, civil service independence must be guaranteed by law. This can only be done if all law wnsures that all key decisions about the running of the service (recruitment, promotions, transfers, pay and pensions) are protected from any interference. Of course all these things happen under legal guidelines but that is all. MNAs and ministers should not be able to control civil service appointments at any level.

Second, civil service should not be viewed as a monolith comprising of all government employees. Currently Unified Pay Scales (UPS) which are a hangover of the socialist, planning days seek to place all services on an artificial relative scale so that doctors and professors are considered inferior to administrators. This seriously impedes professional development and should be discontinued. UPS should be abolished and professions and government agencies (or professions) should be allowed to establish their own pay scales within their budgets!

Third, lifetime predetermined careers where promotions are guaranteed at known intervals have to be discontinued. Current entitlement mentality of civil servants has to end. Merit rather than entitlement should be initiated so that performance is rewarded.

Fourth, all civil service jobs should not be protected from external competition. The preferred scenario would be to open out recruitment to external competition! If that is not acceptable, all senior appointments (Secretary and Additional Secretary) should be based on worldwide competition. Public sector senior appointments affect so much; the best people should be sought for them.

Fifth, the current system of the federal government controlling provincial and local civil services is not conducive to good governance, federal development and economic growth. As in the rest of the world, each level of government must be independent. The provinces and cities should have their own employees and there is no reason that they should be paid less or regarded as inferior to the federal government. This is also the need of devolution.

Sixth, transfers should be recognized as a control device and should be discontinued. Frequent transfers are not helping productivity and should be questioned in Parliament. Like the rest of the world, appointments should be given tenure with new appointments being obtained through a competitive not a command process.

Seventh, perks which are now so connected with power, corruption and payment should be monetized. The current payment method is dysfunctional, induces corruption and adversely affects productivity. All perks should be monetized taking the government out of the business of providing houses and cars and paying utility bills. Salaries should be all in cash based on market comparators and indexed. Benefits should include no more than indexed, fair valued pensions and health care.

Eighth, the established practice of “public service should not be paid well” needs serious review. Public service positions are too important to be shortchanged. Public servants should be paid well in keeping with the heavy responsibilities they carry. All serious reforming countries have done that. Market based salaries should be given while appointments and promotions should be on merit and external competition.

Without a process for reform-- a serious commission led by thought and intellect and a public consultation—and the adoption of these principles, there will be no serious civil service reform! I am afraid till July we see no commission and no serious thinking. So forgive me Ms. Khar, if I say your statement is no more than politics as usual in Pakistan!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Failure of Democracy and lack of Intellectual Thought

Is our democracy working?

The writers of our constitution merely copied Westminster paying little heed to the need for developing further checks and balances to allow the democratic institutions to evolve and take root.

Remember England has a system that is fully in motion having evolved over centuries. We, on the other hand, have to start a new system.

As any mechanical engineer will be able to tell our learned controllers of thought, the laws of motion tell us that starting up a system is harder than maintaining the momentum of a system that is already running.

We have to jump start the democratic system and then try to warm up the engine so that it will maintain its momentum. As our friendly mechanical engineer will tell us, this requires considerable power and careful monitoring.

You cannot just turn the ignition of election once and have a perfectly working system. Other safeguards and perhaps continuous and rapid ignition thrusts may be required. For example, might not quick, annual elections for, say ten years at least, enforce more responsible behavior from the politicians.

And could more constitutional amendments not be made to introduce a variety of checks and balances that seek to distribute power and not concentrate it, for concentration of power is indeed corrupting.


Historical evidence has shown:

  • Time and again we have seen that elections, as currently conducted, return the same individuals that have pillaged the country both in our democratic and non-democratic periods.
  • Elections alone, have failed to produced responsible or even itnelligent government. The methods of government, the law books, and the institutions remain unchanged whether we have democracy or not. Success has not been achieved after many attempts at jump-starting.
  • The engine of democracy is clogged by a legislature that time and again involves itself not with its principal task of legislation but with personal aggrandisment and childish games.

Perhaps, it is time we learnt from our learned mechanical engineer.

Let us carefully look at our design of democracy and see how we can alter it to achieve a democratic outcome and not just observe democratic form.

Let us seek to better define democracy and that which we want from democracy. Having defined the term and our objectives, let us consider the best means available to achieve those objectives. Only thus might it be possible to foster the development of an elected leadership more interested in delivering democracy and our society's objectives to us than in lining their pockets.

Might not a debate on the modalities produce a better design for democracy?

Our elected representative such as they are have begun to debate an amendment. What surprises me is why are our intellectuals silent on this important issue? So Please tell me what amendments to the constitution would you like to see

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Grundnorm

“A constitution is only as good as the people and culture behind it!”--anonymous

My friends Akmal Husain and Ejaz Haider have both in their columns in the Daily Times invoked the Grundnorm a legal concept from one of the thinkers of the now famous Austrian School that gave us so many important ideas last century. The contrast in the views of the 2, is interesting, informative and worthy of much contemplation.

A staunch democrat, Ejaz interprets the grundnorm to be the constitution and argues against arbitrary changes in it: “That basic normative framework, among other things, flows from, and is sustained by, the Constitution….This is why it is so problematic to accept Constitutional amendments dictated by external actors or flowing from the barrel of the gun….”

More philosophically, Akmal asks a very interesting question: “The question that needs to be examined is why both exogenous interventions as well as endogenous changes in the constitution have repeatedly been deployed to change the character of the constitution?” and notes “Why is it that the grundnorm has not yet emerged?”

Kelsen’s Grundnorm was neither the constitution nor an ideal and nor indeed an absolute in time. It is a norm that lies at the foundation of society. It is what societies held sacred and dear at there very core and from which flow all other norms. You could call it the “core” of the value system of society. Unlike the Platonic ideals, it can vary from time to time and indeed conquest can forcibly establish a new grundnorm if the domestic population accepts the conquerors values.

I think these two gentlemen ought to be complemented for starting a fascinating debate and we should all chime in for after all it is only through such thinking and debate that we might be able to clarify our grundnorm and perhaps move it from its current confused state to a humanist one.

The mullahs would argue that our grundnorm is a static concept of Islam—a theocratic static state where thinking, legislation and change are all stifled by the clergy. In fact clergy and not law rules! To my reading of history, this view is not consistent with a dynamic society capable of surviving in a globalized, highly competitive and fluid economy. Indeed, the theocratic position was overturned by the humanistic enlightenment in a bloody battle to pave the way for modernity and science. The Mullahs claim can be validated by society only to set up our own struggle for enlightenment.

Much of human history is the battle between theocracy and enlightenment. A constitutional grundnorm is only consistent with a humanistic enlightened society holding enlightened principles. These grand concepts handed to us from the enlightenment are now being accepted throughout the world as grundnorms-- prinicples such as the “rule of law”, ‘sovereignty of the people,” “equality of human beings regardless of color, creed or caste,” and “inalienable rights.” We in poor countries may put them in our constitutions, but do we own them?

Recall that in Europe they fought bloody revolutions to establish these principles. The kings fought hard to retain themselves above the “rule of law” and many were beheaded and they even had a military dictator. Oliver Cromwell. But they arrived at the intellectual conviction in their society that the “rule of law” will prevail and that sovereignty lies with people and a sovereign is maintained only to attract tourist dollars. The French revolution and the American Revolution were fought on enlightened and humanistic principles!

Is it only a matter of writing these humanist norms down? If that were so, any legal consultant from the west could come and write a lovely constitution and we could call it a grundnorm and live happily after. Through much of the development world Latin America, Africa, Middle East and Pakistan, constitutions do not work well and dictatorships, personality cults and outright civil wars have characterized these states for decades. They borrow constitutions, norms. Latin America has been doing it since Simon Bolivar’s days in the early 1900s. The UN gives them these documents off the shelf. But shortly after adopting a new constitution, these countries veer towards the dysfunctional. Why?

Much history and legal and philosophical thinking will tell us that the grundnorm is what Ejaz and Akmal call an endogenous norm. Every society has an endogenous norm. Humans cannot live without it. The question is: is it progressive and enlightened? In our society, unfortunately it is not! And it certainly is not accepting of rule of law or of our constitution. That is why we continue to have these hiccups of constitutional squabbles. Why is that?

In my view, our society does not accept any of the enlightenment concepts that are so necessary for democracy to establish itself. For example, we certainly do not subscribe to any form of rule of law. The VIP culture seeks to segment the feudal haves into a privileged class. In airport queues, elite clubs, government offices etc, every where privilege counts. Even achievement and excellence has to follow privilege. The privileged do not struggle in life; government gives it to them in the form of plots or monopolies. This is our endogenous norm: the protection of decadent feudal privilege and power. Our constitution was written for that with no debate or discussion. It is a compact of the feudal elite, for the feudal elite, and by the feudal elite. And the term feudal includes top brass in the country for they also make it and survive by joining the circus of government plot and privilege.

In such a privilege-preserving society, how can you hope to have “sovereignty of the people?” The rich and powerful that control all the resources, the institutions, the parliament, the bureaucracy are certainly not willing to share power or even rule with noblesse oblige of a Jefferson, a Macaulay or a Lafayette. They do not even invest in their own educational institutions or their neighborhoods. How can they give any one “inalienable rights”?

The yeoman of England fought for the “rule of law” sometimes on their own, sometimes with the squires against the feudals and sometimes with the industrialists against the landowner. In each case, they had a credible deal –a gain from the establishment of the rule of law. Why should our people rise up for our constitution? It gives them nothing! It has no rights for them. The same ministers come into power with or without the constitution! Life remains constant for the poor after each constitutional hiccup.

There are no institutions or intellectual leadership to take the enlightened concepts to them. If only that were possible, through a process of discussion, debate and education, we may be able to establish an enlightened endogenous norm. Currently, I am sorry to say, Akmal and Ejaz, we are losing the battle for enlightenment.

In a dog-eat-dog world, the endogenous grundnorm is neither enlightened nor human. Recall the Lord of the Flies, a famous book and movie of the sixties. In that a group of kids find themselves unsupervised on an island and they degenerate into serious savagery. Their grundnorm was savagery. There is much to learn from that!

There is a school of thought that says that constitutions get accepted only when society has accepted the enlightened thinking and “rule of law.” So it is not only a matter of writing it down. Tough, guys! There are no easy solutions! Look for no progress towards the development of an enlightened grundnorm –one that moves us away from power and privilege--in our lifetimes!

(this article was written in 2003 for Dailytimes where thanks to Ejaz Haider a fascinating debate took place on this issue. If there is interest I will get all related articles from Ejaz and put them up.)

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Mr CM Tear Down that Wall!

“Tear down this wall!” was the famous challenge from United States President Ronald Reagan to Soviet leader Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987.This challenge will be remembered through history as a cry for freedom The wall was built by the totalitarian Soviet Union to prevent East Germans from moving freely to the west. We all remember the many wall crossings and defections that characterized the wall and its prevention of freedom.

Instead of heeding the cry of freedom, the Punjab Government has walled itself off from the people. Government Officers Residences (GOR) which sits in the heart of Lahore– occupying about a square mile of city center–is a colonial legacy which is badly in need of abolition. The Empire needed to giver residences and perks to bring Englishmen to rule the country. They had built palaces for themselves on the outskirts of Lahore. The city has grown and now GOR is bang in its middle. You would have thought that Independent Pakistan would have quickly dismantled this colonial legacy.

Calls for monetization of all perks have been resisted for years. Instead GOR keeps getting fresh investments—an officers club, new houses, lavishes additions to old houses and even a wedding hall for the officers. All these investments take place at government expense though you will find it hard to see any of them mentioned in the accounting documents.

The latest such expense is that GOR has been walled off and security checkpoints are going to be manned by about 500 policemen to protect the civil servants. Are we an independent country? Are they our master? Even the British Empire did not feel that insecure.

GOR being walled off will disrupt the life of Lahore add to traffic jams. Many people used the alternative route of GOR to avoid the rush of Lahore. It will further distance the government from the people. Policy will get more deeply entrenched into an enclave mentality.

Yes terrorism plagues Pakistan. All citizens are insecure. Schools have been affected. In a recent blast I met kids from St Anthony’s high school my former school who were totally traumatized, some had even sustained minor injuries. Why do the government functionaries need to be sheltered more than schools?

It could be open season now. Walls will go up everywhere with all the rich and famous seeking segmentation. Is that desirable?

Through history walls have been made to keep out barbarian hordes or foreign invaders. But these walls have protected the entire population not just the rulers. The great wal of China and Hadiran’s wall were made to protect their people. Walls have been used to defend cities from attackers all the way from the famous Trojan war days.

Most rulers of cities built walls to protect their citizens from marauders and enemies.

Tyrants used walls to protect themselves from their populations who hated them. Often these walls were torn down to the regrets of the tyrants. The most famous of these is the storming of the Bastille and the French palaces.

In recent times with democracy and improved governance, very few governments have found the need to build a wall around them! As much as possible, they rely on the people and their goodwill to protect them.

Democratic governments are embedded in their people. If their people are not safe they do not think of only making themselves safe. Churchill in the famous Battle of Britain did not ever think of protecting himself. He stayed in London in 10 Downing Street and was visible to his people all the time. No walls for him!

The IRA bombed London but Downing Street or the houses of parliament were not walled off.

White house still has an iron “see through” fence with hordes hanging on to it to view the old mansion.

We had expected democracy to tear down remaining walls. We had expected that our democratic governments will do away with perks not strengthen them and waste more budgetary resources on them.

Strangely enough there has been little outrage in Pakistan on this issue. But then we in Pakistan have become desensitized. We are not outraged at anything. We were not outraged by rape and abuse.We were not outraged by torture and corrupton. We were not outraged when our democratically elected govenrments were thrown out by tyrants. We were not outraged when BB got killed. The list is long.

Countries and civil societies get made when government excess does lead to outrage. We have a long way to go. Our leaders know that!

Will civil society demand freedom with a cry of “Mr. Sharif Tear down that wall! You can only be safe when we are.”

I implore the Supreme Court justice to take note of this egregious use of executive power. Surely this is abuse of eminent domain?