The Biggest MYTH

Raza Rumi argued recently that there are 5 myths in the Pakistani discourse that need to be put to rest. In his view these are the ‘Doctrine of Necessity,’ ‘Strategic depth,’ ‘Use of Proxies’, ‘Ummah’ and ‘China will fix all’. Raza is right. A large part of our media and intellect involved full time in discussing these myths. 

However, in my mind these myths stem from another very big myth: that we have system of governance and it is called democracy. The fact that we have an election once every five years and elect the same families again and again and leave them to do as they please is thought to be democracy in our intellectual circles. The fact that dynasties are becoming secure in this electoral system is raising no suspicions. Indeed, many are rushing to groom princes and princesses.

This is not democracy

Standard argument given by many senior analysts is “the system must not be derailed!” So, what is the system we are talking of. 

The way for imperial Prime Ministry was paved when they removed all possibilities for removing him. Democracy was killed when parliament made members redundant by ruling out voting according to the conscience of the representative (14th amendment). This means that all major legislation of the government is now secure and that there is no threat to the government from parliament. There can be no vote of confidence and the PM is more secure than a king. 

Conveniently, they also removed term limits for the PM instead of putting them on for the rest parliament. And of course, there are no limits on family members being elected and even appointed to cabinet. Nor are here any age limits.

Cabinets are irrelevant as the ministers are individually responsible to the PM. They serve at his whim and can be fired at will (we saw this when Rashid and Fatemi took the fall over Dawn leaks). There is no process for cabinet meetings. Minutes are never released. Proposals and their merits are never known. We don’t know if it is more than tea and samosas.

Soon after taking power, leaders become rulers ruling through a coterie of civil servants their own family and unelected friends. Government is merely a vessel for responding to their whims. Whimsical policies and projects are then put in place without due diligence. International agreements are signed without analysis. Loans are signed with no transparency. Of course, public disclosure is as limited as possible. 

We seem to have more family democracy than representative democracy. Our parliament and electoral system is dominated by a few families who have no work or policy experience. They are professional politicians who only wait for elections. Their wealth seems to grow but without any serious visible source of income. Many families are so kind as to have several members in Parliament at the same time. It is not uncommon to find one brother in each political party ensuring that some family member will be in power closer to rent opportunities.

Competent and clever career people have little hope of being elected. Most don’t even try because they know that this family democracy does not allow entry. 

Where are the institutions of checks and balances, due process and transparency?

The rest of the world does not see democracy as one election for a king but as a set of checks and balances and a system of governance with due process and transparency. One important check is local government which our democrats abhor and dilute all the time. They prefer a malleable and beholden civil service that they can control. 

At the heart of democracy is ‘due process’ and ‘transparency’—terms that have not even begun to be appreciated in Pakistan. For example, when they build their mega projects, or sign CPEC or sign the LNG deal what kinds of consultations take place where? Where and how was ‘due diligence ‘done? Was it shared with people? Are their independent agencies that can analyze and report to the people on these projects?

And we will not even talk of whimsical things like ‘Sasti Roti’ ‘computers for kids’ Danish schools’ --for all of which you will find no feasibilities, concept documents, evaluations or audits in the public realm. Why not? Democracy requires that.

Should all projects even at the local level be done by federal and provincial governments? Are city projects not local? These are all questions that lie at the heart of democracy. Prevention of public waste is the main responsibility of elected representatives. As is the need to have projects and policies that affect people close to the people.

Note that the Congressional Budget Office is an independent government funded agency in the US that scores all legislation for financial impacts and does so totally independently. And it has impacted the recent health care law substantially.

PM is a king can dole out favors

Why are we so unconcerned about the executive retaining so many control devices (from the raj to corrupt all and weaken democracy? For example, the judiciary is dependent for its perks (housing cars etc.), plots and then post retirement jobs. These control devices are very important for controlling all levels of the executive. No one sees how undemocratic these devices are? 

Public land and public exchequer is not the private domain of a PM in democracy. How can he dole out public land as gifts of plots or as housing to officials? And these intellectuals do not see that this is a control device for officials and judges who should be independent.

PM can keep as many ministries as she likes. Cabinet ministries are not his to keep. In a proper democracy they must be filled at all times. 

No one is surprised that he can take off whenever he likes to London or other holiday destinations or undertake state visits without any prior planning or strategy. Of course, this foreign travel involves the budget and often times PIA planes. Is this democracy?  

Because the civil service has to be used for consolidating personal rule, they must be made into a personal service. The Rules of Business say that the civil service is the head of a department and he serves at the whim of the prime minister and reports to him directly. Any secretary who falls out of line can be transferred at the stroke of a pen. It certainly keeps them in line. 

Protection of this system with all its distortions has become so important that even the best of our intellectuals give support to what can at best be described as elected autocracy.

Commentators truly think PM is king and there should be no check to his power. The myth has been supported by our intellectuals that PM and even the CMs are not limited by budgets, parliaments or rule of law.

But our thinkers think democracy is about electing Akbar Badshah. So often we hear on TV that the army must be under the PM and that everyone is under PM. Where then are checks and balances that are the cornerstone of enlightenment definition of democracy.

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