Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Government officials blaming Pakistanis

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.

An electric distribution company is running a public service ad informing the people that they are also responsible for the electricity crisis before giving tips about saving it. Interestingly the ad never mentions the role of incompetence and inefficiency of the electric companies in precipitating this crisis. This makes one wonder about the guts of the responsible company trying to transfer their blame on the law-abiding citizens who are buying very expensive but unreliable electricity from them. A typical example of blaming the victim and that also blatantly.

This is not an isolated incidence in which the government, guilty party is getting aggressive and blaming the victim in Pakistan as the state run institutions have developed a habit of it. We have seen electric companies explaining to the people that water shortage in winter causes power shortage and at other times use of ACs. These are wrong reasoning’s bordering on simple stupidity. Rivers always have been flowing low in winters and our summers are extremely hot making the use of air conditioners a necessity. The electric companies should have been aware of these facts and arranged for such circumstances as they do the world over. This negative habit of blaming the hapless people has become an injurious routine of our public sector reaching right to its upper end. Our President is spending days in Europe trying to convince them of our weaknesses making us unworthy of democracy; something the rest of the world considers its right.

Although it is bad for the government servants to blame the people for their failures their record of getting away with it is even worse. It encourages inefficiency and incompetence by discouraging accountability, a very important tool of management. Practically we do not have any system of accountability for our public sector employees resulting in its gross inefficiency. According to some experts the difference between Japan and Pakistan is nearly the same as between Japan’s MITI and our counterparts. It is certainly not a very flattering scenario which would not change until we install an effective system of accountability..

This lack of accountability and impunity against excesses has made the government service most attractive for our people. All the utility companies that are supposed to serve the consumers dread going in the private sector or face competition. In the cozy public sector they enjoy absolute monopolies over basic necessities while the state structure ensures their immunity from accountability and even profitability. It was not very long ago when the whole nation witnessed uniformed soldiers acting as collection agents for electric companies trying to cover up their line losses, corruption and callousness towards the people. Despite armed help available, these inept electric companies are still losing money and insulting Pakistanis.

Over here a study of PTCL, our phone monopoly might be interesting. While PTCL enjoyed monopoly over the telephony in Pakistan and the support of the brute force that comes with being a government controlled organization, the telephone tariffs kept on rising. Ultimately we had one of worlds most expensive telephone services with NWD calls more expensive than international calls made from abroad. Getting of a telephone connection had become a big privilege and a consumer had to use all his contacts to get one. In addition to contacts the consumer had to bribe many officials of different kind and suffer a few degradations in the process. All this was the fate of the consumers; someone considered sacred the world over. In those days hapless Pakistanis used to listen to stories of people abroad getting phone connection in a day with astonishment.

Withdrawal of the state support with privatization and ending of monopoly has developed the telephone industry and freed the Pakistanis from a terrible nightmare PTCL had become under the government. Now the international calls are a good deal cheaper than the previous NWD calls and getting a telephone connection is much easier. State sponsorship protects the privileges of a few but at the expense of the rights of many, to be exact, 165 million people. Although we have freed our people from the tyranny of state controlled phone monopolies it might be time we emancipate them from the cruelty of electric companies too. They have actually made life difficult for many.

These companies originated in the colonial days so naturally acquired the culture of those times. Government functionaries were associated with rulers while the people were natives. This made the civil servants feel like masters working in state monopolies and the concept of serving the people vanished. Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world where the tax spenders are more appreciated than the taxpayers, or masters. This situation must be corrected.

Unfortunately our civil society is disorganized and weak making it a perfect victim of abuse by the unscrupulous companies enjoying the government support. There are no effective consumer protection agencies making them even more vulnerable. The ultimate protector of the common man is supposed to be the government but when it sides with the companies the result is an absolute exploitation of the consumers or we can say the people. This system makes the people employed to serve their tormentors. Pakistanis certainly deserve better.

To make these companies more responsible we must protect the dignity of average Pakistanis by stopping them from insulting the people openly or discreetly. If the constitution can protect defamation of military and judiciary why can’t we make defaming the people of Pakistan against the law? After all Pakistanis are the real owners of Pakistan and all other institutions are created to serve them. How can we allow the master to be abused by the servants?

It is about time, if not high time, that we stop government officials from blaming and insulting Pakistanis for their faults. As long as they can get away with transferring the blame they will see no need to improve. To stop this practice we must establish an effective system of accountability of civil servants preferably with direct involvement of the people they are meant to serve, common Pakistanis.

PEPCO must start answering questions rather than blaming Pakistanis for its inefficiencies. The whole art of government consists in being honest and it must explain the reasons for the terrible unheard-of load shedding which has devastated our economy. It also needs to explain for its inability to control line losses that basically amounts to corruption reaching in billions of rupees. It must also explain why it called BBs IPP deals at 6.5 cents expensive when it sells for more than twice the price. And then it must explain why it did not increase its capacity by a single MW in the last eight years when the population increased by more than 20% not taking growth in consideration. It must hold its people accountable and apologize to the nation before it starts blaming it. To begin with it must stop the offensive TV ad immediately.

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