Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rule of law and price hike

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

Rule of law and the price hike

Certain segments of our society are astonished at the preoccupation of many with the judiciary issue despite the soaring price of wheat and other basic problems. They argue that the uncontrolled price hike has made basic necessities inaccessible for our majority and must be addressed first because it is more important than the judge’s issue. Severe power shortage, poverty, inflation, terrorism, law and order and host of other problems are being ignored due to the attention diverted towards the deposed judges issue. This line of argument construes that the judge’s issue is a theoretical one creating hurdles in the solution of other more pressing problems, so it must be avoided or sidelined until the other more important concerns are adequately addressed. This line of reasoning is not only wrong but also extremely dangerous. Rule of law needs an independent and potent judiciary and has a very direct and strong effect on all the problems facing the nation including the availability of basic food items and the price hike. The strength of the rule of law is symbolized by the reinstatement of the judiciary deposed illegally by a single person.

Without repeating the popular argument that restoration of the judges does not stop the administrative processes needed to solve these problems I would like to focus on the neglected but important ones. The international factors affecting inflation are beyond our immediate means but the most important local cause of price hike and inflation is bad or irresponsible government. This can show itself in many ways like
a. Unaccountable dictatorial governments tend to get into irresponsible spending sprees. The import of many Mercedes cars by the x PM Shaukat Aziz and the innumerable lavish foreign trips with hundreds of sycophants at the expense of the national exchequer played a major role in creating the problems we are facing today. If they still go unchecked, the problems will worsen and a dynamic judiciary is an effective defense against it.
b. Corruption, which is a direct attack on the national exchequer, is another major cause of economic mess that can deteriorate the conditions of ordinary people. The recent attempt by the government to sell the steel mill at a ridiculously low price is a blatant example of this. Understandably the courts intervention protecting the nation’s assets became an unpardonable offence.
c. Wrong priorities either due to ineptness or dubious petty self-interests causes major wastage of national resources. They can cause diverse problems like wheat, sugar shortages or poverty and unemployment in the long run. A bird’s eye view of Pakistan’s budget showing Education allocation of less than 2% and health at less than 1% clearly proves that something terrible is going on with our messed up priorities.
d. Cartelization of the basic commodities occurs only with the consent or connivance of the government causing havoc with the prices. In Pakistan we see cartels of basic commodities like flour, sugar, cement etc operating and fixing prices openly without any fear of accountability or reprisal. In other countries where the rights of ordinary people are protected they would risk getting severely punished for price fixing but not here. Islam is the only religion in the world that categorically condemns the practice of hoarding for profits but still it is tolerated in the only country made in the name of Islam. In the process many lives are ruined but some wallets are exceedingly inflated. An active judiciary is the most effective protection against it.

All this happens when there is insufficient unaccountability of the government or rulers allowing them to act irresponsibly. In democracies the public opinion performs the accountability functions with the help of the judiciary, but in the unfortunate countries like ours where martial laws are rampant the judiciary has to do it alone. This very well explains Gen Musharraf’s government’s extreme annoyance with the courts trying to act independently, something never witnessed before. He finally considered it imperative for his aims to discard the constitution along with the judiciary challenging his unabated powers. Dictatorial governments can’t afford independent judges so the entire senior judiciary was arrested by a general; a very dark part of our pathetic history.

Prosperity needs a good economy that creates wealth and jobs. This in turn requires investments, both local and foreign, which only flows towards countries enjoying certainty and stability. Stability needs rule of law, not the law made by a certain individual but the written and accepted law, which is protected and implemented by a strong and independent judiciary. The execution of laws is more important than making of laws and the incarcerated judges cannot help the situation. Law differentiates civilization from the jungle. All the respectable and prosperous countries we see today are stable with democracy and strong judiciaries. Temporary economic growth without the rule of law ends disastrously like East Pakistan or Musharraf’s era.

The judicial issue is not about employment of a few individuals but how Pakistan should be ruled; either according to the laws or whims of a certain individual holding the gun. Where law ends tyranny begins bringing all kinds of sufferings along. Nations who choose to be ruled by the law hold constitutions sacred, as it is the mother of all laws and institutions. Unfortunately we have failed to protect our constitution from the self-serving usurpers and are paying a heavy price for that. We cannot afford to let our constitution be desecrated like it happened on the fateful night of 3rd of November. Pakistanis cannot afford to let a law and constitution vandalizing dictator get away with his detestable actions and must correct as much and as soon as possible.

It is interesting to note that most people preaching that judges issues is worsening the flour crisis are somehow associated with the current setup. They are either direct beneficiaries of the government or hope to be soon. This discussion appears to be a very well planned and well planted by the government. Succumbing to their defective reasoning wouldn’t only make us accomplice in the crime against the country but also would be giving a dreadful message to the future usurpers. Many would interpret that the best way to get away with terrible illegal actions is by causing serious problems. This makes the nation busy with its sustenance making it indifferent to their crimes. The British used to cause famine in Bengal to subdue the natives moving them away from struggling for political rights long time back. We must be kinder with our own people.

We must institute effective checks on our rulers, which are missing so badly. The only way to do it is by establishing the rule of law written in the constitution and guaranteed by an independent judiciary. Justice without force is impotent; force without justice is tyranny and the civil society must lend its force and moral authority to the judiciary. Only strengthened judiciary would be able to protect the rights of the ordinary people forcing the rulers to obey the laws.

If we succeed in bringing our rulers under the rule of law its effects will trickle down fast to the lowest levels of bureaucracy improving the lot of the ordinary people. Law is the biggest defender of the ordinary people against the over growth and strangulation of the establishment. So we see the judges issue is directly related with the various shortages and problems Pakistanis are facing. Dictators can’t afford a judiciary that checks them and nation cant afford one that doesn’t; in other words the nation can’t afford dictators. Letting a dictator get away with such a serious crime is not only allowing and legalizing the snatching of bread from the poor but also from the mouths of many future generations.


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