At our expense

Recently, a troubled viewer made a live call to a TV channel where a learned and popular mufti preaches a gentle and practical Islam in its true spirit. The caller was well-qualified, yet he failed to find a job despite years of trying. Obviously an honest and upright man, he pleaded: “I can’t get a job unless I bribe. My family can’t manage much longer if I don’t find one. Can I pay a bribe for a job?”
The good mufti’s reply was an unexpectedly startling and poignant one. “If circumstances everywhere are so corrupted that there’s simply no other way, then pay the bribe to get your job,” he counselled, “It’s because you have no choice.”
“However,” added the Mufti, “you yourself must never, ever, take a bribe from anyone just because you had to pay one. That would be unforgivable.” He emphasized that several times.
It was a tall order because the system has been so systematically corrupted under unaccountable ‘elected’ governments, that many people who had to ‘buy’ their jobs felt justified to take bribes so as to repay the price they paid, after which it became a habit. Some of the most respectable and essential of jobs – such as that of teachers in government service – are often bought, costing up to a lakh. The late Prof. Anita Ghulamali, acclaimed educationist and former Education Minister, openly spoke of job- purchase under Sindh’s Education Ministry which she found to be the most corrupt of all, conceding that genuine teachers were also exploited.
It also explained the recent plight of several hundred teachers in Sindh – both men and women — not paid their salaries for 20 months and then fired as illegally-appointed. When they staged a protest, they were lathi-charged and hosed by water cannon because they were an eyesore near Bilawal House, which offended the dynasty.
The former education minister, Pir Mazharul Huq, under whose wing illegal appointments were made, was not even taken to task – he’s after all a powerful feudal, and got off scot free. It would have only been fair to pay off the working teachers before termination; at least they’d’ve been partly compensated for the debts they kept accumulating to support their families – apart from any bribes they may have paid initially. But politicians have different spending priorities.
Unabashed by past humiliation, Nawaz upgraded his royal style in 1998, when he and his entourage travelled to the US at taxpayer’s expense. He stayed in the most expensive hotel in Washington DC – also at taxpayers’ expense. Then he went to meet the heads of the World Bank and IMF to ask for more aid, another common habit among our leaders.
It did not go unnoticed by the media. Amongst others, the BBC commented: “No Third World leader ever came so royally to beg in Washington.” Of course, some African dictators have done the same. Are we competing with them?
Throughout, Nawaz Sharif has been globe-trotting with large entourages — invariably at taxpayers’ expense. Not that PPP governments haven’t done the same, but Nawaz Sharif certainly takes the cake.
Now he’s off to America again, sticking us with a $400,000 tab (over Rs. 40 million) – twice as much including daily allowances and other extras to take another bloated entourage with him, the usefulness of many being highly debatable. They include his wife and daughter, who’ve already left for London en route, ostensibly for some advance shopping, or to be less conspicuous.
Also included is their personal cook (western food not to his taste?— although there are excellent South Asian restaurants and caterers there), and even their driver – does it make him feel safer? In the process, a resisting PIA pilot gets suspended because he refused to accommodate the Sharif family’s VIP culture in the air.
Eighty million would have gone a long way to help rehabilitate the hapless victims of three dykes – built at taxpayers expense — being blown up to save capitalist assets in Multan. Nawaz even promised to rebuild the houses of all those who lost their homes in the man-aggravated floods. He quickly changed his tune, reducing it to cash compensation of 25,000/-. Can anyone rebuild even the most modest home for Rs. 25,000? A ramshackle hut maybe, minus food and basics.
As offensively, when there’s already a paid-for official PM’s residence, how come Raiwind and other private residences are also designated his official residences, forcing the country to foot all his ballooned bills? How about tabs being continuously kept on our money? Now that they feel empowered, people can openly demand answers.
Throughout, the masses have been fed the myth that Pakistan is a poor country that needs some kind of ‘genius’ leadership to turn it around. Increasingly, analysts at home and abroad confirmed that Pakistan is a rich country with poor people — robbed blind by crooked leaders who in turn corrupted the governance system thoroughly to every level. There’s no dearth of money; just dearth of political integrity.
At this stage of struggle for genuine democracy and clean government, a continuous flow of citizen education is necessary, if citizens’ attention is to be maintained and actively involved — in addition to the exposes that constructively outrage them. Some come from Dr. Qadri. Some must come from PTI. No more pep talks. Five weeks of it, everyone’s got them down pat, and memorized. They were indeed needed earlier, but have now fully served their purpose. But they need not be endlessly repeated to the converted. It’s time to get down to more nitty-gritty.
None of the speeches at the Karachi rally sparkled. You’d think coming here for the first time in a big way, PTI speakers would have done more homework for the newly-inspired participatory citizens. – Such as the brain-drain due to non-merit political hirings, lost overseas Pakistani investment, job-sales, and rising violence against women. Or the entrenched feudal dynastic system and the lid on land reform. Generalizations won’t do anymore. They are speaking largely to the urban educated, and the rest are literate enough to understand.
Considering the unprecedented turnout, the hope-revived Karachiites, who came entirely on their own steam, deserved much better — in the form of more time instead of a dash forth and back. What made the rally a thunderous success was the Karachiites charged presence, carrying it through with their new-found — almost desperate — hopes and trust. What need was there to rush back to Islamabad the same night; Dr. Qadri could have held the fort. Would staying in Karachi overnight have been too much to expect?
The sudden – and mysterious – surfacing of the Election Commission’s Report after being suppressed for nine months, opens up a whole new can of very helpful worms. It offers much the public needs to understand in time for the next election that promises to come sooner. Use it.

The writer is a former journalist and currently director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group.

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