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Pakistan: Drowning in a sea of incompetence —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain

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Over the years, more and more people in positions of relative power and authority assume those positions because of connections or outright bribes and once employed, hone their skills of sycophancy and develop connections to assure promotions or lucrative appointments

Sometimes things look so bad that even an optimist like me has a hard time finding some silver lining to the ‘dark clouds’ hanging over Pakistan. Man-made disasters, natural disasters, terrorism, target killings and now the complete collapse of the Pakistani cricket team.

What has emerged most forcefully out of the confluence of all these ‘problems’ is that those who run this country at almost all levels are totally incapable of doing what is expected of them. Corruption is often labelled as the root cause of all evils in Pakistan. What has become obvious is that the basic problem we face as a country is not just corruption but rather rank incompetence of those who supposedly govern us.

Where did this incompetence come from? It is obviously the result of the four things among others that Jinnah pointed out in his famous August 11 speech. Best perhaps to quote the great man himself:

“The second thing that occurs to me is this: one of the biggest curses from which India is suffering — I do not say that other countries are free from it, but, I think our condition is much worse — is bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down with an iron hand and I hope that you will take adequate measures as soon as it is possible for this Assembly to do so.”

He also said, “The next thing that strikes me is this: here again it is a legacy, which has been passed on to us. Along with many other things, good and bad, has arrived this great evil, the evil of nepotism and jobbery. I want to make it quite clear that I shall never tolerate any kind of jobbery, nepotism or any influence directly of indirectly brought to bear upon me. Whenever I will find that such a practice is in vogue or is continuing anywhere, low or high, I shall certainly not countenance it.”

Obviously none of the things mentioned by Jinnah are new for modern day Pakistan but they have had time to permeate and undermine the national character and abilities in a big way. Over the years, more and more people in positions of relative power and authority assume those positions because of connections or outright bribes and once employed, hone their skills of sycophancy and develop connections to assure promotions or lucrative appointments.

Pakistan is essentially run by the permanent bureaucracy; this of course includes the police forces. At the lower levels most jobs are now literally for sale and go to the highest bidder or else to the best connected applicant. The higher bureaucracy comes in through competitive examinations but once in place, for most of its members, further promotions and accumulation of wealth takes precedence over developing competence in any field of professional endeavour.

Even our politicians are victims of similar attitudes and political office is pursued almost entirely for the sake of financial benefit. Public service is at best given lip service. The ongoing ‘degree’ scandal clearly suggests that unscrupulous people using bribes or connections made themselves eligible for elections. It does not need any immense amount of thought to understand why such people want elective office.

The long and the short of it is that a dangerous lack of competence pervades the entire sphere of governance. Because of bribery, ‘jobbery’ and nepotism, the lower ranks of our civil bureaucracy are filled with incompetent and often under-educated people that even if they wanted could not get a job done properly. Most of these officials excel in preventing anything useful from happening.

This of course does not mean that there might not be some politicians as well as bureaucrats who are really interested in doing the right thing. Sadly they are limited by the quality and ability of those that surround them and are expected to put their policies into practice. Punjab’s chief minister can be as desirous of getting things done as he wishes but he is just one man surrounded mostly by people that do not really care.

One of the saddest parts of this culture of incompetence is that the bright idealists among our youth who do end up in public service are soon either divested of their idealism and honest desire to perform or else are sidelined into meaningless dead-end desk jobs. More importantly, many of them are eventually seduced by the corruption around them, for joining the herd is always the easier way out. And a well-educated and intelligent person is much more dangerous when corrupt than somebody who might be neither.

Is there a way out of this morass? Those of us who believe in democracy also believe that once the ordinary people are truly empowered, many of these corrupt practices will in time dwindle and that those who cannot govern properly will be replaced. And one of the ultimate factors that balances out a lot of bad governance in the public sector is a free and vibrant private sector. The international press is already talking a lot about NGOs and Islamic organisations filling the void left by incompetent civil authorities in response to the devastation caused by the floods.

As far as our supposedly ‘free’ media is concerned, instead of investigative journalism and discussion of particulars of bad governance, it concentrates almost exclusively on political issues and personal attacks on individual politicians. That might sell newspapers and get viewers for TV shows but does little to make things better overall.

Finally, all people in positions of power collect sycophants around them like honey collects flies. The greatness of a leader is often reflected by the choice of his/her advisers. And yes, the advisers a leader chooses are indeed up to him or her. A plea then to all our ‘great’ leaders: please keep close those advisers who might also give advice that you do not like. They are probably telling you the truth.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

Article originally published in Daily Times, reproduced by permission of DT.

Daily Times

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