Original Articles

Cellular Governance in Jhang – by Qudrat Ullah

Pakistan is a victim of bad governance and corruption. Due to institutional decay and slackness of the top babus (bureaucrats), government infrastructure, especially in smaller districts and tehsils where gubernatorial feudal elite and corrupt officials often make lives of the hapless a living hell, has been dangerously weakened. In this backdrop, the efforts of Mr. Zubair K. Bhatti- a former DMG Officer previously posted as District Coordination Officer (DCO) of a comparatively less-developed and remote Jhang district in Punjab, who made an innovative experience by affectively utilizing cheap cellular technology for eradicating corruption, should be praise-worthy.

Mr Bhatti’s cellular experience succeeded in eradicating bribery and inefficiency from public dealing departments like revenue, registry & arms branches, excise & taxation department and similar paraphernalia of the city district government, where people almost daily go for their problems. Perhaps, he is the first Bureaucrat who has experimented cellular technology for improving government efficiency and eradicating corruption in Sub-Continent.

Mr. Zubair Bhatti did no particular wonders; he simply asked the government officials to jot-down phone numbers of the visitors and then in the evening, he used to phone them, selected randomly, to enquire about their experience of the public sector and the amount they paid for the services like domicile, registration of vehicles or registry deeds etc. He talked to the people in an open tone, first making them at ease to converse candidly with the DCO and then enquiring about their experience. Often, he came to know that most of the hapless people even do not know the exact amount of government taxes. This direct contact of an administrative head of provincial government in a district, gave strong and clear message to the corrupt and corrupt staff in Jhang that their boss is watching their performance everyday and any unlawful activity or extortion will soon be traced down by the DCO in the same evening. Two of the corrupt officials were initially sacked by him; giving strong message to the rest that boss is serious enough.

Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, when apprised about the novel experience, showed interest in it and ordered for its detailed implementation in other districts as well. With the political support from the top echelon of the government, as many as seven DCOs have now introduced this cellular mantra in their districts in Punjab; they are regularly enquiring from the visitors to government offices about the amount paid by them. This way, they daily come to know the nature and level of corruption in their lower hierarchy.

While, it has many more benefits like the DCO can judge the field situation by calling people from the office late in the evening when he is free; it also helps to judge the standard of governance, the scope of working and the nature of public complaints; DCO can then develop a suitable strategy of solving most of the complaints by removing bottlenecks and improving governance & service delivery
mechanism. It also helps to identify the corrupt officials working in registry or arms license branch or in the excise department. Once the corrupt are identified, it is easy for the DCO to relocate them to some other places where they cannot earn any extra money.

It is observed that usually political figures in the district patronize such elements for their personal means. The case of some affluent DC office clerks in Lahore, who managed late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s recommendations for their posting in the registry branch, is still alive in the minds of many a people. Actually, governance is a big problem in Pakistan where every other political government or the dictator tried to exploit the government machinery for personal means. Welfare of the people is always a neglected priority of the rulers in this part of the world.

Jhang Model, as it is known today, is a step in the right direction. It has a lot of chances to succeed in Pakistan. Mobile technology is a cheap means of communication as every other person is carrying a cell phone in his/her hand. Punjab has 70% tele-density. It can help to departmental heads to develop a hassle free liaison with their clientele while sitting in their offices as he/she does not need to hold open-kutchery, or visit around in the DCO office in the morning to personally supervise all the things.

Corruption has always been a big issue in Pakistan. Governments claim to minimize it but in vain. Actually, we have developed a habit of evading corruption and the corrupt. Bad governance, weak laws and the lengthy & cumbersome legal procedures often make it impossible to bring the corrupt to justice. Although, certain laws are in vogue to control corruption like Pakistan Penal Code, 1960, the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1947 and National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999 but corruption eats up about Rs. 500 billion annually. It is important to point out that NAO was initially drafted to outline the objectives, duties and powers of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) but after the formation of new government in 2002, NAO was subtly altered to
exclude members of Judiciary and armed forces from it. Certainly, the hidden forces of corruption were more powerful than the army backed NAB then.

According to a report of International Crisis Group (ICG), people in Pakistan believe that “country’s 2.4 million civil servants are widely unresponsive and corrupt, while bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome and exploitative.” The report further observed that Low salaries, insecure tenure, and obsolete accountability mechanisms have spawned widespread corruption and impunity. Similarly, report of Transparency
International (TI) has placed Pakistan on the 142nd number, ranked as the 42nd most corrupt nation, equivalent to Bangladesh, Belarus and Philippines. Ironically, even Nigeria is at 130th number. This shows immediate need of comprehensive reforms in government working, and Jhang Model is one way to minimize corruption.

In this backdrop, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif should fully patronize the Jhang Model. It should be introduced in all the 36 districts in an institutionalized way. Not only the DCO but every head of the government department should be directed to keep close liaison with the people visiting his office. While, it is satisfying that Punjab government is also contemplating to set up call centres for making contacts with people and specialized phone numbers’ plan is under study where people can record their experience or the complaints, round the clock.

Shahbaz Sharif and other politicians should remember that good governance, accountability, rule of law and transparency are the most important prerequisites for any development as no local or foreign investment is possible without these preconditions.

The sooner we learn this, the better it is.

About the author

Farhad Jarral

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  • This is what true democracy can bring you. Agreed that we have had our shares of problems in the past but we must think outside the box now and move towards creative solutions just like this one.