Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Local Government System

A vision of local government (LG) in the future addresses two fundamental questions: why is LG necessary; and how will it secure the skills and capacity to do its job well. City planning thus involves the anticipation, so far as practicable, of all the city's future needs, physical, social, and financial. It seeks to turn the lessons of the past to the profit of the future.

Increased attention is now being given, the world over, to the improvement of the fundamental influences affecting city life. This new solicitude has been inspired by the extraordinary growth of cities, by the steadily increasing complexity of urban relations, and by a better appreciation of the fact that contented citizenship is largely a matter of congenial environment. The enterprise is today known as city planning—an endeavor to transform the modern community into a safer, more convenient, more healthful, and more attractive place of human abode.

The new system of local government indeed superbly excellent, despite initial years of its implantation, continues to sail in troubled waters. Most key officials are yet to understand the new situation providing a dominating role to the locally elected members in running the affairs of the city government. With this ambiguity we continue to see tons of uncollected trash, broken roads, and contaminated water supply and sewerage system in ghastly conditions. Many problems remain to be solved—securing clarity and understanding about the concept by all stakeholders. Still much work still has to be done.

The councils were elected on non-party basis to avoid conflict in service delivery. Sadly, not only the conflict continues to exist but cooperation is also absent. The development of LGs has also created a dearth of trained manpower, particularly in finance and planning, information technology, law and literacy groups.

Contrary to the concept of LG, the prevailing corrupt culture has thrown consumers of services at far end, with no say, whatsoever. The Council members receiving kickbacks from infrastructure projects, display large banners in self-praise and thus trying to create false impressions of their good work. Local projects are conceived not on preference basis, but on the amount of sweetener the elected representative will get. Thus the representatives elected by people turned out to be the guardians of their own private interests.

Among the varied activities of the modern city few are more intimately related to the daily life of the people. To safeguard the public health in any large community is a task of the first magnitude. But it is an indispensable public undertaking, for health is the greatest single factor in personal efficiency.

The modern city throws off an enormous amount of waste material from day to day. The total is sometimes as much as a ton daily per head of population. This waste consists of a great variety of things namely, rubbish, garbage, and sewage. Rubbish and garbage may become a health menace under certain conditions by increasing the number of rats, mosquitoes, flies and other insect carriers. The LG must engage private sector in handling these issues.

If the most imperative need of a modern city is its water supply, the next in point of urgency among its daily requirements is the removal of waste. A modern community could endure for a season without pavements, street lights, parks, telephones, or street cars; and it might conceivably struggle along for a time without schools, police, or fire protection; but without water and sewerage it would find the greatest discomfort and inconvenience within twenty-four hours. Public sanitation is therefore entitled to a place at the top of the list among the essential industries of every large community. It may be briefly defined as the art of removing all objectionable wastes in the most unobjectionable way.

The street plan of the city determines the configuration of its growth and development, including the general uniformity or variety of private structures. Nearly all the physical aspects of municipal administration are in some way or other related to the public thoroughfares, and it is for this reason that the fundamental importance of street planning, street construction, and street maintenance can hardly be exaggerated. In the modern city one-third or more of all the land area is dedicated to street use.

The Nazim occupies a position of great visibility, and constituents have high expectations about the leadership that he ought to deliver. He is viewed as the problem-solver-in-chief in city government. Unfortunately, despite the available power and authority, his honor has failed to get things done. The incumbents are more concerned in pseudo publicity rather than real work. They need to learn that only service to people matters. They will win hearts of people when they will solve their real problems. False publicity only promotes cynicism.

EDOs are professionals, and skilled civil servants. They have adopted a policy leadership role as well as implementation of programs, delivery of services, and management of resources. Though still somewhat ambivalent about this new role, they bypass the LGs for provincial governments on many important issues, including preparation of budgets.

LG should be seen as an asset rather than a potential threat. It is not defined as a delivery agent for federal or provincial government. It is another democratically elected tier of government, with the strengths and responsibilities that come with a democratic mandate.
Bureaucracy should accept this changed situation.

Cities in Pakistan are under increasing pressure to find effective ways to meet their problems and respond to the needs of citizens. With diminishing outside assistance, officials in city government are challenged to determine the purpose and direction of their government and to generate the resources to carry out their mission. They must not only find more revenues locally to address their problems, they must also discover the resources within themselves to give leadership to their city, provide quality services, and manage shrinking budgets with greater efficiency. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Lahore: Gracious but Frustrating

We have already entered into the 21st century with the nefarious bag and baggage containing nauseating political environment and the stomach-churning poverty. While we read about great strides the Asian Tigers are making in economic development and prosperity, Pakistan continues to lurch around with moral degeneration and lust for guzzling the vitals of nationhood. As we hear that China and India are going to emerge as economic giants in this century, the up-and-coming trends illustrate the murky future of Pakistan.

Having toured more than forty countries, I can rightfully claim to be a globe trotter. And I have traveled to China so repeatedly that I should be eligible to call it my second home. In one of the trips with wife, an incident made me embarrassed quite a bit. The story runs thus: While in Shanghai, before having a nap my wife cursorily glanced a tourism magazine provided by the hotel where we were staying. A story attracted her attention, which was about Lahore that happened to be our birthplace and the heart of Pakistan. Although it did not fall short of truth in any way, reading in a foreign magazine about our eroding national character really saddened us. Indeed it was morally wrong my wife ripped off the article penned by Josephine Bow that unfortunately reflected the dominating way of life in Pakistan. I am sharing some of its excerpts as follows:

“ . . . . Languishing on the sidelines instead of jostling in the mainstream, Lahore is a gracious but frustrating relic of an era long gone. The economic boom and accompanying quickening of pace that has swept over Asia—from Delhi to Seoul—like a giant tidal wave during the past two decades seems to have stopped short at the gates of Pakistan.

Beset by corrupt politicians and businessmen—often one and the same—government policies seesaw wildly depending upon which interest group squawks the loudest. Recent years have seen revolving door of governments, resulting in a sense of helplessness and inertia at the individual level. The oft-heard lament is what can one man do against the system?

Lahore looks as if it’s becoming a sleepy town. Don’t expect to get anything done in a hurry. For one thing, nobody of responsibility gets to their offices before 11 AM and secretaries never know where their bosses are. Punctuality is not a widespread practice—arriving within an hour either side of the appointed time seems to be considered acceptable.

For local businessmen, the inability of government to formulate stable policies has generated an ‘every man for himself and the rest be damned’ attitude. Young professionals educated abroad despair that their hard-earned degrees and legitimate career choices are looked upon with disdain. Instead it’s those who can make money in the quickest and often most illegal manner who are admired.

What is probably more difficult to adjust is the lack of a developed work ethic or observance of basic business practices. Here everyone’s a director or manager giving orders, but there’s little follow-up. Be prepared to insist if you want to get anything done.

In the sluggishness to embrace the global economy, ironically even the country’s strengths can become weaknesses. Take, for example, the fact that Pakistan is self-sufficient in cotton. Lahore, in the heart of the rich Punjab cotton-growing region, is considered by many to be the country’s future textile capital. Yet despite occasional pockets of progress, overall export growth in value-added items has been disappointing.

Bangladesh, on the other hand, registered tremendous growth in garment exports. The analysis is that, with its weak local raw-materials base, manufacturers were exposed early to overseas business practices as they learned to deal with fabric suppliers in Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Rich from the earnings and experience amassed over the past 15 years, large Bangladeshi garment groups are now opening carefully thought-out textile units.

As Pakistan enters yet another period of political uncertainty, it’s difficult to say whether conditions will improve in the near future.

Lahoreans are considered to be great talkers. Indeed residents of nearby Sialkot, the world’s manufacturing capital for soccer balls and martial-arts uniforms, explain their city became globally competitive because it hosts no other extracurricular activities—not the case with Lahore, which boasts theatre, art galleries and other cultural pastimes.

Horse drawn carts, motorcycles, trucks and every other imaginable form of vehicular transport make their way in a confused shambles on often unpaved and potholed roads—a nightmare during the rainy season.

Driving is very much local style and no one respects lanes or direction, for that matter. Watch out for three-wheel scooters crossing lane dividers and careening wildly in the wrong direction. . . . . ”

Baba Bulleh Shah has truthfully said: truth inflames. Initially the critique about our national attitude caused us noticeable irritation. Just the same, when we recuperated rationalism we recognized that the writer put across the harsh facts quite rightly.

Past civilizations, nations and peoples perished due to lack of purpose, nationhood and when self-centered attitude dominated the national purpose. Today Pakistan also stands face-to-face with such erosion. The value system is under serious attack—not by someone from outside, but internally at individual level. This is simply contrary to norms of freedom.

Pakistan must learn from past and future. It must change its ways to shun disaster. It must recreate itself. The confronting challenge calls for a leadership capable of eliciting the best out of the people. Traditional top down notions of leadership are giving way to concepts of attitudinal reforms, social transformation, and collective restructuring. Pakistani society desperately needs to look into the future and see the nation not as it is … but as it can become. A choice nevertheless lies ahead: either to change or become a French song once sung by swan. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation