Coordination is key

The author is an architect.

I WORKED on a number of large community infrastructure development projects in the 1990s, some of which were disastrous but whose sponsors dubbed them as “best practices”. The reasons for the problems with these projects were always the same: an absence of coordination between the agencies involved in the project concept, planning and implementation and the blaming of each other for their problems. The situation is not very different in the Pakistan of today.

Our country is in the midst of a major civil-civil war. All the pillars of state are in conflict with each other and within each pillar there are conflicts as well. If there was coordination between them and within them then the continued killing of security personnel would be considerably lower and people would not disappear, as they do without a trace. There would be better control on inflation and our relations with our neighbours (except perhaps for India) would also be better. Evictions and arbitrary arrests would not take place, and bureaucrats who take decisions on governance issues would not be changed every second day.

Then there are other serious coordination-related issues too. Railway accidents happen all the time because of an absence of coordination. Buses carrying passengers have accidents killing tens of people every time and trucks and tankers overturn into ditches and collapsed roads, making travel dangerous. We cannot decide who is responsible for this. Factories, commercial and residential buildings catch fire in which hundreds of persons get burned just because the implementation of existing building by-laws are not followed and as soon as that happens, agencies start blaming each other.

Similarly, in violation of all zoning regulations, real estate ‘entrepreneurs’ acquire land destroying the ecology of the regions where the cities are located, making them ungovernable. Many of the persons involved in this, work closely with what we call mafias.

There are also conflicts between the police and the local administration, creating huge traffic jams that make things ungovernable and resulting in car parking issues that are managed by private mafias in league with sections of the police and local government. Billboards collapse as they are built in violation of local government rules and directions of the judiciary as no link between the two exists. Buildings collapse since they have never been checked for structural quality, and so do walls, killing a large number of people all over Pakistan. Almost daily children disappear into manholes, which have no covers, and die.

The most serious of all coordination issues is related to the judiciary where in recent history it has failed to reach a consensus on how to deal with major constitutional issues. Cases of rape and abduction also remain unresolved for years, and because of a lack of faith in the system, most are unreported, unpursued and eventually forgotten making a mockery of justice and exposing the misogyny of those in power.

This absence of coordination and internal strive promotes corruption, negligence and delays, and a lack of accountability and transparency. This in turn makes nepotism possible giving power to politicians at all levels to appoint their preferred individuals in positions of prominence, where commissions and other financial benefits are possible.

The media for the last few years has been talking mainly about constitutional issues in a vocabulary which even ‘educated’ individuals in the country do not understand.

A common man has not been explained as to what a constitution is; I doubt if even the experts who are brought to discuss it on TV know the niceties of it. They spend most of their time, day after day, talking to each other, from the same point of view which are of little relevance to the daily life of a common man. In addition, all the channels have the same news and international news, much of which concerns Pakistan, is missing. Concerns of daily life are touched upon but they do not form the most important of news on the news channels.

All this and much more is because of an absence of coordination between the pillars of state and the disputes within them because of which even existing laws of the country are not followed. In the meetings of bureaucrats, it is common that some representing a particular agency do not turn up, or are called away by a senior bureaucrat or politician. Minutes sometimes do not reflect the discussions that have taken place.

For any public-sector reform, coordination between different agencies and their mid-level staff has to be guaranteed so that existing rules, regulations, and procedures can be followed making the implementation of some very progressive laws possible.

Published in Dawn by Arif Hasan, September 6th, 2023