- One thing at a time
When Prime Minister Imran Khan, two years in the office, states that some system does not let him work, should not we be worried?
What is this system? It is something akin to culture that you cannot see but surely you can feel it. Just like culture, system too evolves over a period of time. And just like culture, it’s hard to break, composed of a variety of vested interests; it forces you to do things in a certain way otherwise forces you out. President George W. Bush’s famous saying “Either you are with us…” after the 9/11 attacks in the United States tells you exactly how this system works. In Pakistan, until now the system has flourished and proved more resilient than the Prime Minister’s efforts to root it out.
We have already witnessed the power of the system in the last year or so. And this is not the first time the system has displayed its power. Lt. General (r) Shahid Aziz, the Chairman of National Accountability Bureau from November 2004 to May 2007, said in one of his interviews “I was told repeatedly not to create problems and not to destabilize the government, otherwise the system would collapse. They (President Musharraf and his hand-picked citi-banker turned Prime Minister and their team) gave a strange logic that corruption and economic development go hand in hand.” Sounds familiar? This is the same mantra we hear from PML (N) and the PPP and even from some within the government.
NAB at that time was pursuing corruption in Sugar and oil industries among others. Yes, you heard it right, sugar for over pricing and oil for another kind of corruption that we hear little about and I would like to share with our readers. It is the policy of the government to sell oil at the same rate all over the country. Therefore, the cost of transportation of oil from Karachi towards the North of the country is absorbed by the government and reimbursed to oil marketing companies as a subsidy. NAB found out that the oil companies were billing the government upwards of 70% of the oil sold in Pakistan as oil sold in KPK for extra revenue. It is anybody’s guess that when NAB opened an inquiry all hell broke loose. So the system came to the rescue of the oil companies. To resolve the issue, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in consultation with President Musharraf appointed a gentleman, who is now advisor to the current Prime Minister as well, to look into the matter. And just like that he made the problem go away and NAB had to stop its investigation.
The ‘system’ did not let us fix the problem even then when President Musharraf had the powers that are now combined in President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, and COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. What chance does Prime Minister Imran Khan has then?
History repeated itself a couple of months ago. Sugar and oil again became the subject of debate about corruption. Result: system came running in to help industries in distress. Sugar pricing went up and oil disappeared from the market. You see corruption and economic development after all go hand in hand in Pakistan. The ‘system’ did not let us fix the problem even then when President Musharraf had the powers that are now combined in President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, and COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa. What chance does Prime Minister Imran Khan has then?
Systems are not synonymous with Pakistan alone. They have been prevalent over centuries and have been beaten too if the resolve is strong enough. New York City was known as the crime and welfare capital of America. And had been like that for decades. When I was flying British Airways to JFK, New York to pursue my Master of Law degree at Indiana University, Bloomington in August 1979 we were informed by the crew to take only yellow cab upon landing. This is the kind of scare NYC had.
When Rudolph Giuliani became the Mayor of NYC on January 1, 1994 the city was broken. The system supported crime, mafia wars, criminals, a crippling infrastructure and a scare among its residents. In 1993, 1946 murders had taken place. In his last year as mayor in 2001 there were 642 murders in NYC. So how did he do this?
Every successful leader will tell you that he or she had a great team. Well, past performance is the best indicator of future performance. If the leader picks up a team without a sterling track record or is forced to pick up tested and tried hands that had failed in the past the leader is bound to fail no matter how strong his or her resolve might be.
Rudolph Giuliani focused first and foremost on the biggest problem–crime. Where there is crime, there is little else. No peace, no prosperity, no development and no progress. People refuse to invest, move out of city and the city decays. We have seen in Karachi the same phenomenon for at least a couple of decades if not more. Karachi was as infested with crime or even more than NYC until the Rangers came to the rescue of residents. That neglect from the government, is the reason today, Karachi is a dump full of filthy sewerage water, no potable water, no electricity, no infrastructure, no roads and no peace.
He appointed Bill Branton as Police Commissioner of NYC. Everything was against him. Crime was rampant and his budget was frozen. 36,000 employees wedded to status quo, unmotivated and underpaid with an extremely disgruntled customer base composed of New York residents. In less than two years under Bill Branton crime fell 39 percent, murders 50 percent, and theft 35 percent, all this with no budget increase. Even Jack Welch, sometimes called the CEO of CEOs “needed some ten years and tens of millions of US dollars of restructuring and training to transform General Electric.”
Bill Branton had a stellar record in Massachusetts before coming to NYC. He focused first on hot spots of the city. Hot spots are activities that have low resource input but high potential performance gains. Cold spots are activities that have high resource input but low performance impact. He wanted to remove the element of fear from the minds of New Yorkers. He looked at the subway system and found that vast majority of crimes occurred only at a few stations even though it was a maze. He also found out that police were scarce at these stations. He ordered all police officers to start travelling to and from work in trains and stop using vehicles including himself. As a result police officers started to travel by subway and getting to know the problems of the commuters firsthand. Imagine if Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari had been treated for their multiple medical problems in Pakistan, the medical facilities here would have surely improved.
Next he found out that police spent nearly 5 hours in reporting a crime in a police station. And in many cases the police officers avoided taking a criminal to a police station to save time and energy. Bill Branton retrieved old and not in use buses and turned them into makeshift police stations just outside the subway stations to make it easier for the police to book a criminal. These buses were placed on all hot spot stations. This step reduced booking time to 30 minutes. And all of a sudden police started to book a huge amount of cases.
Similarly the Prime Minister will have to look at things differently and focus on hot spots. No one can fix everything at the same time but everyone can fix some of the things one at a time. The bright spot for us is that the Prime Minister does seem to have the resolve to root out corruption and fix the economy. He will have to do it one by one and not all at the same time.