The importance of small-time governance

Governments, these days, are swayed by a potpourri approach with little patience for sorting out the nitty-gritties.

Tariq Mahmud August 11, 2014

In recent times, governance has become the mantra of the day. The parlance has assumed the same significance, which the 'trickle down theory' once enjoyed in the 1960s. The trickle down theory lost steam in due course, but the edges of governance continue to be so sharp that they have cut across ideological domains and made debates about ideology almost irrelevant. Governance, as a paradigm, starts as soon as we step out of our homes: a good quality road, a well-paved street, a sense of security when venturing out late at night. These are all semblances of good governance.

The governance paradigm has now become more of a fad as we have started associating it with grandiose infrastructure projects that have great visibility, but short gestations. In our zest, we often overlook that what we need as a first step is small-time governance i.e., with a given level of resources and manpower, how can the state make lives of the common folk easier and predictable. This may look like a simple question to answer, but can become quite arduous in its details as it requires a lot of managerial intensity. The same service provider is expected to do given tasks with great persistence, close focus, no distractions and few externalities. This ultimately becomes a matter of having strong political will and commitment, which are often lacking. Governments, these days, are swayed by a potpourri approach with little patience for sorting out the nitty-gritties when it comes to influencing the behaviour pattern of common folk.

In view of the growing intrusiveness of the state, small-time governance starts within the four walls of our homes, in our bedrooms and in our kitchens. Electricity outages in hot, sultry weather, for example, are a grim reminder of the sharp edges of small-time governance. During Ramazan, despite tall claims of ensuring uninterrupted electricity supply during sehr and iftar, there were frequent breakdowns to the consternation of the hapless public. The issue here is that while people are ready to buy the argument that there is an overall shortfall in the system, what bothers them is the manner in which it is being managed. This is also true for the long queues outside CNG stations. No one seems seriously engaged in looking deep into the key managerial issue involved: how to manage our growing scarcities both in the short and long run. What is needed is an element of certainty and a well-informed timeline to manage such deficits.

Another area is that of enforcement on and along our city roads. I will be citing the case of the roads of Lahore here. The Gulberg area of the city, an upscale commercial district, was the handiwork of a gifted civil servant of yore, Zafarul Ahsan. He was also the person who raised the Thal Development Authority, now the granary of Punjab, and also Orient Airways, precursor of PIA. His brilliant career, however, was mowed down when he was dismissed during Ayub Khan's martial law at the behest of a minister, who nursed a grudge against him as Ahsan had reportedly declined to entertain an allotment case recommended by the gentleman. The Gulberg Boulevard is a signature of Lahore, with its median dotted with leafy trees. The main driveway is supported by service roads, which for years have taken the load off adjoining residential areas. Now these service lanes have become choked as they have been turned into ticketed parking lots. All the plazas on this route have turned into manually tolled parking lots with toughies manning the area, arguing with commuters to cough out the fee even if one only stops for just a few minutes. An informed source has revealed that the government has floated a parking company along some Turkish model that had supposedly been put in place in that country. Having been to Turkey a few times, I never came across any such practice either in Istanbul or Ankara. The so-called company has not added anything on the service roads and turning them into parking spaces is a violation. Even so, one would not mind paying a one-time parking toll, provided the boulevard’s entire stretch is treated as a single unit regardless of how many times a day a commuter decides to stop in the area, but that is not the case, as every time one stops here during the course of a single day, a fee has to be coughed up.

Then there is the case of Egerton Road, a splendrous strip, which finds mention in the works of our literary masters. Like many other roads leading towards the Simla Pahari and Radio Pakistan, this road had been a favourite haunt of renowned romantic fiction writer A Hamid. The refurbished Faletti’s Hotel, with its well-lit grandeur at night, is also situated here. The sight of the hotel reminds us of the Quaid, ZAB and Justice AR Cornelius, as a place that was close to their hearts, serving as their retreat in Lahore. A drive towards the Mall Road, past the hotel, has now become a heartrending experience as this bit of the road has now been turned into a parking lot both, along the assembly chamber and Wapda House. A motorist has to wade through this area with due caution as it is now completely choked with traffic. It appears that the decision to turn service roads and side lanes into parking lots has been made at the drop of the hat. It may well have brought some crumbs into the government’s kitty, but it has caused discomfort to the people whom it claims to serve.

As if this was not enough, there is now a high-rise, misshapen, concrete wall, hiding the majestic provincial assembly building from the glare of the electorate. The structure, least to say, looks ugly and vulgar. This indeed is a novel way to add to the security of this architectural elegance. Those who went for this option should have studied how the Capitol Hill, the Pentagon and the White House were secured after 9/11. A lead could also have been taken from our neighbours, who suffered an attack on their parliament building. A high-rise fencing over a smaller concrete structure that did not impair the view of the assembly building could have been the answer here. The Punjab chief minister, who is known for his speed in raising such structures, should raze this high and skewed wall. Let some leading architects of the city advise him as to how the assembly building can be best secured while also preserving its visual splendour. Small-time governance, after all, also means a pleasing visual dispensation.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2014.

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Mohsina | 9 years ago | Reply Governance perhaps is the lowest priority with the ruling elite across the board . We are unfortunately falling into containerised mode . One could not disagree with the spirit of this op ed that small , marginal things can bring about quality difference in the life of our people .
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