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Perth
July 19, 2019
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A new feudal order: in a variety of forms

The performance of an institute can be gauged from its style of governance. From organisational culture to environmental factor, the behaviours, values and attitudes influence the performance of an organisation to great extent.

Even in countries like the USA and France where the ultimate authority rests with one person (the president) with countless powers, still one cannot exercise the authority freely without checks and balance. A president is helpless before the Electoral College which can remove him/her with a stroke of impeachment.

In recent days, participatory and democratic styles are the much-acknowledged version of the governance where the decision of all rather than one matters the most. This is very unfortunate that the public departments and institutions in Pakistan are still haunted by the rotten and stringent feudalistic style of governance where decisions rest with an individual and policies are frequently changed leaving the stakeholders in the lurch. The policies in the autocratic style of governance are made in ad-hoc ways. This style promotes frustration, corruption and low spirits among the employees. Even the countries which attained independence after Pakistan are making progress in all spheres of life. They learnt how to swim with the current rather against it. On the flipside, the countries like us are still spinning in the same colonial whirlpool.

The clique of the aristocratic class with no vision and mission has never encouraged a change but clung to the apron of status quo. Every public department from top to bottom is a picture of a class system that prevailed in ancient Rome. Our public institutions seemed to have inherited the same archaic style of governance predating to the colonial period that believed to keep commoners at bay from higher officials. Ironically, the Baboo culture (The British officials in the subcontinent called it Baboon) which was mostly abhorred by the locals is now being embraced with haughtiness by the public servants.

The halo effect phenomenon prevails in the institution where the performance of the employees is evaluated on their physical appearance rather than their skill and experience. The head of such an organisation preconceives the idea of one’s ‘efficiency’ and ‘inefficiency’ on ‘first-listen, first-serve’ basis. Institutions which run administrative affairs in a feudalistic style of governance, care little about the public as well as the organisation’s interest. The ministers, bureaucrats and heads of different varsities enjoy unbridled power and privileges.

The Roman had slaves to perform menial tasks and in modern days this place has been filled in by the low-ranked officers. In ancient Rome, the highest social class was conferred upon those having wealth and political power. Similarly, during the colonial period, the highest political or official ranks were conferred upon a person with sound knowledge of the English language and familiarity with, of course, the English culture. The people lacking such qualities were considered boorish whilst blessed with those were certified as Baboo by the locals while the British officers mocked them for copying the English style of attire and eating manners.

Feudalism is a mentality that exploits the powerless and voiceless by wealth and power for the continuity of the control of some vested interests. This mentality is not necessarily limited to the landholders who owned fiefs but in recent days it has taken the form of energy which can neither be created nor destroyed but changes from one form to another. It has spread to industries, politics, bureaucracy, media and varsities.

The frustration is the state of mind whereby a person is unable to achieve something and reacts weirdly to channelise his unmet desires in some way or the other. His ultimate goal becomes achieving a specific goal at all costs. After the end of the British Raj in the subcontinent, the coterie that remained subjugated under the yoke of the British became the master of the subjects and began exploiting them just to give vent to their frustration.

Ironically, our forefathers initiated a nationwide campaign to drive the foreign rulers and their policies out of the land, but their descendants clung to the same policies and the style of governance like a leech.

The class system was so ingrained in the minds of the people living in the subcontinent that it bewildered Ibn-e-Battuta, the Moroccan historian of mediaeval India, who asked a poor Indian why did he like the class system. “Is there any system worth liking without social classification?” was the response he got. Perhaps, Battuta righty examined the attitude of the people of the subcontinent and remarked that such a nation would never come out of the vortex of serfdom.

We are living in the age of smart technology where information travels instantly from one end to another. This fast-track information sharing has saved energy and enabled administrators in their strategic planning and an improved decision-making process. On the contrary, the public institutions still prefer the snail-paced methods making the process tardier. Instead of sharing and documenting information electronically, public officials prefer archaic dust-laden manual file system since it suits them best to tamper with the information and ultimately pave way for corruption. The delight of putting a ‘green signature’ on the rotten files has its own pleasure that can never be derived through an electronic mail. Perhaps, sending of instant information electronically lessens their honour. Baboos measure their performance with the length of queues outside their office where poor people carrying files and applications wait for the signatures or their cases to be heard. The glee of issuing orders to the lower staff to do tedious jobs has promoted parasitic culture, sucking the blood of the public resources. These Baboos don’t even bother to carry their own bags in their hands but seek help form an assistant.

This power-pursuance culture is common among the feudal class that has a direct influence on the economic and social lives of the poor people. It has been a customary practice of landlords to see their Otaq (a place where local people meet and discuss different issues) crowded with people lined up with arms folded. They purposely create trouble for poor people who are not subservient or ignore the suzerainty of a feudal. The poor farmers are dragged into petty issues such as livestock thefts and a then a landlord throws his weight behind them to just to remind them of his presence. This feudo-cracy is gaining currency in all organisations particularly in the public departments and more particularly in the public varsities.

How could public varsities be spared to remain aloof from adopting the feudalistic style of governance? After a governor and chief minister, the only person that enjoys unbridled power is none other than the head of a public university. The head of varsity is seen as the supreme authority in the institution. He enjoys ministerial powers to appoint and terminate officers of grade 1 to 21. The condition of public institutions, in the case of Sindh, is sickening. Instead of promoting higher studies, the funds are being used for the national and international tours in the guise of educational and exposure visits. Similarly, seminars, workshops and social events are organised whereby personal friends and political figure are invited to placate them. All this is happening in the guise of education and learning.

We keep hearing phrases like “education for all”, “law for all” but we seldom hear “basic privileges for all”. Why a low-ranked employee, who reaches office far earlier and leaves much later than his boss, cannot enjoy a little privilege? If a high-ranked official can get a heart attack so can a low-ranked employee. Diseases do not see rank or position. One’s ability and efficiency must not be measured with the degrees and qualifications but with the level of efforts. This is how institutions start yielding productivity. An organisation works like an engine and all its parts are interdependent on each other. When the main part of the engine is neglected, it affects the whole system.

It is high time the government changed the style of governance in public institutions as well as in political organisations. Let’s get away with the leftovers of the colonial system. The heads of public institutions must be appointed without any political pressure. Let everyone, irrespective of the rank and the position, take part in the decision-making process. Feudalistic style thrives on corruption, jealousy and promotes the vested interests. These vested interests have their own logic to subjugate the already bottled-up class. Let’s save the institutions from this monstrous style of governance.