Dr. Imam began by stating that the main objective of her book was to see the present role of public administration in building democracy within the rich historical and cultural context of Pakistan. The first context of her book was the historical trajectory of governance in a diverse country like Pakistan. She argued that Pakistan had its own model of governance which had always been quite different from India’s as historically there had been a difference in governance between main land India and its western buffer zone. For example the Greeks and Huns had stopped at almost the current border during their invasions. The second context related to the first ever democratic peaceful transfer of power in Pakistan in May 2013. However, it could be debated whether this was a real democracy as civil liberties and participatory governance were missing in the presence of election and selection process.
She pointed out that the book discussed the relationship between democracy and district level bureaucracy, which had both quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative functions in addition to administrative ones. Two theories were explored in detail. First, McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly’s ‘theory of new democracies’ which was based on research in the Caribbean and South America. It argued that for nascent democracies to take root, the country must have sound instrumentation and protracted consultation. Barring these two elements, a new democracy would either disintegrate or get occupied by an outside force. She interpreted instrumentation as ‘rule of law’ and protracted consultation as ‘participation of the people in decision-making’. She hypothesized that the institution of Executive/District Magistracy (E/DM) ensured continuous protracted consultation, which led to effective instrumentation and not the other way around. Gaining the trust of people by providing for them led people to become more law-abiding, which allowed the leadership to penetrate into the grassroots and convince people of the importance of rule of law. This could not be done through force or the use of police. But, in addition to the institution, moral philosophical individuals were also important in manning the institution.
Second, the theory of ‘path dependency’ was explored keeping in mind that Pakistan was not a new country like some in South America. Path Dependency included three steps: first, a decision was taken and thus there was room for innovation; second, it was implemented, which had room for change; and lastly, any new entrant had to follow the already established path. She hypothesized that the system of public administration, for instance Executive Magistracy had always existed, and while a new regime that came through force had the opportunity to change it, it did not because the existing system was best suited to the region.
Imam then discussed the historical background of the region in the context of Public Administration starting with the Achaemenid Empire (550 BC). It promoted principles of tolerance, coexistence and respect for local diversity, especially in the Gandhara region which is now in Pakistan. The Mauryan Empire (320 BC) followed, which was responsible for unifying India and for the first time, introduced a merit based public administration manned by civilian officers along with civil service examinations. The main contribution of the Greeks who followed was that they challenged the existing caste system and replaced it with two castes, of the rulers and the ruled. They also introduced concepts of intellectual curiosity and governance through philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. The city of Sialkot was part of a Greek Kingdom and a centre of Greek learning which had implications in terms of governance in the country. Then came the Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Parthians and other warrior administrators. This was followed by the Guptas who again unified this part with the rest of India and formally instituted public participation in governance. There were trade guilds whose opinion was often sought for major decisions. The Muslims brought their own political philosophies and challenged the caste system. The British Raj followed with the primary difference that in their form of governance, public administrators were supposed to be loyal to the abstract concept of the state rather than a family/governing body. It was a departure from the region’s history, where an individual ruler had personified the state.
“Gaining the trust of people by providing for them led people to become more law-abiding, which allowed the leadership to penetrate into the grassroots and convince people of the importance of rule of law.”
However, a few things remained constant throughout these regimes including respect for local diversity and the desire to consolidate this diversity under the umbrella of a central administration. A small government controlled aspects like revenue, and law and order but local customs were followed for civil matters, and crime and punishment. The idea that government would provide all major services like education and health was a new concept brought by the British, and promoted after 1947. Earlier, communities were more autonomous and less expecting of help from anyone but their own resources, and the institutions of masjid or dharam-shala were for community support. What differentiated the indigenous Mauryan or Gupta dynasties from others was that their bureaucracy was always headed by a civilian officer based on a system of merit. Instead, the outside dynasties such as the British or Mughals had a merit-cum-patronage based system because they could not establish the trust that indigenous rulers could garner, and therefore merit alone could not become their sole criteria.
Imam divided the post partition period into seven eras. The 1947-1958 era saw no major changes and the same bureaucracy played a significant role in saving the country from the destruction that was prophesized. The 1959-73 Ayub cum Bhutto era was marked by gradual politicization where a system of merit was replaced by a system of merit-cum-patronage along with enhanced authority for civil servants at the district level. As the system of merit was based on aspects such as law and language, it did not judge morality. Thus survival strategy rather than standing on ethical grounds became the way of affairs leading to further politicization, and degradation of governance at the district level. The 1974-85 period was determined by the civil service reforms of 1973 which formalized politicization by removing the constitutional guarantees for civil servants. It further institutionalized politicization as five thousand civil servants were inducted on political basis between 1973-77 leading to only islands of merit and morality if any. The 1985-96 period was of Prime Ministers Junejo, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. It was signified by Supreme Court’s 1993 judgment which separated the executive from the judiciary significantly altering the quasi-judicial role of Deputy Commissioner (DC) and District Magistracy (DM).
“What differentiated the indigenous Mauryan or Gupta dynasties from others was that their bureaucracy was always headed by a civilian officer based on a system of merit.”
During the 1997-2002 period, the DM had reduced quasi-judicial functions, while the Local Government Ordinance 2001 and Police Order 2002 made amendments to Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.)1989 replacing the office of DC and DM with District Coordination Officer (DCO). The 2003-08 era was one of thorough politicization as an elected nazim did the yearly review (ACR) of the DCO. Because a nazim could not be expected to be impartial being elected through majority vote and the voters needed to be obliged, how could the DCO be expected to be impartial in this situation? In the 2009-11 time period, the local governments were dissolved and some of the quasi-judicial functions went to the DCO. However, it was important to note that despite Supreme Court’s 1993 judgment, the executive had never been separated from the judiciary and quasi-judicial powers of the DM had simply been redistributed to the nazim and the police as those implementing were themselves monitors.
Imam then elaborated on the implication of this governance trajectory. As protracted consultation was difficult to measure, she had assessed instrumentation through crime data of the provinces of Sindh and Punjab for the period 1947-2011. Two news items stood out with regards to post-2002 demise of the DM. First, when two young brothers, Hafiz Mughees (19) and Hafiz Munib (15) were subjected to public cruelty while the Sialkot District Police Officer and his subordinates stood as silent spectators. Second, when a mob exhibiting frustration for rising crimes burnt three bandits alive in Karachi in 2008. Overall data from Sindh revealed that there had been a sharp increase in riots per capita after the demise of the DM, and analysis showed that it had a significant relationship with quasi-judicial functions of the DM. Violent crimes (including rape, murder) per capita gave similar results. They had increased exponentially after the demise of DM and introduction of the DCO, and showed no relationship with the economy, while ‘crime against property’ in Sindh showed no relationship with the DM. Data from Punjab illustrated the same scenarios: riots and violent crimes were significantly and positively related to decrease with quasi-judicial functions but not crime against property. As opposed to literature, improvement in the economy showed an increase in violent crime in Punjab, which could be because fruits of economic progress were not reaching the grassroots level, but this required further research to substantiate.
“…executive magistracy and quasi-judicial functions were not the remnants of a colonial legacy but an integral part of our own history.”
Explaining the inherent causes of the demise of DM, Imam clarified that DC and DM were not colonial constructs but had existed right from the Achaemenid Empire. Only the institution of feudalism was new as before British rule, every generation had created its own landed aristocracy. A system where large chunks of land were handed down through generations without redistribution had to be against merit and critical thinking. She argued that the British had created colleges and elite institutions rather than centres of research to encourage critical thinking. Their continuation post Pakistan along with the politicization of bureaucracy had discouraged protracted consultation leading to questioning of the validity of district magistracy.
Imam stated that the country had often been ruled by force rather than by engaging the people to address their needs, and the same continued. Putting stress on protracted consultation, she suggested a mixed form of government, distinctive from clear separation of powers, but a system of checks and balances with a definite room for quasi-judicial powers for district management combined with accountability.
“…riots and violent crimes were significantly and positively related to decrease with quasi-judicial function…”
Further, intellectual query, curiosity and critical thinking needed to be promoted in order to challenge the feudal system which required focused strengthening of educational institutions. She also discouraged adopting drastic policy changes as these created power vacuums providing an opportunity of entry to people without required background, thus negating the entire concept of merit. The quality of civil servants needed improvement through a manner of appointment, training and postings, in conjunction with the right mental, moral-ethical framework. She sided with the generalist as a district manager rather than a specialist.
In conclusion, Imam asserted that executive magistracy and quasi-judicial functions were not the remnants of a colonial legacy but an integral part of our own history. The problem lied around implementation which should be the focus for improvement, as executive magistracy applied by a critical thinker for public relief and for protracted consultation strengthened and ensured participatory democracy in the country.
The talk was followed by a vibrant Q&A session. Answering a question regarding the relationship between the nazim and DCO, Imam stated that decisions should not only be in the hands of the elected. The DC/DM needed to be a neutral administrator and should not have to cater to only the majority even if the elected nazim wanted to consolidate the majority vote at the expense of other citizens. She said that the state was separate from the government, and the DM was there to serve the best interests of the people, not just serving a particular government.
“…a mixed form of government, distinctive from clear separation of powers, but a system of checks and balances with a definite room for quasi-judicial powers for district management combined with accountability.”
With regards to a question about separation of powers, Imam answered that things could not just be categorized in black and white as there was a lot of grey. The objective was to provide relief to the people at their doorstep in order to ensure protracted consultation and instrumentation. Beyond relief, autonomy and growth of the people was also important. According to her, this required both administrative as well as quasi-judicial functions.