Good governance is an indeterminate term used in the international development literature to describe how public institutions conduct public affairs and manage public resources. An essential component of such governance is the ability of public officials to disseminate its benefits to each citizen – something which is made effectively possible, if such functionaries become openly accessible.

There was a time during the colonial period, when administrative officers spent much of their time in the ‘mofussil’ or ‘the field’ hearing complaints and redressing them on the spot – an activity which continued even when the official was ‘in station’. It is often that during the course of lectures to members of the Civil Service, I ask them as to how much time did they spend in the field and have more than not received disappointing responses.

I recently called up the Deputy Commissioner of the Federal Capital, seeking an appointment to discuss a matter of public safety. An operator picked up the number given on the web site, only to tell me that the sahib was unavailable. I introduced myself and prevailed upon him to give me the official’s cell number. Needless to say that there was no response from this phone that day nor successive ones. Undeterred, I thought I would try the senior district police officer. My call was received by someone who said that he was a staff officer and the person I had called was out. I am still trying to come to terms with the ‘colonial’ experience. When I mentioned the incident to a retired bureaucrat, I was labelled as foolish, even to expect government servants of this stature to pick up their phones. By adopting the practice they would be swamped by calls and would not be able to take care of other ‘more important work’.

Many years ago, while having lunch with an old friend who happened to be the Commissioner of a Division in Southern Punjab, I commented on the excellent quality of the meat and vegetables. I was embarrassed, when my host summoned the cook and enquired about the source of these items. It was my friends turn to ‘go red around his gills’, when the old man said that fresh vegetables, fruit and excellent cuts of meat were delivered to the house by a representative of the ‘mandi’ concerned on a daily basis. I did not press the point further, since deep down I knew what this ‘free’ delivery meant. `

Notwithstanding the recent controversy about housing in Banigala, I was impressed by the speedy re-carpeting of the access road from Chak Shahzad to facilitate movement of a senior advisor to our Chief of Executive to his residence. This development work has found a place in this week’s piece because this road had remained neglected and potholed for the past many years, when under use by ordinary residents.

A close relative applied for a change of electricity connection from single to three phase. This should have been a routine matter, but the concerned office demanded a substantial sum of money over and above the official fee to execute the work. The applicant refused to pay and waited for more than eight weeks before he invoked the nuisance value of another acquaintance. The necessary application was processed and implemented in the next three days.

Another close acquaintance applied for a water outlet for his meagre agricultural holdings in Punjab. He waited for over one year for the issue of something called the ‘Form A’ and would have continued to wait, if he had not been advised to see the Senior most member of the Provincial Bureaucracy. He had to wait outside his ‘lordships’ office as MNAs and MPAs walked in and out. Perseverance finally paid off and he was able to get a standing audience. He was given just a few moments to state his complaint, while two VIPs sipped their cups of tea and lounged in the chairs across the huge desk of the official. This time, providence was kind and he got his Form A in the week following the meeting.

So this is how good governance reaches (or does not reach) the ordinary citizen in the ‘Land of the Pure’. A land, where a large majority of those paid from our taxes and called ‘public servants’ sit on kingly thrones, occasionally deigning to take a passing look at their subjects.