Curious case of institutional mobbing | Andleeb Abbas


PTV MD removed. PIA CEO asked to resign. This may sound a normal process of good riddance to bad rubbish. But it is not. These people, and many more like them, are responsible for not only a host of illegal acts but also of infiltrating all rank and file with people of their own mindset, whose only goal is to accrue like-minded mobs causing mass corruption. These mobs then conduct uncontrollable damage to the institutions by not employing people on merit, destroying systems and violating all ethical and moral norms.

Consider the case of PTV. It once produced great serials and comedy shows that were watched across borders. Today it is just a propaganda machine and a place of loot-sale for those with ties to the top. PIA is no different and so are many others that have been gifted to institutional raiders who go on a rampage of poisoning the organisational culture.

The removal of such people is not the solution, as hundreds of people illegally appointed ensure that their legacy continues. Ataul Haq Qasmi was appointed as the chairman of PTV in December 2015, in violation of the hiring rules. Such appointments require open advertisements and a process of due diligence and merit selection. Not only was this not done but the age requirement of 60 years was relaxed to accommodate a 70-year-old man. He in turn hired many with complete disregard for any rules and regulations.
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Consequently, PTV in the last two years has suffered losses of over a billion rupees, had serious programming quality issues and is rife with sexual harassment scandals. Encouraged with this performance the chairman decided to also become the managing director. He called a meeting of the Board of Directors and self-appointed himself as the MD and instructed them to sign on this double promotion. Although with media exposure Qasmi was removed as MD, but still retains his position as chairman.

The question is how can someone be removed from a position for illegally self-appointing himself as MD still remain in office? If he was removed as MD for violating the law, why is he not arrested and put on trial? And what about all the other illegal appointments he employed while in charge? Nobody seems to know the answers. Not even the Supreme Court.

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The Panama leaks judgment may have been split 3-2 on disqualification of the prime minister but is 5-0 on institutional demise. Justice Asif Khosa remarked “these petitions had been entertained by this Court in the backdrop of an unfortunate refusal/failure on the part of all the relevant institutions in the country like the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the Federal Investigation Agency, the State Bank of Pakistan, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and the Speaker of the National Assembly to inquire into or investigate the matter or to refer the matter to the Election Commission of Pakistan against Nawaz Sharif.”

The NAB chairman has been unanimously criticised by all the parties concerned. The illegal appointments in NAB have been a matter of scathing criticism in courts and media. Justice Azmat Saeed in his remarks of Panama leaks judgment said, “If out of the 200 million people of Pakistan the only person, we can find to head the premier anti-corruption institution is respondent NAB chairman, we might as well legalise corruption.” But nothing in the world can deter such people. Remarks are brushed aside, scandals are pushed down, criticism is mocked away and removals are dismissed. They wait stoically for the limelight to die down and start hunting for the next best slot to flex their arm-twisting muscles.

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But just calculate the damage. PIA ex-CEO Bernd Hildenbrand was, as usual, appointed without the open advertisement requirement. The fact that he was not even a graduate did not count. He drew a salary of five million rupees along with almost unlimited benefits. His unique expertise was contract negotiations at the highest prices possible, such as the infamous wet lease planes from Sri Lankan Airline for ‘premiere service’ routes. They were leased at $8,500 per hour instead of $4,500 available in the market. This amounted to a loss of almost Rs20 billion to the airline, but perhaps that compared to the existing loss of 200 billion is peanuts. But add to this the billions being dished out as salaries and you would know why PIA is in a nose dive, literally.

Similar is the case of the FBR. The current chief of FBR has been castigated in the SC judgment where Justice Ijazul Ahsan laments “the complete and utter apathy showed by state functionaries,” over the Panama scandal was “shocking” and showed a “complete and utter lack of interest and a desire to sweep matters under the carpet.” The FBR has been regularly bashed in the Standing Committee of the National Assembly. The head of the Senate Standing Committee on Finance termed the FBR the most corrupt institution of the country and stated, “The FBR chairman has been protecting the corrupt officials.”

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But nobody seems to be able to control this institutional mobbing. The temporary solutions of removal do not work, as the new ones who join are the same. When the FBR chief was asked about his failure to check corruption in the institution, he calmly replied: “The FBR bashing will demoralise the force, and we should not forget that it is as corrupt as our society.”

What we see are higher bodies complaining, criticising and castigating such officials, and these institutions admitting to their failure and corruption. But what we do not see is an attempt to hold them accountable and possibly punish and reform them. More than tax and energy reforms what the politicians and the civil society of Pakistan need to demand are institutional reforms, as without them the best laws and policies will become dormant.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2017.