Why the common citizen matters

Daily: The News
Date: 06.09.11

There is much talk in Pakistan about the concept of “representative democracy,” because
only a representative democracy is democracy in the true sense. Nevertheless, what
Pakistanis do not realise is that there can be no representative democracy, or any
semblance of democracy, for that matter, the country in question has a responsible
citizenry. Pakistan is deficient in this regard in a number of ways.

First, it has virtually become a habit for people to ask for a system to be thrust on them.
People are averse to adopting one. For example, Pakistan is overwhelmingly inhabited by
Muslims but its citizens still call for the imposition of an Islamic system, instead of adopting
Islamic norms and values and abiding by Islamic laws and procedures. Similarly, Pakistanis
want democracy to be imposed in place of dictatorship, but they do not adopt democratic
attitudes and ways. Pakistanis seem unwilling to change themselves and wait for someone
to effect a change. On the other hand, responsible citizens spearhead a change.

Second, people do little for the spread of education. Most parents are just selfish because
they want to ensure that their own children receive education. There are few voices
demanding universal education in Pakistan. No one thinks about the welfare of those out of
school children and illiterate youths who clean cars along roadsides and work day and night
at workshops under miserable working conditions. Which is why many of them turn to
violence and crime when they grow up.

Pakistani society is getting imbalanced. With the rapid rise in population, among other
problems, an increasing number of people are becoming increasingly disgruntled and
disgruntled people do not contribute constructively to society in the same way as relatively
satisfied people do. If things stay as they are, there is likely emerge a generation which is
bitterly alienated from society.

Those who could benefit from Article 25-A, which seeks to ensure the right to education for
the citizens of Pakistan, live mostly in the rural areas of the country or belong to the lower
social classes. They are neither enlightened nor empowered to ask for their rights. “Ghost
schools,” like the one shown to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on his visit to Badin
recently, cruelly mock the very concept of education. But few people seem to care. In
contrast, a responsible citizen believes in an educated society and an informed citizenry,
and does something about it if he can.

Third, people have accepted the scourge of corruption as a way of life. It is unfortunate that
a society which is overwhelmingly Muslim treats bribery, which is strictly forbidden in Islam,
as just another way of conducting everyday business. In private meetings, people heap
curse on corrupt officials but consider it fine when they themselves offer bribes to get their
business and bureaucratic problems solved. Further, people also promote and condone
corruption. People think it a matter of prestige to be able to bypass others in a queue, even
if takes surreptitiously bribing the clerk at the window. Passport offices, despite their being
computerised for the enhancement of efficiency and obviation of corruption, are infested
with evils like bribery. The Pakistani version of Anna Hazare is yet to emerge in Pakistan. It
is as if Pakistanis are not yet fed up of corruption, as Indians seem to be. In Pakistan, the
job of dealing with corruption has virtually been abandoned to the Supreme Court. A
responsible citizen is not merely law-abiding but also opposes and refuses to indulge in

Fourth, people do not turn up to cast votes in elections. The low turnout of voters does not
make the electoral process a truly representative one. A rough estimate is that less than
half the population takes part in the voting process. The resulting legislatures and
governments therefore fall short of being truly representative ones. A popular government
cannot be formed without the participation of a large percentage of the populace. Even
though the elections of February 2008 jettisoned an unwanted regime, there can be no
representative democracy in the real sense if voter percentage is low. Only a larger, and
therefore better represented, electorate can be a truly effective one. A responsible citizen
affects change by casting his vote.

Fifth, people are disinclined to pay taxes. The number of taxpayers is low the tax-to-GDP
ratio was around nine percent in 2010-2011. Ideally, the ratio should be in the top, or at
least higher, double digits. Permanent dependence on foreign aid has not only made the
country less inclined to broadening its tax culture base but has also encouraged people not
to meet their taxpaying responsibilities. Awareness regarding the two aspects can be
attributed to the post-1991 era when international donors demanded that the country be
more self-reliant – i.e., that it generate its own resources to meet its expenditures.

Pakistan’s spending more in non-development areas is a stubborn trait. Tax evasion is an
added problem. Further, people are still unconvinced of the need for paying taxes to the
government. The reluctance has brought about the imposition of disproportionately more
indirect taxes than direct ones. A responsible citizen pays his taxes and then holds the
government to account if it fails to deliver.

Sixth, people do not realise the need for cleanliness and tidiness, neither with respect to
their homes nor their surroundings. Many people do keep there own homes clean but pays
no attention to the litter and trash in the street. The only way to keep the surroundings
clean is not to throw litter about-let alone picking up litter, where that is possible. But this is
rarely, if ever, done. People generally think that picking up litter is the job of “the sweeper,”
who is a lesser human and therefore more suited to the work of cleaning. Cleanliness and
tidiness, and their encouragement and promotion, is something to take pride in. The
responsible citizen does everything to keep the environment clean.

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