$350 million ‘Access to Justice’ Loan
The compulsive obsession for beggary has taught us many smart tricks. We now have the skills to invent such appealing compulsions and put forward such compelling rationale, dressed in such nebulous and fancy grammar, that depriving a lending institution of a few hundred million dollars is considered no big deal. On one such occasion (December 2001 to be exact), we managed to extract a loan of US$350 million from the Asian Development Bank (ADB). As customary, such swindles always begin by coining a deeply moving and universally appealing project title. The jargon manufacturing experts came out with a brilliant buzzword – “Access to Justice’. Equally appealing to every shade of opinion, western and eastern, holy and secular, lender and borrower, here was a cliché that could single-handedly launch a thousand ships ( perhaps loaded with $350 million notes).
As a citizen, one would like to ask a few basic questions. Why did we borrow this amount? Could we not have improved our own justice system with our own resources and our own thinking? How was this amount spent? Has it made justice any more accessible , easier or quicker for an ordinary citizen? If justice is still as elusive, prolonged and painful, then how do we account for this $350 million disaster.
What were the objectives of this jargon-laden, innovative, alleviating and access- providing project. To quote directly from the horse’s mouth ( ADB website), this is what the project was intended to do. “ To assist the Government to improve access to justice so as to (i) provide security and ensure equal protection under the law to citizens, in particular the poor; (ii) secure and sustain entitlements and thereby reduce the poor’s vulnerability; (iii) strengthen the legitimacy of state institutions; and (iv) create conditions conducive to pro-poor growth, especially by fostering investor’s confidence. The Program will contribute to this aim by supporting five inter-related governance objectives: (i) providing a legal basis for judicial, policy, and administrative reforms; (ii) improving the efficiency, timeliness, and effectiveness in judicial and police services; (iii) supporting greater equity and accessibility in justice services for the vulnerable poor; (iv) improving predictability and consistency between fiscal and human resource allocation and the mandates of reformed judicial and police institutions at the federal, provincial and local government levels; and (v) ensuring greater transparency and accountability in the performance of the judiciary, the police and administrative justice institutions.”
A careful look into this mouthful of fuzzy phraseology clearly indicates that all it wanted to say could have been said in one plain sentence – “improving the efficiency, and effectiveness in providing judicial services to ordinary people of Pakistan.” No one needs to further qualify the “ordinary people” of Pakistan. They are poor, vulnerable, discriminated, voiceless and deprived of justice and basic necessities of life. A project that itself is manufactured on such obscure specifications is not likely to deliver any specific results. This is exactly what has happened. Four years down the road and the 350 million dollars intangibly evaporated into thin air, access to justice for the common man continues to remain an elusive goal. If at all, the “Access to Justice programme” has worked only to worsen the existing imbalance. The dice is clearly loaded in favour of the rich and powerful. The High Court and the Supreme Court can move with incredible efficiency to decide a retired general’s insignificant issue of matric certificate in a record breaking period of 3 days. On the other hand, a thousand days down the road, Mukhtaran Mai, having been gang raped in public, still awaits final justice. Of the 43 cases taken up by War Against Rape (a Karachi based NGO) in the last 3 years, none is close to seeing a final conclusion. Each day of judicial delay and denial only helps the culprits (loss of evidence and witnesses), while the victim suffers a life of living hell. The famous Fauzia Bhutto murder case finally resulted in the release of the rich and powerful suspect, as the witnesses simply got worn out and could not keep visiting the courts for 15 long years. That is the essence of the extent to which an ordinary citizen has “Access to Justice” in Pakistan.
Has the Access to Justice Program (AJP) done any thing to simplify or improve our laws. The Hudood Ordinance is still firmly in place. It requires a testimony of four noble souls who actually witnessed the rape in order to secure a conviction. Not being able to produce such a sophisticated rape watchers’ crowd could be disastrous for the victim who now becomes eligible for punishment for the offence of fornication. It surely does not require a foreign loan to change our own laws. (The bill to amend the Hudood Ordinance was rejected for the nth time on 7th December 2005 by the national assembly.) Do we need to beg for foreign loans to stop Jirgas, that continue to operate despite having been declared illegal by the Sindh High Court. The government topped the list of law violators, as its own ministers and chief ministers presided over 197 Jirgas in the past five years. The Sindh province topped the list of honourable provinces with a score of 1796 ‘honour’ killings in the same period. We surely do not need a foreign loan to amend the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance 1984, that makes murder a pardonable offence for the (dis)honourable ‘honour’ killers of Pakistan.
It is time that we understand that while the loans can add to the consultants’ bank balances and the misery of our future generations, they can do nothing to bring justice any nearer. This is not to say that it cannot be done. There is no dearth of high calibre judges, managers, lawyers sociologists and scientists, who can collectively propose scientific and efficient solutions. The entire judicial system needs to be ‘process mapped’ and its delays (unnecessary and long gaps between hearings) removed by making it necessary to complete a case in a certain time. Each case needs to be computerized and its exact status available on website so that every citizen can monitor its milestone and progress. This would also start providing some very specific data on number of visits, types of cases, hearings, postponements, decisions, delays and other key indicators about the performance of judges as well as the judicial system. We have no alternate but to adopt the concept of preventive justice, if we are to make the existing judicial system any more effective or efficient. We look the other way, well knowing that our current systems generate mischief and violations of law at a rate that exceeds by at least ten times, the rate at which they can be resolved. A basic exercise at making Pareto maps will readily indicate the major categories of cases that appear before our judiciary. Each category could then be addressed in detail to determine and address its root causes. Take for example the rape cases. They could be decided much faster if the victims had been provided an early and efficient facility of FIR, medical examination and medical report. Setting up exclusive support centres in each city that provide these facilities on a ‘one window’ concept could greatly help in expediting and improving the subsequent justice delivery process. Similarly there is hardly a family not involved in an unending complicated case of land or property. These cases can be significantly reduced if we were to discontinue the archaic ‘patwari’ system and make all land demarcation and ownership records transparent and available on the net. Any buyer, seller or citizen should be able to know precisely (without going to any office) as to which land belongs to whom. It could save people from entering into wrong agreements or clandestinely taking over each other’s property. Similarly most traffic related cases could be eliminated if we were to remove hundreds of policemen standing at every nook and corner perfecting the ancient art of extortion, and replace them by non-partisan cameras. Each violation is recorded and the fines are automatically added to an individual’s motor vehicle tax, without any regard for his rank, wealth or status. These are just a few examples of how we could build preventive justice mechanisms so that a large number of crimes are either never committed or there is an easy and efficient manner to obtain evidence.
Finally we need to ask the mother of all questions. Where precisely did we spend this $350 million “Distance from Justice” loan. Every one knows what this loan has not been able to achieve. We now like to know what exactly was it able to accomplish. Who were the beneficiaries, the consultants and the report writers. What vehicles were purchased, offices rented, people employed, hotels utilized, seminars organized, bills paid, trips made and expenses written off. Hopefully it would total up to a neat figure of US $ 350 million. Would the government of Pakistan in the interest of transparency inform the public as to where was this money spent and how is our “access to justice” any better today since receiving the 350 million dollar access improving injection.