VIEW: Nosedive —Andleeb Abbas - Sunday, March 18, 2012

Source :\03\18\story_18-3-2012_pg3_4

If the public sentiment is different and the leaders are not doing anything different to get a different result, then for a change, the process of accountability may get the better of them

Flying saucers will soon be in demand. This may seem a fantasy but so is the hope that Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will be a safe and sound option to fly in the future. PIA has become a case study of a flying miracle. Despite humungous losses, corruption and continuous violations of safety laws, it is still in the air and most people feel that due to its record of miraculous escapes, it will be blessed with the hand of God in the future as well. However, luck is a very unreliable and treacherous escort and is likely to desert, any time, airplanes flying with hundreds of people. For an airline with decades of experience, it is a huge embarrassment to be asked to suspend its operations on safety violations.

The sad fact is that the certificate suspension by EU is on such basic things that it is almost unbelievable. The first audit revealed that the pilot’s belongings were scattered all over the cockpit. The second violation was regarding flight cargo; in another PIA aircraft bulk cargo was not properly loaded. During the flight, it dislodged as a result of which the cargo door could not be opened. An immediate consequence of this violation was that PIA was denied the business privilege of fixing and repairing foreign aircraft. The charges on the basis of which this cancellation has taken place are frightening, telling a very uncomfortable story. That the height of apathy and indifference prevailing in PIA is now so obvious that nobody cares about what their actions and what the consequences are. That if this is the level of indifference, how is it possible to look after serious technical processes that need a high level of vigilance? That if the pilots are that careless, God only help what the fate is of the plane under their command.

The reason for this culture is years of the practice of choosing the wrong man for the right job and excessive forceful hiring imposed on the organisation without any requirement. With competence no longer a prerequisite of getting into PIA and performance no guarantee of growth, most people working are just passengers in transit; they saunter in at whichever hour they like and they leave without the least concern for who suffer because of this lack of interest and application. With zero accountability, PIA has become a loss-making monster that is on a constant taxpayer bailout.

The practice of appointing people on kinship or friendship basis is actually organisational terrorism, where you disrespect its worth by filling it up with worthless workers, headed by a person whose only claim to fame is his ability to be cosy with those who matter. These leaders know that their ability to survive beyond this favour of the government is minimal, and thus they are busy making the most of this opportunity with scant regard to developing and strengthening PIA. What prevails at the top prevails all the way down. This indifference to the call of duty is not considered corruption; in their minds if they are not taking financial benefits then it does not matter. However, negligence of safety instructions causing losses in the form of suspended flights as well as being paid and not working fully is a financial loss to the company. 

The problem is that corruption has assumed such a huge scale that if it is not millions and billions, nobody thinks it is worth making a fuss about. The fact that many small but significant irregularities go unnoticed is due to the overwhelming plethora of scandals going on in the country. With Senate seats being auctioned for Rs thirty million each, the news of the Benazir Park in Karachi having some serious over- invoicing issues is considered child’s play. But, buying a plant whose value is not more than Rs 50 in the market for Rs 5,000 is criminal. Nonetheless, in the context of the massive bungling prevalent in many other government organisations, it may be considered marginal. 

The lack of accountability is one factor that derails the staunchest of human beings. The very thought that I will get it whether I deserve to or not, is license to stray and indulge in all sorts of disturbing behaviour that may have severe consequences. Accountability has to be first exhibited by people who are on the top. The appointment of a wrong man at the top is not only going to destroy the organisation but also encourage many other people perched on the fine line of which way to go. After having almost 100 people die in PIC due to wrong medicines, the man appointed as the head of the Drug Regulatory Authority is a senior bureaucrat who does not have expertise and experience in this area. To risk people’s lives after this incident talks volumes of how lack of accountability ensures the continuation of practices that are proven to be damaging.

Somehow, most of our leaders think that public accountability in the election process is also just a buzzword. Looking at the past, they may not be wrong as time and again, they have defaulted and yet regained their positions. However, this may not be true for the future. With a very vibrant media that loves splashing most scandals repeatedly, the awareness and disgust level of the general public has reached unprecedented levels. How far this is translated in the electoral results is, of course, yet to be seen. The biggest fallacy of any leader, however, is to assume that the past will be repeated in the future. If the public sentiment is different and the leaders are not doing anything different to get a different result, then for a change, the process of accountability may get the better of them. This awareness in leaders requires them to be in touch with the reality of the present. Unfortunately, the past success of ignoring reality and getting away with it eventually becomes their nemesis for trying the old formula one too many times and then only discovering its obsolescence.

The writer is an analyst, consultant and information Secretary of PTI Punjab and can be reached at 

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