COMMENT: Will there be a tomorrow? —Mujahid Eshai
The issues of the small landowners, shopkeepers and tradesmen must be resolved at the earliest. Restoring them will create confidence in the majority. That is the need of the hour. But one does not see any midnight oil being burnt in Islamabad or any of the provincial capitals
The secretary general of the UN has come and gone. He has promised to tell the world that the flood catastrophe in Pakistan is phenomenal and the world needs to help the people in every way. The prime minister and the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in a joint press conference, declared that they were going to live together, fight together and re-build Pakistan together by dispensing with their political differences in this hour of need. The high point of their joint appearance was the formulation of a committee comprising of apolitical persons of repute in the country for the collection of funds for relief and subsequent rehabilitation of the flood affectees.
All well and good, but are these words and promises enough for the family that has lost all its possessions in the great flood, which is so traumatised that they will not be able to walk back to the land that they used to own as the well-beaten track and the three neem trees that marked the way are no longer there. Is anyone out there telling them how will they re-establish the ownership to the precise spot of land the family had owned for generations? Perhaps, the patwari’s records were not washed away; perhaps there is a duplicate copy of all his records in the main cities? The crop that had been stored for the family’s need is not going to be there, so how and from where will the family eat and survive until the next crop, if there will be a next crop? The two buffaloes and the pair of oxen were not evacuated. The stock of consumables in the shop, the tools of the trade have all been washed away. Who is going to pay or provide for their substitutes? How much money will be demanded by those who will be appointed to help us? Why do they not let it all be handled by the armed forces? Questions and more questions but no answers. The loss of property, moveable and immoveable, a sense of nothingness, of hopelessness and oblivion. A sense of the unknown.
These are the main problems that concern the vast majority of the flood affectees as they await some relief from wherever. The physical loss and the psychological trauma are enough to cause permanent damage to these people. They need to be reassured very quickly. They need concrete answers to their questions. The questions may have been easier to answer if it was a matter of reconstructing a town or a city. Here we are talking of land that may have been in the family since at least 1947 and if not before. How does one give that very piece of land back to someone, where, perhaps, no landmarks exist?
The redress of the immediate and longer-term issues of the small farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen is extremely important. They in any case constitute the vast majority of the affectees and need the most help. We should be concentrating on their problems. They are the people who form the backbone of the economy and they are the people whose issues are to be resolved first and foremost. The big landlords, business houses and industries can take care of themselves as they still have the means available to them. The need, in the absence of local governments, is to establish yet more committees in each of the affected districts with identical terms of reference. The committees should include the elderly of the district from amongst the small landowners, shopkeepers and tradesmen as the knowledge of the terrain that these people possess would be of great benefit in redrawing the lines. These committees will be tasked to obtain revenue records, establish a permanent roll with identification in that district and details of their claims, vet the same and then recommend to the government that allotment be made. Not an easy task and certainly not work that is going to end in a very short time. Thereafter, the committee will have to disburse funds for the purchase of a minimum number of livestock, reconstruction of homes and start-up expenses. The terms of reference would have to be precise in terms of defining the financial help that would be given throughout the affected districts regardless of the province or the particular area. A suitable system of monitoring and auditing the work of the committees will need to be put in place. The entire exercise will have to be transparent, equitable and auditable.
If we do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past it would be preferable to keep the political party stalwarts and our illustrious bureaucracy out of this entire exercise. The politicos should stay out because the entire exercise has to be seen to be performed equitably without any party leanings. The bureaucracy has to have a role in providing information, records, maps and other details to the committee, but none in so far as developing and executing its work. Why? Simply because they are under the executive, that is a political party, and hence the objective of the committee in being equitable and fair to all would not be achieved and the committee could stand accused of being influenced in favour of one or the other.
The issues of the small landowners, shopkeepers and tradesmen must be resolved at the earliest. Restoring them will create confidence in the majority. That is the need of the hour. But one does not see any midnight oil being burnt in Islamabad or any of the provincial capitals. Business seems to be as usual with more frequent photo-shoot opportunities being availed. The vast majority of the affectees still continue to lie under the open sky, still waiting for succour, still waiting to be told by someone, anyone, that there is certainly going to be a tomorrow, a better tomorrow. The government appears to be more worried about the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the non-achievement of targets. The people affected by the floods could not care less for the IMF and its targets. They want their problems resolved. If there is a government out there then it should move and move very fast. Patience is wearing out. So let us not bring any other catastrophe on our heads. Let us act now.
The writer is a fellow and former president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan. He also served as a member of the Federal Ad Hoc Public Accounts Committee