ASIA NEWS NETWORK
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Matters of procedure
Publication Date : 26-08-2013
The task of keeping track of and attempting to look after a citizenry involves large amounts of paperwork.
The government of Pakistan requires all adults to possess acomputerised national identity card (CNIC). Mechanisms have been created such as requirement of the CNIC to vote or benefit from schemes such as the Benazir Income Support Programme to induce people to take the trouble of having them made.
People need passports and driving licences, and children need union council-issued birth certificates, ‘Bay’ forms (the basis on which the CNIC is issued at 18 years) and certificates of domicile.
Previously, getting any of these documents issued or renewed was an unpleasant endeavour involving long, rowdy queues, unhelpful staff and a system that seemed to be designed to make things harder for the applicant.
Information had to be cross-referenced against musty old ledgers kept in labyrinthine complexes to which the ordinary citizen had only restricted access. This often meant that there was plenty of scope for corrupt petty officials to demand bribes, or for touts with contacts inside who, for a certain sum, would ease your progress.
Thankfully, computers and their use in many places, including the National Database and Registration Authority or various traffic police authorities, have made much of this paperwork a far easier terrain to traverse.
Apart from the sheer stress on these systems because of the vast numbers of applicants, about which nothing much can be done, they now work well on the whole. Much has been done to make things easier for citizens, and the authorities deserve commendation for that.
Nevertheless, there are some areas where problems remain, that hopefully the directorates and authorities will turn their attention to.
One is that the edifice of paperwork does not really factor in the fact that there are increasingly large numbers of people who leave their hometowns, most often for work.
How does this make a difference to the applicant for paperwork? Because, for example, when applying for a government issued document, you need to have your evidences attested. If I live in the area where my family has always lived, I will most probably have access to a person who can attest my documents a magistrate, nazim, doctor, etc.
Not so if I’m in a different place, and especially if I am, like the vast majority of migrant workers, also poor.
The ‘permanent address’ vs ‘current address’ on the CNICs presupposes some link to land, and some form however small of land ownership or village membership.
I could be from Murree, present that as my permanent address, but be living in Karachi. But what if I am one of those increasing numbers of people born in a large urban centre that gives only anonymity, and with no land or house, moving from rented place to rented place? What is my permanent address then?
Nadra-issued documents can be renewed from any city (and changes in residence are factored in). Not so for passports, though, which fall under the interior ministry.
This detail needs to be fixed, with the passports-issuance system computerised along the lines of Nadra; in this day and age there’s simply no reason for a document, one that is itself computerised, to not be renewable in an area or city different to that where it was originally issued.
There also needs to be more recognition that development of the state and its systems can often be rendered meaningless if development of the citizenry does not receive an equally strong push.
I was recently having my driving licence renewed, for example, and was impressed by the efficiency of the system and the courteousness of the staff.
I had expected delays because my expired license was the old-style paper booklet till this year, I had been able to have it renewed without having a computerised one made whose details would have to be checked against a ledger but even then, a couple of hours later, I would be able to pick up the new one.
There were numbered rooms to which you went in sequence, starting from obtaining the bank-form for depositing the fee to the one where you were issued a token for the collection of the document, having had your eyesight checked, your ID-card details verified and photo taken, etc, along the way.
But the system faltered because of the inadequacies of the applicants themselves. The officer accepting the money, for example, had to reject every third form because
it had not been filled in by the applicant, or had been filled in partially or incorrectly.
Not only was this wasting his time, scanning these submissions, in the 15 minutes or so that I stood there, his level of irritation had also risen noticeably.
Similarly, in the eyesight testing room the person before me could not read, and the ophthalmologist had to have him describe a series of lines and marks.
Another officer nearby was telling an applicant that he would have to have his blood group identified and explaining why. Should the citizenry have a reasonable expectation that the state will educate it and invest in it? Yes, of course.
But this is yet another sector where the state is faltering badly. The advantages of literacy and education are so self-evident and vast that they don’t bear repeating here, as is the fact that on paper every child in Pakistan ought to be going to school.
I merely wish to point out that the efforts of some of the notable success stories of Pakistan’s administration are being undermined because they aren’t being bolstered at the level of the individual. The buck, again, stops with the state.