“Your passport has not arrived. You need to come back another day”, says the utterly remorseless Passport Office clerk in a matter-of-fact tone. “But my receipt clearly says 7th December as the collection date and today is the 7th of December”, replies the disappointed customer. “That may be so, but your passport is not ready and you have to come again,” repeats the passport office clerk, adding a measure of authority to his voice. Subsequent visits on 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th December prove just as fruitless and the customer receives the same sterile one-liner. For the customer, each visit means travelling 22 miles, changing 3 buses and half a day’s absence from work.
Needless to say that neither the passport nor the other government departments have any interest or concern about the misery that they manufacture for millions of citizens each day. They also seem so utterly clueless about their incompetence, the concept of carbon footprint and the linkage between the two. In December 2015, Carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the atmosphere crossed 400.16 ppm – higher than it has ever been at any time in the past 400,000 years.
CO2 is the chief greenhouse gas that results from human activities and causes global warming and climate change. Passing 400 ppm is an ominous sign of things to come – rising seas, melting glaciers, overwhelming floods and a host of other freak upheavals. CO2 emissions are primarily caused by combustion of fossil fuels – coal, natural gas, and oil. Power plants, vehicles, planes and industrial facilities are the principal contributors.
Can Pakistan drastically cut down, if not completely eliminate its bureaucracy-generated carbon footprint? Thousands of citizens making five totally avoidable visits for collection of their passports is just one small example in this huge ocean of self-created absurdity. In Karachi alone, some four million vehicle owners make 2-4 visits every year to pay their annual motor vehicle tax. Absence of the receiving clerk, ‘system down’ and non-availability of tokens are often the reasons for these repetitive visits. The Minister or the Secretary of Excise and Taxation Department have never themselves driven down, stood in a queue and paid these taxes. They have no idea of how a department’s incompetence breeds anguish for millions of helpless citizens.
All that is needed is to enable motor vehicle tax payment through any of the half a dozen or so mobile money transfer schemes. This should not just reduce but entirely eliminate the need for going to any office or bank to pay the motor vehicle or any other tax. The colonial practice of visiting government offices and banks for payment of various dues ought to be unthinkable in a country of over 80 million active mobile phone users. Enabling mobile phone payment of the passport fee, the driving license fee, motor vehicle tax, property tax and income tax could easily save 30-40 million visits per year. Assuming an average distance of only 10 KM per visit, this amounts to an annual saving of 66,000 tons of CO2 emission – and much more in terms of cruelty to the customers.
Some 8 million senior citizens make 96 million visits each year to the National Saving Centres for collection of profit on their investments. Likewise, 2.5 million pensioners queue up before various national banks and post offices to collect their dues every month. Imagine the massive savings in customer visits, customer torture and carbon emissions if the profits and pensions could be sent directly to the specified bank account of each individual. Why must millions of ordinary citizens be deprived of simpler and efficient processes simply because our bureaucracy is not willing to change?
Millions of people make numerous visits to government offices for collection of documents such as passports, driving licenses, vehicle registration books, licenses etc. These visits create needless opportunities for ‘speed money’ and favouritism. The government could easily arrange for all such documents to be directly delivered (posted or couriered) to the specified home addresses.
The UK Government Car Service currently has 85 vehicles – down from 142 in 2011. The Pakistan Government operates with over 100,000 official cars for its bureaucrats and their families. UK plans to convert its official fleet to much smaller electric cars from this autumn as ministers seek to “lead by example”. Can Pakistan government show its commitment to environment and accountability by following the example of the UK government?