October 1, 2013

Pakistan's first step towards governance nirvana

The PCB's plan to empower the regional associations and turn them into self-sustaining, revenue-generating units is a good one, but how feasible is it?

When considering the difficulties in appraising Asif Ali Zardari, take, as just one example, these inescapable facts: Asif Ali Zardari, former president, gave Pakistan Ijaz Butt, and Asif Ali Zardari, former president, gave Pakistan the 18th Amendment. What do you make of a man who can heap upon any people so much misery but also such an opportunity for seminal, positive change?

This is not as tenuously linked or as random an example as it sounds, so bear with me. The 18th Constitutional Amendment, passed by the National Assembly in April 2010, was a righting of some of the biggest accumulated wrongs in Pakistan's political history. The bill reduced the president's power, especially what he held over parliament. But it was also an attempt to decentralise the state, to chisel away at the control the centre has held over the provinces. This imbalance in the equations of power, this top-heaviness, runs deep through all kinds of institutions, political, corporate and otherwise in Pakistan, and inevitably in the Pakistan Cricket Board as well.

The PCB is currently afloat in the operational limbo triggered by Zaka Ashraf's suspension. It was right that the Islamabad High Court questioned the process through which Ashraf had himself elected chairman. But the kind of overreach the court has shown since is not only typical of this judiciary's belief that it possesses a moral mandate to reform the country, it is also a further crippling of a body that is pretty broken anyway.

Primarily the court's judgements prevent the full implementation of the new board constitution. This is the fifth constitution the board has had (miraculous really, and revealing both the emptiness and fullness of hope Pakistan deposits in these documents) and is a far more comprehensive document than the last, which appeared in 2007. But while attention has mostly centred around the prescribed processes through which a chairman is elected, what has not quite materialised is the constitution's own vision of a cricketing 18th Amendment.

The board plans to give regional associations a model constitution to implement within three months, replacing existing ones. This is the start of a long and complicated journey, at the end of which - the board hopes - is a governance nirvana: the administrative emancipation of regional associations.

It is to happen gradually. The PCB will initially provide annual development funds to the 15 regional associations. But to remain eligible, associations will have to provide audited accounts of how the money has been spent. The board will also help appoint a chief executive officer for each, whose salary will come at first from the PCB, and who will be responsible for running and maintaining a professional, modern office. The idea is that eventually each region becomes a self-sustaining, revenue-generating constituent unit, its strength and health contributing ultimately to that of the board. At some point, far down the line, they may even regain control of the stadiums they once looked after and made money from.

To imagine that there was a time as recently as 1999 when the Karachi City Cricket Association held its own reserves of Rs 15-20 million

All this would only be the restoration of an earlier, organic order, a course correction especially from the damage wrought in Tauqir Zia's years but also to considerable degrees by every administration since. Zia wasn't all bad and the National Cricket Academy he built in Lahore is a priceless asset. But from the distance of over a decade, nothing has had greater impact on Pakistan's cricket than his hoarding of all power and control to the chairman's office in Gaddafi Stadium. Zia is an army man and to them this makes sense; nowhere, after all, is Pakistan run better single-handedly than within the delusions of an army general. Regions became emaciated; their responsibilities, authority and independence were stripped away; where once associations organised their own international and domestic matches, now they don't even have the independence to pick their sides for domestic cricket.

Zia became a one-man ad-hoc committee and in doing so he was only mirroring the methods of his boss, Pervez Musharraf, who was running the country in much the same way; as in Pakistan, so too Pakistan cricket. And so, gradually, regions wasted away, irrelevant except when they can be nuisances, or pliable if votes are needed. Each successive administration after Zia - Shaharyar Khan, Nasim Ashraf, Ijaz Butt - has happily maintained the imbalance of this central equation. To imagine that there was a time as recently as 1999 when the Karachi City Cricket Association held its own reserves of Rs 15-20 million (approximately US$ 141,500-188,000).

The headline fallout from this has been the crises from 2006 to 2010, results of an increasingly narrowed governance structure where the chairman is not accountable to anyone but a disinterested patron, certainly not to stakeholders further down. But the other costs have been equally heavy. The board, for instance, maintains nine stadiums now where cricket isn't played at all; it pays the six-month central regional contracts for all players in the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, all match fees, travel costs and expense allowances. One season of domestic cricket costs it approximately Rs 300 million ($2.8m). And when people are shocked by the number of employees the PCB has - near 900 - they forget that it is that big mostly because the board is running a huge number of white-elephant stadiums around the country. These are all costs and headaches the PCB can do without, especially in the new financial landscape imposed upon it, costs and headaches that are better shared with 15 self-sustaining constituent units.

Constitutions are easy on paper, though. None of this may happen to any extent, or may even be possible at all. Right now the board doesn't even have a proper chairman. The one who is there, depending on how you look at it, is either a man of many talents or a career hyphen (publisher-editor-anchor-India peacenik-democracy crusader-administrative plughole and so on; a diplomatic posting surely awaits). He's not allowed to do much in any case. No one should be under any illusions either as to the extent of the mess regional associations are currently in and just how unready they are to take on this devolution (precisely, as it happens, the kind of questions now emerging about the real 18th Amendment). Should these units even be regional associations, or should they go back to being the less geographically nebulous city associations they were before Zia's administration, a deeper, more complex riddle to solve?

It'll be difficult, almost as difficult as figuring out what to make of Asif Ali Zardari.

Osman Samiuddin is a sportswriter at the National. He tweets here