the chinese train scandal

!! This one has been going on for a long time now. The sorry saga has finally come to an end, with the result being that the three generals[1] involved have been given a get out of jail free card. This case is interesting not for the level of corruption, for it involved the trivial sum of a hundred million dollars, but for the insight it gives into how govt. works here. Besdies, one of the sainted general was wondering why all kinds of charges were being levelled in the “typical Pakistani style” against him and others. Here is a step by step account:

* Appoint people who know nothing at all about railways to run them. _they probably never even took a train ride in their entire lifes._

* they got bored, so they go shopping. Since the Chinese govt. had invited them over, they decided to fly in, look around some, see some train yards.

* They see some new shiny trains being built, and decide to buy a few, and so they buy lots of locomotives and what not.

Interlude: So here we have a 100 million dollar purchase made with public money, with no investigation into the needs of the railways back home, the suitability of the trains, or the international alternatives. Not only are they too wide for Pakistani stations, they are too heavy for Pakistani railway tracks! Hell, there isn’t even a trial back home, so that the workers and engineers who actually run the railways could give their input on this mega purchase.

* Here comes the train! With great fanfare they are introduced. And then someone finds out that *they are too wide for Pakistan railway platforms!* This is really amazing, any which way you think about it. Tells far more about the workings of Pakistani govt than a years worth of reading local newspapers. There is incompetence, than there is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious incompetence.

* Now all railway platforms have to be widened for these new chinese trains. What about the old trains, and the dangerous gap when they stop at the newly widened stations? Since London has a monopoly on mind the gap signs, the good generals don’t even bother putting up signs. There is no gap, they say. Why they say, real men can easily jump a foot to get to the platform!

* One by one, the brand new locomotives “slowly fail”: The quality is not as good as the 80 year old english ones we’re already running, a general admits. But thats all right, as the Chinese will fix them! Look, the generals scream, we are doing our jobs, we’ve throwing more money at the Chinese to fix these trains!

* the locomotives, being too heavy for the local tracks, contributed to a spate of fatal train accidents in the last couple of years. This was of course completly ignored by the good generals. Nothing to do with running unsuitable trains too fast on ancient tracks, oh no.

* While trains are failing left right center, and crashing every now and then, these oh-so-busy generals find the time to construct a 80 acre golf club in Lahore. Oh, and a 5 star hotel as well. They even had the time to plan the layout of the course!

* All the locomotives are slowly shunted aside to rust away in a empty field, while the generals tell the country that if they hadn’t bought the locomotives the railways, and hence the whole country, would have gone down the tube.

* Investigation starts into this mess

* The generals blame everything from ‘9/11′: to national interest for buying faulty goods. They then claim that the National Security Council approved the deal, therefore absolving them of all responsibilty. The NSC didn’t even exist back then! The damning thing here is that the generals are so secure in their invincibility that they can’t even be bothered to come up with a decent excuse.

* To match the generals, the govt. investigation conlcudes with the same logic: A *’mistake’ had been committed, it was acknowledged, but the mistake had been made in ‘good faith’.* And so the generals move on to yet another cushy job which they don’t know how to perform. The “sad end to the even sadder story”:

p. Hundreds of people died due to the choices made by these generals, and billions of rupees wasted. It is heartening to know that it was all in ‘good faith’, and these generals will soon be heading some other organization[2].

The investigation revealed that *railway bosses had overlooked the fact that the Chinese locomotives could not operate on local tracks.* Such a simple thing really. To the inmates running the show this is hardly something the railways bosses are expected to know. Facts and figures are just so crass. People dying is just so 20th century. And so the generals walk away scot free. Perhaps the most damning thing is that these generals probably think that they did nothing wrong – after all, how could they be expected to know that these trains weren’t suitable for local tracks? Pakistan has so many corruption cases which can never be proven. This one was different – so cut and dry, with all the facts on official records, that it could have been easily concluded.

The best solution to this whole problem is not letting any more generals retire. If we can have presidents for life, why not generals as well? It’s obvious that these generals are still fit for command, as they are -running- ruining organizations much bigger than the divisions they retire from. Any generals retired in the past ten years still wanting to work can be recalled to duty in the ‘supreme national interest’.

fn1. former railway minister Lt Gen (r) Javed Ashraf Qazi, former chairman Lt Gen (r) Saeeduz Zafar and former general manager Maj Gen (r) Hamid Butt.

fn2. The former railways minister is now the current education minister, which is ironically appropriate, as the education ministry is already a train wreck.

2 thoughts on “the chinese train scandal”

  1. Oh, I abhored them so dearly always. They were not only wider from outside, they were just so unfit for anyone like me who’s taller than 5’10 seriously. You couldn’t sit upright on them or sleep with your legs stretched. And yet, the theme is: Let bygones by bygones as evident from the statement:

    mistake’ had been committed, it was acknowledged, but the mistake had been made in ‘good faith’

    A good faith that killed and shattered countless homes, right?

  2. Ugh, there is so much wrong with the way Pakistan is run that it makes me sad to even visit. How long can the wealthy keep bleeding that place before it finally collapses?

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