Lessons we learned on the road taught by Uncle Aslam (aka Government of Pakistan)
By Fareeha Qayoom
iving in Pakistan is ‘full action thriller’ with ‘drama’ thrown in for good measure too at the best (and worst) of times meaning stuff happens here all the time.
Take Monday for example…I picked up my brother from work around 6:00 PM as usual – was crossing the Liberty Square traffic circle when lo and behold – a police man clad in charcoal and khaki uniform with officious type from Government’s Taxation and Excise department carrying a heavy register stopped our car. We stopped. I know why we were stopped – this was about your basic car tax but I wasn’t worried because for some weird reason I thought my car tokens were complete till 2010 and I had time till June/July to get my token done for 2011.
The policeman moved on to stop another car, while the officious excise man asked us for our car registration – me, the dumb blonde actually handed it over – no, not a copy but the real thing. (Lesson I learned the hard way – Never hand over your original documentation to any government official – always have a duplicate ready for such occasions – I had been planning to get the stuff copied for ages but procrastination had been a killer in this instance!) He reviewed my car registration and told me one token was missing. I was taken aback.
I asked which year? Remember, I thought my book was complete till 2010. He told me 2011. I was dumb founded. I asked him, “What date is it today?” – “May 23, 2011” – he replied. “When does the year end (for car tax)?” I asked. “Around June/July 2011,” he advised. “So technically don’t I still have time to get my token done?” – “No, you are late,” he replied. He also took my original car registration book and dumped it with another police man. He handed me a form instead with a box ticked which basically said that we had failed to produce God knows what so we had ‘pleaded’ that they can keep our car registration book instead! By the way, this was not a traffic violation ticket, (Challan); it was a proof that the Excise department had our original car registration book and we had to collect it from the court by May 27, 2011.
Adnan got down from the car to reason with them, but to no avail. We would only get our car registration book back if the token was done for this year…we got in the car and went to the nearest post office to get this done immediately. No dice. Even though the post offices are open till 8:00 PM every day, they only process the car tokens from 9:00 AM to 3:00 pm – hmmm. (Trust them – these guys apparently do not keep the post office hours in order to inconvenience the maximum of citizens possible caught in their net!) We were in no mood to give up so we stopped by at our neighborhood post office on our way home in DHA as well. This guy was relatively more helpful. He told us – you need your car registration book – without that, you can’t get your token processed. Hmmm. We also asked him about the expiry date? He was pretty vague too – “around June/July of every year.” He also reiterated that we were late and the police and excise guys were in the right.
So we went all the way back to collect our car registration book, luckily it wasn’t 8:00 PM yet, they are supposed to close shop by this time – Adnan offered them his original ID instead, asked for detailed directions to ‘Jain Mandar’ so we could collect his ID in the morning and then we went home. Oh yes, Adnan also decided to record this ‘dumb blonde’ moment on his cell – but one of the police men was cheesed off – he told Adnan – “You can’t do anything to us! We are also some mother’s son!” The implication being, the poor citizens are not and they can’t even take photos to record their humiliation! 🙂
Adnan and I texted our respective bosses/offices that we would be late in the morning and decided to forget the whole thing till the next morning.
In the morning, the aggravation started all over again…after our first visit to the post office (around 9:00 AM), we found out we would be charged the late fee on top…so we had to get to the nearest bank to get more money. We paid 100 percent fine. The post office guy in helpful mode advised us that we could get the late fee waived off if we visit the nearest Excise office located in FF DHA and yes, you are supposed to pay your car tax after the new budget is announced for the next fiscal year and your deadline expires in two months – you should pay it by September. At least, now we knew for sure that we deserved it and we were in the wrong here…
In other words, for year 2012 – you would need to pay your token by September 2011 but not before June 2011 because the budget has not been announced yet. At least someone knew what they were talking about and was able to give us a clear answer! Funnily enough, last year, we paid the token on June 22, 2010 and were not charged the late fee, nor did they ask us to get it done for 2011at the same time, strange – huh? – (Lesson I learned the hard way – Government rules are fluid, murky and are subject to change without notice – Citizens beware – Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t – carry only duplicates so the government officials can’t blackmail, aggravate or waste your valuable time!).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, we went to their Farid Kot/Jain Mandar office next – the directions provided were not all that clear. We had to stop thrice on the way and ask for more directions after crossing the Chauburji – finally we got there around 10:30 AM. There was no parking space and there was a huge crowd so I elected to stay in the car while Adnan went in to collect his ID. It took him about half an hour more because we were apparently early – the loot had not been delivered yet at the HQ! After 3 hours aggravation and half a tank of petrol gone (what with going back to collect the registration book and running all over town in the morning), it was finally over. All’s well that ends well…
Oh by the way, the police or the tax men are not stopping the SUV’s, Merc’s, BMWs or any other luxury cars that pass that traffic circle (believe me there are loads of luxury cars in this town!) – They are only stopping the hatchbacks, old cars (like mine), and mid-range saloon’s like one City I saw in multitude of Suzuki variations with a few Santro’s etc thrown in for good measure… (Lesson I learned the hard way – Might is right! Only the weak will be preyed on – at least maintain an appearance of power even if you don’t have it! Or in other words, drive a luxury car even if you can’t afford it!) Bottom line, perception is more important than reality and this applies to all things big and small.
If you are a citizen of Pakistan; by definition, you are powerless and don’t matter in the larger scheme of things, on top of it, if you don’t even drive a luxury car, you might as well write yourself off from the face of the earth – You are so common, you are derogatorily called the “common man.”
If you can’t even do that, evolve. Learn to survive because they are not kidding, it’s a jungle out there …Do as one of my colleague’s does; no need to pay the car tax, just don’t get caught! Avoid that traffic circle altogether in the afternoon and evenings!