Several hundred years ago, William Shakespeare wrote his famous play, King Henry VI, in which he included the line "First thing we do, let's kill all of the lawyers." While this line has become a famous quotation and is often thrown about in some misguided attempt at cocktail party humor, it is an unfortunate milepost for the disdain held by society for its lawyers.
In Pakistan, right now, President Pervez Musharraf is encountering a vociferous backlash from the citizens of Pakistan and this backlash is being led by lawyers. These lawyers - the ones Shakespeare wanted to kill - are attempting to preserve a sense of order in Pakistan and, unfortunately, many are being imprisoned or hurt for their efforts.
In the world of concrete, there are certain immutable laws. For instance, cement, when combined with aggregate and water, will form concrete. Another rule is that concrete cracks. A third one is that there will be disagreements between owners and contractors and suppliers. This is the nature of the construction industry and is so pervasive that countless people, including myself, earn their living based upon these disagreements.
Beyond that, though, there are several immutable laws that are frequently taken for granted. For instance, when an owner and a contractor sign a contract for a new project, both sides expect the other to live up to their end of the bargain. A corollary to that concept that is when one party fails to live up to its end of the bargain, there are modes of redress. If a contractor fails to perform work in a good and workmanlike manner, or if an owner fails to pay the contractor, there are available avenues to force the uncooperative party to act. If a contractor orders a batch of concrete with the express instruction that it comply with a certain mix, the supplier is duty-bound to send the batch in compliance with that mix.
When people fail to meet certain expectations, those who are harmed by it can turn to their advocates - their lawyers - and seek to enforce their rights. The enforcement of these rights may involve negotiations, but they may also involve arbitration or litigation in the judicial system. But, in the end, every owner, contractor and supplier in United States of America can go to bed at night, comfortable with the thought that there are procedures and methods available to provide protection for their businesses and their interests.
President Musharraf has stripped every Pakistani business owner, concrete contractors included, of these comforts. He has suspended and cancelled many of the rights that we, as Americans, hold dear:
- the protection of life and liberty;
- the right to free movement;
- the right of detainees to be informed of their offense;
- the right of detainees to access lawyers;
- the protection of property rights;
- the right to assemble in public;
- the right to free speech;
- the equal rights for all citizens under law; and
- the freedom of the press.
Imagine how difficult it would be to engage in business if these rights were not available to you. Would an owner commence a project knowing that the owner's ownership interest in the property may be taken at a moment's notice -- without any ability to seek redress? Would a contractor agree to provide labor and materials for a job knowing that the owner may not be around at the end of the job to pay the contractor? Would the supplier provide concrete to a contractor with the flimsy hope of being paid once the truck pulls out of the yard?
In Pakistan, President Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the outstanding Constitution. He fired most of the judges in judicial system and arrested the Chief Justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court. He also shut down independent news stations and sent the military in the streets to keep peace. As a result of this conduct, Musharraf has been widely criticized and protests have been led by the lawyers across the country.