LAHORE, Sept 14: South Asia has not generated adequate jobs or substantial poverty reduction despite witnessing some positive developments in people’s empowerment. Only pro-people as well as people-centered system of governance can ensure sustainable economic growth in the region.
This was the crux of the presentations of speakers from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh at the launch of Human Development in South Asia 2012 report on ‘Governance for People’s Empowerment’ by Lahore University of Management Sciences’ (LUMS) Mahbubul Haq Human Development Centre on varsity campus on Friday.Speakers say that a majority of South Asian countries continue to live under poor economic management with high fiscal deficit and public debt, soaring inflation, and significant unemployment and under-employment in the informal sector. Despite several poverty reduction efforts in the region, the report said, the absolute number of poor people is still as high as about half a billion poor people. The report says economic governance in most of South Asian countries has made their economies bigger, but not better.
Former State Bank of Pakistan governor Shahid Kardar said the forthcoming elections would test the government in Pakistan as a large proportion of population was still living below the poverty line.
He said neither the Public Accounts Committee nor civil society made political leadership accountable. “Nature and the degree of crisis are mostly self-inflicted,” he added.
Mr Kardar said the violation of merit by state institutions had damaged the governance system. He said scores of industries without National Tax Number had commercial electricity connections. He also asked that who was protecting “kunda connections” in the country.
Centre president Khadija Haq said South Asia was facing a huge empowerment deficit in terms of poor delivery of public services in education, health and justice. Despite the existence of strong judiciaries, she said, inadequate and ineffective lower courts were not providing timely justice to the poor.
According to her, South Asia was a home to nearly 400 million illiterate adults, of which 250 million were women; over 160 million people were without access to drinking water; and one billion people were without access to improved sanitation services.
Dr Haq said the Governance for People’s Empowerment report had revisited the Humane Governance Index (HGI), first developed by late economist Dr Mahbubul Haq. She said the index measured the extent of humane governance, giving a composite figure for its three interlinked dimensions: economic, political and civic governance. “The South Asian countries have not fared very well in HGI, leaving scope to improve governance in all three dimensions,” she added.
Dr Haq said the parliament, bureaucracy and judiciary could function in ways to either hamper or propagate human development and economic management. She said the adoption of poverty reduction strategies and social protection mechanisms could play a significant role in protecting the marginalized and the poor.
ESCAP Regional Office New Delhi director Nagesh Kumar said the humane governance needed to empower people.
Stating that the share of services had risen at a fast pace to 56 per cent that triggered colossal transformation, he said that still there was a need to pull more and more people out of poverty. “People need social protection but still most of them are on the verge of poverty line,” he added. He said job creation could be the only way forward and emphasis on education could never be over emphasised towards achieving this goal.
Former Bangladesh finance minister M Syeduzzaman stressed the need for civil society taking up an active role to ensure that states should provide people access to education, health and other services as well as role in local governments.
In Bangladesh, Mr Syeduzzaman said the local government system had weakened under the influence of Parliament.
Acknowledging that NGOs were playing an important role in helping people attain empowerment, he stressed the need that good working conditions needed to be ensured for workers besides their skills development and right to making trade unions.
LUMS Vice-Chancellor Dr Adil Najam said the earth as a whole was a poor country by any measure. He said that almost 80 per cent of resources were in the hands of 20 per cent population, while the 80 per cent of population was struggling with the remaining little resources. Stating that the planet earth was a poorly governed country, he added, “it is fragile and Third World country as a whole”.
He said the number of Indians killed by Pakistan in the last 60 years was less than the number of children, who died in New Delhi every year because of dirty water. Same was true for Karachi in Pakistan, he added.
Centre governing board member Qaiser Ahmad Sheikh and Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan also spoke.