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Poor governance

October 21, 2015


The writer is a former federal secretary.
The writer is a former federal secretary.

ONE of the definitions of governance is “establishing of policies [and rules], and continuous monitoring of their proper implementation by the members of the governing body [government] of an organisation [country]”. In Pakistan, however, we announce policies and make rules and then devise ways to ignore the policies and circumvent the rules.

We make policies in every sector, such as health, education, trade etc, announce them with fanfare and then continue with our ad-hoc ways and announce yet another policy after a couple of years, because a new minister wants to have his own moment of fame. We make rules, eg income tax rules, and negate their implementation by clever manipulation; we pay the state in thousands, while spending billions on ourselves.

When policy announcements don’t work and criticism mounts, we come up with high-visibility projects and yet more reforms. We make no effort to fix the system, because having been around for long we know it will involve taking on the mafias in organisations, upsetting the forces of status quo etc.

We make policies and then continue with our ad-hoc ways.

So rather than fix existing government schools, which are in the thousands, we show the dream of an Aitchison College in every district and build a few billion-rupee schools of doubtful quality for a handful of students.

Rather than fix the police force, we come up with the ‘Elite Force’, ‘Rapid Response Force’, ‘Mujahid Force’ etc. And when that does not work, we bring in more ‘reforms’.

Rather than fix the bureaucracy by stopping political interference, handing back the powers to heads of organisations (establishment secretary, chief secretary, IG) we sign impressive-sounding agreements with donor agencies including the World Bank and UNDP, and promise more high-sounding reforms, with the collateral advantage of lucrative consultancies and foreign trips.

Rather than fix the public transport system for the whole city, we line one route, out of 40 or 50 routes, with gold by spending crores per kilometre and paying a subsidy of a crore a day, to benefit not more than 5pc of commuters.

Rather than improve the performance of our existing municipal sweepers, we get companies from abroad to pick the garbage for us and pay them additional $45 million a year for their ‘supervision’ alone. We further buy them $60m worth of vehicles to clean the streets for us with the help of our old municipal sweepers.

Rather than catch the electricity thieves or perform the mundane task of renovating existing distribution infrastructure to reduce technical line losses, or fix the problems of existing power plants, we go for high-profile power plants knowing full well that it will increase the circular debt even more.

Rather than build dams and utilise God-given resources — because it takes six to eight years to build these and that is beyond our tenure of office — we establish expensive projects in cities, where visibility is at its highest. We also have to complete these projects in 11 months to show our effectiveness, regardless of the fact that because of higher contractor rates, it may cost the exchequer three times the normal price.

Rather than take on the masterminds, handlers and financiers of terrorism, we would prefer to have them on our right side, unless our arm is twisted by the forces we can’t say no to.

Rather than control population growth (Bangladesh had more people than us in 1971 and now has 160 million while we have around 200 million), we would much prefer to take the ‘politically correct’ route of not annoying the maulvi and not even talking about the problem.

Rather than concentrate on across-the-board tax collection as we have one of the lowest tax collection rates in the world, we would much prefer to borrow as much as possible from our own banks and in the process crowd out local entrepreneurs, and then go to international markets to borrow at rates foreign markets can’t resist.

The lack of effort on our part to collect taxes is actually a blessing in disguise for the public, because resultantly the public here is rich while the government is poor. As a result, when we can’t provide clean drinking water, the public develops its own bottled water industry. When we can’t provide security, private security companies flourish and in the process provide unintended employment. When we cannot provide power, the public imports a billion dollars’ worth of small generators every year, to stay comfortable and run their businesses.

Rather than think of the future of the country we continue to play politics for our short-term gains. When are we going to think of the future of our children? Or is it that the future of children of our rulers is not linked to this country and is planned abroad?

The writer is a former federal secretary.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2015

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