As the divergence between old dreams and new realities widen, the role of individual and national leadership in governance including policymaking is being redefined by eminent thinkers and social activists trying to build a more equitable, democratic socio-economic order.

The discourse on the issue has received a powerful impetus from the victory of Democrats and defeat of Republican President Donald Trump in the US elections.

The current political focus in the US is on how President-elect Joseph Biden should redesign the incumbent’s flawed US domestic and foreign policy that has politically divided Americans and isolated the country from the international community.

In an interesting survey, Chicago Council on Global Affairs asked US citizens in September whether they preferred the US to play a ‘dominant’ or ‘shared’ international leadership role. Among the responses, the answer ‘shared’ prevailed by almost three to one.

In Pakistan, the PTI’s mode of governance and its competence in policymaking and efficiency in service delivery are being more widely questioned by people who have closely observed its performance over the past two years.

The hybrid democracy is a recipe for political instability as demonstrated by the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s efforts to build political muscle on street power to reinforce its demand for fresh free and fair elections

Apparently, defending his government’s performance, Prime Minister Imran Khan told a press conference on December 8 that when he took office he was taken aback by the scale of the problems. “It’s a different scenario when you see the government from the inside,” he said.

The prime minister also admitted that most of the people in his team had no experience of governance, and therefore, learnt by trial and error.

In fact, PTI’s governance also suffers from a lack of internal cohesion within the government. Lacking common values, the PTI’s hardcore, the electable(s) and a dominating team of technocrats make strange bedfellows in pursuit of building a new Pakistan with traditional policies and approaches with a bit of more emphasis here or there.

The role of elected representatives in steering the course of economic development is blurred by the sway of technocracy.

When asked by newsmen about the impact of the Islamabad High Court order on his government’s governance and its dependence on unelected experts, the prime minister said he would find some solution.

The court has declared the notification for setting up the Cabinet Committee on Privatisation as ‘illegal’. It had ruled that unelected advisors and special assistants could not be members or head government’s committees.

The PTI government is trying to improve governance, integrity and performance of the civil servants. It has now come up with the new Civil Servants (Efficiency and Discipline) rules. However, the move has not raised many hopes about building the stipulated ‘effective service delivery’ system.

For this, one has just to look at the High Court judgement mentioned earlier and the continued deviations from constitutional provisions, rules and procedures, as witnessed also in the past.

In an objective analysis of economic management, Sakib Shirani recently wrote: the current economic policy framework is deeply flawed with a transactional approach to economic issues. With the finance ministry in the driving seat since 1988, he says, the long planning horizon has given way to 12-month budget cycle thinking, made still shorter by the International Monetary Fund’s quarterly monitoring of its programme- related conditionality.

The academic and social activist Ammar Ali Jan is of the view that “the first and foremost crisis facing our polity is the collapse of a recognisable political project that could act as a binding force for disparate interests.”

The mainstream politics is as divisive as ever but the need for unity in diversity, to set right wrongs right through a collective national effort, is being overlooked.

Pointing to inconsistency in current policy-making, another observer notes that the authorities are “locked in one-step-forward-two-steps-back movement especially when it comes to the economy.” The denied representative democracy, the third tier of government is run presently by a demotivated bureaucracy. And Prime Minister Khan says local bodies are under-performing. He says local government polls will be held after Senate elections probably in April 2021.

The parliament, supposed to be a sovereign body, has hardly any meaningful role in national policy-making. A PML-Q leader says that his party is in the PTI-led coalition government just for casting vote and is not associated with policymaking.

On the insistence of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the prime minister directed the relevant authorities to keep the party, a coalition partner, onboard while taking a decision on the Rs1.1 trillion Karachi Transformation Plan (KTP}.

MQM Minister for Information and Technology Syed Aminul Haq had complained in the cabinet meeting on December 8 that the plan was moving at a snail’s pace. Apparently, the amount pledged for KTP by the centre was based on the need for the city’s uplift but the required resources were to be lined up later.

Now Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh expresses his inability to provide additional funds for the KTP and has advised the planning division to meet all the required expenses from its known resources earmarked for the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP). This year’s federal budget has allocated a sum of Rs98.2 billion for the city’s development.

In the recent Economic Coordination Committee meeting Dr Shaikh is reported to have said the funding of the plan was the primary responsibility of the planning division. The summary on KTP prepared by the planning division proposes a federal package of Rs739bn. Of this amount, Rs509bn or 87 per cent is expected to come from the private sector in public-private partnership mode.

For instance, the Karachi Circular Railway with an estimated cost of Rs300bn is now intended to be constructed with the help of the private sector on the build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis. Another Rs125bn is proposed to be raised from the Supreme Court out of the Bahria Town settlement fund which Sindh claims as its own share.

The deep-seated challenges in the domain of economic recovery, mounting political tensions and eroding social cohesion are largely unaddressed or addressed partially.

The hybrid democracy is a recipe for political instability as demonstrated by the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s efforts to build political muscle on street power to reinforce its demand for fresh free and fair elections. As PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto wrote from his death cell: ‘the people lead and the people are led.’

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 14th, 2020

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