Social exclusion and its fallout have prompted policymakers, think tanks and economists to engage in the national discourse on how to forge an inclusive and sustainable development agenda with required policy adjustments.

While it is recognised that economic growth is important for raising national output, it is also being increasingly acknowledged that growth is not socially sustainable as retribution of wealth, incomes and assets stand outside the ambit of growth.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by Transparency International (TI), some 88.9 per cent of the respondents surveyed said their income had shrunk over the last three years. Rising inflation, shrinking real wages, limited decent jobs, unemployment and poverty remain major public concerns despite the economic recovery and expanding social safety network.

The trickle-down effect, it is said, comes into play when the growth rate remains very high for a prolonged period, but it is not possible without social and human resource development. The PTI government is trying to develop a bottom-up approach to push up growth in such sectors as small- and medium-sized industries (SMEs). Yet there has been a long delay in the government’s approval of the proposed Small and Medium Size Enterprises Policy 2021, disappointing the business community.

In the view of a major segment of respondents — 72.8pc — corruption at the grassroots level had increased in the public sector due to the absence of elected local governments

“Development should be inclusive and must demonstrate trickle-down effect with the aim to empower lower strata of society,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said in a video message sent to the recently organised Sustainable Development Conference (SDC) titled ‘Beyond the Pandemic: Leaving No One Behind.’ However, the PTI government has not been able so far to implement its manifesto to empower people at the grassroots level because of tough resistance from ‘electable’ members in its fold.

The SDC was organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute to ‘pick up’ the debate on redefining and reshaping the post-pandemic new development agenda with a view to making existing policies inclusive while looking through the prism of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The illusion of prosperity, built on borrowed money, is a priority over development, says eminent economist Sakib Sherani. He emphasised that the elitist policymakers would do well to study the development path of successful peer countries, adding, “Pakistan should live within its means”.

Visiting Pakistan some time ago renowned economist Jeffrey D. Sachs (dedicated to the cause of ending poverty) cautioned policymakers that there is economic growth but no development. And in this context, Mr Sherani says “the country’s free-riding elites have to be made to carry their share of responsibility.”

The idea of people-centred economic development, first surfaced in the early 1970s but was put on the back burner while international efforts were directed to tackle stagflation through rapid financial globalisation. That worked for a while but finally led to frequent financial/debt crises, worsened the chronic balance of payments problem in many countries, stifled economic development and further widened inequality among and within nations.

With the frequent cyclic and systemic crises haunting policymakers, the United Nations came up with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2015-2030.

Though much more left to do, Pakistan’s scored 1.5pc higher in the SDGs Index 2021 at 57.7pc compared to 2020. Despite the Covid-19 push back, the country’s GDP Global Ranking was at 129 in 2021. It is an improvement in the ranking from 134 amongst 166 countries in 2020.

For a sustainable economy, the prime minister’s advisor on finance and revenue Shaukat Tarin says the government is working on improving revenue collection, raising agricultural productivity and increasing industrial production.

The disparity in household incomes and development among and within provinces is widening the disconnect between a hybrid government and the deprived and oppressed groups and communities. One can assess the mounting public discontentment from the surging social and political activism with more and more protestors taking to the streets. There is a strong backlash against Sindh Local Bodies (Amendments) Bill 2021 for denying the local government full political, administrative and financial autonomy.

“You can’t have national security until there is inclusive development,” Prime Minister Imran Khan said while addressing the Margalla Dialogue 21 on the theme ‘Breaking Past, Entering Future’ organised by the Islamabad Policy Research Institute in collaboration with the National Security Division.

Years ago, a social scientist suggested that it is both active masses and active leaders who can together help resolve problems of the have-nots. While still in power, former US president Obama told a trade union gathering that the responsibility of the people does not end just by exercising their right to vote. And PPP founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said “the people lead and the people are led.” It is the genuine representatives of the people elected in a free and fair election in 1970 who gave the country the 1973 Constitution.

Hybrid democracy nurturing social exclusion is creating a vacuum for the development of participatory democracy which begins with the empowerment of the third government tier and local communities in the formal sector and efforts of the common citizens to fend for their livelihood in an informal economy. For example, a teacher with a poor salary has left her job to work as a better paid domestic servant in Phase VIII of Defence Housing Society, Karachi. Finding it very difficult to survive on tuition fees to foot his expenses on bare essentials, a college student from South Punjab learnt to cook from TV classes, and is now working as a cook in the same area.

Balochistan is working on an ‘innovative’ community-led local governance policy. As equal partners in the local government/councils, the already registered and mobilised communities are expected to play a key role in the development process at the grassroots level.

Around 47.8pc of Pakistanis surveyed by TI believe that the government‘s campaign to create awareness about the pandemic could have been launched in a more effective manner if elected representatives of local bodies were present. Health costs during pandemic estimated by the World Health Organisation have pushed over half a billion people in the world into poverty.

The TI’s National Corruption Survey 2021 sought responses from 1,600 people from four cities each in every province of Pakistan. In the view of a major segment of respondents — 72.8pc — corruption at the grassroots level had increased in the public sector due to the absence of elected local governments.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 20th, 2021

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