Good governance

Published May 19, 2024
The writer is chairman of Sanober Institute Islamabad
The writer is chairman of Sanober Institute Islamabad

SUCCESSIVE governments, both elected and military, have failed to provide good governance to Pakistan. A perfect storm created by chronic political instability, inconsistent economic policies, weak institutions, pervasive corruption, and lack of accountability has hit our country. Add to that the gross mismanagement of scarce resources, the accumulation of unsustainable debt, and pathetic public service delivery, and it is no wonder that Pakistanis are losing trust in their government and state institutions. Inequitable distribution of resources has created horizontal and vertical disparities. Millions of people have fallen below the poverty line. There is no social justice or equal opportunity. Nor are people’s basic needs being met or their human rights being respected.

Experts have written on what ails governance in Pakistan. Studies have advised on how to extricate our economy from poor governance. However, if one were to identify the root cause of these ills, it is not the economy but the way parliamentary democracy is practised here.

Take, for instance, the role of a ruling party MNA who has spent a certain amount of money on elections. Ostensibly, his (or her) priorities would include: recovering the amount spent on the poll campaign, securing contracts and government jobs for his constituents; getting an executive position; and ensuring that the local government system does not take root lest development funds move out of his domain and end up with LG representatives. None of these priorities relate to his actual responsibility of negotiating and legislating on public interest issues.

It is essentially no different if this MNA is in the opposition. He would have to find a way to recoup the funds spent on his election campaign, or team up with like-minded colleagues to bring the government down. Legislation is the least of his priorities.

A fragile political system cannot deliver.

The prime minister is a hostage to the MNAs. If he does not facilitate the allocation of sufficient development funds for them, he runs the risk of a vote of no-confidence. To remain in power, he looks around to seek help from other state institutions — the bureaucracy, judiciary, army — rather than leading them as chief executive of the country or inspiring their confidence to work within their respective mandates.

Such a fragile political system cannot deliver good governance. One may ask why the parliamentary form of governance works well in countries like Japan, Italy and the Netherlands, where politics is nearly as unpredictable as it is in Pakistan. A major reason is that these countries have not experienced military interventions in recent history, and the governance system has refined itself over electoral cycles. The other reason is that their state institutions, particularly the bureaucracy, judiciary, and the armed forces, are not politicised, and maintain their independence and meritocracy. An efficient and competent civil service coupled with an impartial judiciary is the steel frame that ensures the rule of law. If these two institutions are functioning on the basis of merit, governance remains functional regardless of which political party is in power.

For Pakistan to take the road to good governance, the parliamentary form of government, as is being practised here, needs to be revisited. The size of the provinces should be rationalised by increasing their number to facilitate better governance. The resources devolved to them under the 18th Amendment should be transferred to the local level of governance. We should also set up a national security council for integrated decision-making under the leadership of the elected prime minister. However, these measures require national consensus and constitutional amendments, which would take a long time.

The focus, therefore, should be on doable measures that do not require constitutional amendments. These would include: (i) setting up elected LGs for better public service delivery, and letting MNAs and MPAs devote their time to legislation; (ii) encouraging wealth creation by facilitating industrialisation and ease of doing business, and attracting domestic investors who have parked their capital abroad; (iii) working towards self-reliance: expect no foreign dole-outs, open up the SIFC framework for domestic investors, encourage industries that create employment, expedite economic zones, encourage import substitution, regulate food cartels, and encourage regional trade; (iv) not compromising on establishing the government’s writ, otherwise investments won’t come in; and (v) empowering the ECP to use electronic voting machines for transparent polls, and ensuring democratic practices within political parties.

A governance system that does not ensure the safety, security, dignity, and prosperity of ordinary citizens must be reformed.

The writer is chairman of Sanober Institute Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, May 19th, 2024

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