THE view that ‘technocrats’ can deliver where politicians have failed crops up from time to time, gaining momentum whenever the representative government comes under severe political pressure. Implicit in this view is that technocrats take independent decisions without unwanted political influences. This is not true. It is conveniently forgotten that the ‘state is a political theatre’.Technocracy is a system that works for what has been described as ‘privatisation of gains and socialisation of pains.” The system has no legs to stand on its own. It is propped up by non-democratic means. Its primary beneficiaries are rent-seekers. That explains much of the current inefficiencies in the economy.
For the past over sixty years, the landed gentry has been virtually exempt from payment of income-tax. What prevented the technocrats working under military-led governments from levying tax on farm incomes?. Why did Zia undo the steps taken by Bhutto in this direction (and including PPP land reforms)? It was pure and simple politics. Technocrats were subservient to those who hired them.
Such technocrats are also glued to ‘corporate welfare-ism’. It is assumed that what is good for corporate welfare also translates into public good. Such technocrats miss the big picture, more so, tragically, in times of severe all round social distress. Not all technocrats fall in this category. Many in their ranks, particularly some eminent ones, criticise the ‘orthodoxy’ of their peers.
Technocrats are responsible either to elected representatives or to dictators.
Similarly, professionals working for corporates are responsible to the shareholders. Many have been criticised in the wake of financial turmoil for working for shareholders’ interest at the cost of other stakeholders. In giant enterprises, creating value for shareholders has turned out to be corporate greed.
Experts working for the IMF are often unable to convince the Fund’s major shareholders on outstanding merits of a case. People say that if Pakistan does not enjoy cordial relations with the United States, not only bilateral but multilateral assistance would dry up. It is not technocrats but politics that is on the driving seat. One can see aid flows from Washington shrinking because of tensions in bilateral ties with Washington. The latest is the freeze of pledged $700 million of aid.
Of course, professionals do manage things on behalf of the shareholders as demonstrated by the financial sector around the world. The reckless lending by banks both in the United States and Eurozone speaks volumes for the lack of voluntary self-discipline of the so-called technocrats.
And yet with insistence of France, Germany and the European markets, compliant technocrats have taken over from representative governments in Italy and Greece. With savage austerity programme leading to recession, technocracy is a sure prescription for worsening the crisis.
Under General Musharraf, technocracy reached its pinnacle of glory when a former Citibank employee Shaukat Aziz was made the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Under his stewardship, banking sector was patronised but the economy suffered from de-industrialisation and neglect of agriculture. Inter-sectoral harmony was out of focus. Both Zia’s rule and Musharraf’s tenure were followed by critical energy shortages.
The higher growth rates achieved under three military rulers — Ayub, Zia and Musharraf — are explained by not so much by conventional wisdom of technocrats, as the surge in foreign debt, capital and financial inflows on the back of Pakistan’s support to America’s strategic goals. As soon as the external inflow of money dried up, the boom was over and economic slump set in. The so-called technocrats were left high and dry. Some left the country with a bagful of goodies.
No doubt, the state of the economy provides the corresponding foundation of a political system. If the economy is in bad shape, it tends to make politics dysfunctional. But in times of social and economic turbulence when the economy sinks, politics jumps into the driving seat. Then it is political economy that is in command. It sets the pace for social and economic change. Dead thoughts are buried. Ideas, whose time has come up, begin to surface. This is what is happening — and that which happens after several decades. These are no ordinary times for traditional approaches. Confronting the emerging trends would be counterproductive.
By now it is crystal clear that constitutional democracy has come to stay. It cannot be reversed, as indicated by recent rumours of a ‘soft coup’ not a military coup. That the critical role that technocrats can play in supporting representative government cannot be denied. But technocracy backed by extra-constitutional forces has ceased to be an option. This has once again been proved by the Bangladesh experiment to keep the two mainstream parties out of power in a civilian setup and the Arab ‘spring’.
The current quasi-representative and quasi-market democracy is inadequate to resolve multiple crisis facing the country. The powerful market lobbies have a disproportionate say even in this civilian setup and the teeming millions are largely ignored. Worldwide including in Pakistan, an active citizenry is now rising to defend its interests. As it is, political culture is changing. And any effort to tamper with the fragile democracy will lead to radicalisation of society, as witnessed during military-led dispensations.
The ninety-nine per cent want their rights. Can their demand be set aside? Should not the corporates work for common good? Markets are now more powerful than governments. Private sector is the engine of economic growth. Corporates risk losing social sanction if they cannot help end social exclusion.
The resistance to organic growth of democracy—the transformation of representative democracy into participatory democracy, has made democracy dysfunctional. In this area, the politicians can also be faulted. They have done away with representative-cum-participatory district governments though they have ‘rekindled’ participatory federalism among the provinces. It is over-centralisation of authority at the provincial level. There is also a need to empower communities to work for public good. That is how a great society can come into being..
Egalitarianism has suffered so much because of lack of respect for electoral mandate — the sovereign right of the people to rule through representatives. And the growing disconnect between people and the government is sowing the seeds of a prolonged political and social crisis. The perils of turning a fragile representative democracy into a complete farce has its own perils.
Dear visitor, the comments section is undergoing an overhaul and will return soon.