Recipe for institutional decay

July 05,2018

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Before coming up with statistics concerning our mismanagement, inefficiency and institutional decay, let me narrate a couple of anecdotes. Last year in May, I was invited to an international seminar held on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing – a major event to showcase the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) where numerous heads of states also participated, including former PM Nawaz Sharif.

After preparing the necessary documents and booking an online appointment, I went to the Chinese consulate in Frankfurt to submit my visa application along with my passport. The staff at the consulate told me that the invitation letter from the official in Beijing is addressed to the Embassy of China in Berlin and that I needed to apply for a visa at the embassy.

Somewhat taken aback, I requested the official that there is not enough time to book another appointment with the embassy and also that Berlin is quite far away from Bonn – my place of residence. The woman replied that as the invitation letter contains my full information including passport details etc, and this information has already been sent to the embassy via their own internal data-sharing mechanism, it will be impossible to submit the same invitation letter to the consulate.

I then sent an email to the organiser in Beijing and asked her to send me another invitation letter addressed to the Consulate of China in Frankfurt. In less than half an hour, I had received the required document, duly signed by the concerned official. While I was waiting at the consulate, I wasn’t sure of getting a modified letter the same day because when I sent the email to the Chinese official, it was already past 4pmin Beijing. In our culture, most government functionaries tend to leave such ‘late-hour’ errands for the next day. But the concerned official’s response was surprisingly swift. I forwarded the new invitation letter to the visa official on the spot, who happily processed my application.

Now compare this to the situation of government functionaries in our beloved homeland. I had applied and submitted the documents required for the National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (Nicop) for my daughter, who was born in Germany. On its website, the Pakistan consulate in Frankfurt has given the details of how and where to apply for Nicop. However, the two email addresses given on the website do not work. I sent an email on both the addresses, but it was not delivered. Then came Pak-Identity, “the front door to Nadra’s online services for Pakistani citizens around the world”. Through this platform, we can apply online for various documents such as Nicops, CNICs and passports.

While the initiative to facilitate overseas Pakistanis in obtaining these documents is worth appreciating, institutional effectiveness in dealing with all such matters in time plays a critical role. The website claims that the document “will be ready for shipping in seven working days”. I successfully submitted the application for my daughter on May 24. But instead of being ‘ready for shipping within seven working days’, the document was approved and sent for printing on June 7. The item was finally ready and dispatched to me on June 13. I leave the math for the readers to do as to how many days it took. I must also state that I had applied for the urgent category and had paid the additional fee.

Well, this is still not as bad. What irked me during this period is that I had requested for an update via email, but never got a response. Interestingly, I also sent a query on a pre-filled form on the ID-Nadra website, which states that all queries will be responded to within three working days. I also received a six-digit code to access the response via my email address. While I have now received the document, albeit later than expected, I never received any response concerning my query during this entire waiting period. This was a bit frustrating, particularly because the concerned organisation claimed the query will be responded to within a specific timeframe.

In Pakistan, we often lament the dilapidated state of our physical infrastructure and chronic power outages. It is commonly pointed out that upgrading and modernising the infrastructure, and adding more energy to our national grid would attract more investment. However, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, the five most challenging issues for doing business in Pakistan are corruption, tax rates, political instability, crime, and an inefficient government bureaucracy. The availability of infrastructure is quite low in this list. It implies that there is a need to specifically focus on addressing these ‘soft’ but vital issues of governance.

To demonstrate the critical role of these soft factors, let me share with you some further data. A think tank and a business organisation recently developed a Belt and Road Index. Out of the total 67 countries participating in the BRI, Pakistan was ranked the 11th least attractive country. The index has been developed using reliable and internationally-recognised data sources. The index is classified into six categories: economic potential, demographic advantage, infrastructural development, institutional effectiveness, market accessibility, and resilience to natural disasters.

Among these six parameters, Pakistan’s performance is the worst in terms of institutional effectiveness. Among South Asian countries, its score is better only than that of war-torn Afghanistan. Although Pakistan has enormous potential in view of its geographical location and demographic potential, and physical infrastructure is also thriving, institutional apathy and inefficiency are no secrets.

In many ways, we must learn from others. For example, besides visiting the Chinese consulate, I had to visit the US consulate in Frankfurt and UK Visa Application Centre in Dusseldorf during the last several months. Before visiting any of these visa centres, all applicants are required to book an online appointment on a specific date as per their own convenience and availability of free spaces. This practice regulates the flow of customers and saves their precious time. In contrast, applicants who want to apply for Pakistani passports must visit the Consulate of Pakistan in Frankfurt from 9am to 12am and there is no option of booking a particular time slot.

Therefore, when I arrived there recently to apply for my daughter’s passport, a large number of people were already in the queue. I also obtained a token and waited for my turn. While the process took hardly 10 minutes, it took us over two hours to wait for our turn.

The waiting room was also too small. Like me, most people had come along with their families as many applicants were minors. This could be easily avoided if the concerned authorities introduced the online system of booking whereby applicants can reserve their specific time slots and come to the facility during those particular hours. It is just one example of how we can positively use information technology with some modicum of sense to improve our performance and public service delivery.

Multiple factors can fuel national development and attract foreign investment. Of these, institutional effectiveness, in its various forms and at different tiers, is key to keep the national ship sailing smoothly towards its destination.

There is a need for consistent soul-searching, assessment and improvement in governance in light of how other countries have been running the affairs of the state and its institutions. Without fixing issues that pertain to institutional effectiveness and governance, no amount of investment in other sectors will bear fruit.

The writer is a postdoctoralresearch fellow at the GermanDevelopment Institute at Bonn, Germany.



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