A charter of governance

March 24,2019

‘Why has Pakistan not realised its potential?” asked Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, many years ago – after I had made a presentation for Pakistan and Singapore...

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‘Why has Pakistan not realised its potential?” asked Lee Kuan Yew, former prime minister of Singapore, many years ago – after I had made a presentation for Pakistan and Singapore joining hands to tap into immense opportunities offered by Central Asian markets. I had argued for pooling of the strengths of both countries – with Pakistan leveraging its historical trade and cultural links with Central Asian people and Singapore joining in with capital and technology.

Although he appreciated the strategy, Lee used an indirect approach to underline his concerns about the governance of our country and raised the question mentioned above. Before I could reply, he proceeded to answer his own question.

In his usual forthright manner, he said that those occupying power corridors of Pakistan played politics 365 days of the year and governance issues were pushed to the back burner. Those voted into power were always looking over their shoulders to see who might be trying to stab them in the back. And those who had lost in elections were always conspiring to overthrow the government. How could any government, said Yew, find time and energy to concentrate on addressing the challenges of under-development faced by the people, when it is always fighting for its own survival?

This discussion took place a quarter of a century back. But if we look back over the years, the antics and attitudes on display provide ample evidence that nothing really has changed. Politics continues to displace governance in every aspect of national life; national policies are not an output of serious study and analysis of relevant factors but mere expressions of the whims and wishes of one or the other power-broker. The concept of ‘development’ has been reduced to mean self-development of the rulers instead of development of society.

How did we arrive at such decadent model of governance?

The fact is that we have been nurtured by a dysfunctional education on the role models of medieval kings and emperors – many of whose stories are more fiction and fantasies of writers than rooted in serious research or facts. The politics of medieval rulers revolved around seeking power and pelf for themselves. Law was malleable and no more than the wish of the ruler. Everything within the realm was supposed to belong to the king or the conqueror. There may have been charities for helping the poor, but people did not have ‘right’ to anything. The concept of development of society was unheard of. Emulating these medieval rulers, we pushed people to the periphery and replaced governance with playing politics in medieval style.

For 40 years, the medieval model of governance has been the way, under one label or the other, and has contributed to all-round decline. Under medieval models of governance, the world crept at an agonisingly slow pace of development and it took 1000 years for the world to double its GDP. Disregarding the fact that it is out of sync with conditions of the contemporary world, power-brokers have been enforcing the same decadent model upon a hapless nation in this day and age in which the world GDP doubles every 25 years. The result was that Pakistan kept falling behind every other Asian nation during these 40 years, and now occupies bottom positions in most indicators of human and economic development.

The antithesis of the decadent medieval model is the rapid development model designed by East Asia. If we study success stories of East Asian nations – Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, China and Vietnam, the one common thread running through their successes is a governance model which prioritised rapid economic development in national policies in order to lift their people out of the miseries of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, and ensured continuity of these policies over a long period of time.

Three different models of governance were used by East Asian nations to achieve the same objective of rapid economic development. Japan, Singapore and Malaysia used a multi-party system, while China and Vietnam used one-party rule and South Korea used military rule, specially of Gen Park Chung-hee, to adopt policies which achieved – generally speaking – eight percent growth over a 30-year period in these countries and completely transformed the lives and livelihoods of their citizens. This was the ‘East Asian Miracle’ which delivered in 30 years a standard of living to their citizens which the West took 100 years to achieve.

What these success stories tell us is that if Pakistan wants to lift its people from poverty to prosperity, then it has to create a culture of governance which does not provide for an anarchy of musical chairs by power-brokers, where one step forward is followed by two steps back; where rulers must accept ‘duties’ and not just enjoy the rights; where self-development by rulers is replaced by development of society and where lifting lives and livelihoods of 200 million people takes precedence over the interests of a handful of power-brokers. In the words of Lee Kuan Yew, Pakistan must create a system of governance “which works for the benefit of all and not just for the benefit of the rulers”.

This then is Pakistan’s fundamental challenge which many governments, hooked to the decadent medieval model, have been refusing to address even as the country was slipping down the ladder. It is this medieval model which has spawned several fault lines in our national life and also ensured that every attempt at sectoral reform is sacrificed at the altar of this decadent model. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s reform agenda must include addressing this challenge in order to unleash the potential of the people of Pakistan.

In his address at the full court reference for former CJ Mian Saqib Nisar on January 17, 2019, our current Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa made a passionate appeal to “discuss the larger issues jeopardising good governance” and called for an inter-institutional dialogue at the summit level to “take stock of the mistakes committed in the past and to come up with a charter of governance so as to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated in future.”

One hopes that this ‘charter of governance’ would encompass ways and means of finally ridding the country of the decadent model of medical governance and open doors to the long delayed power, prosperity and dignity for the 200 million people of Pakistan.

The writer designed the Board of Investment and the First Women’s Bank.

Email: smshahalum.mit.edu


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