Friday May 24, 2024

A failing state

By Atta-ur-Rahman
December 07, 2022

As a result of massive corruption, Pakistan today is virtually in a state of economic bankruptcy, although this has not been officially admitted. Banks have stopped opening letters of credit (LCs) and industries across the country are coming to a grinding halt as raw materials cannot be imported.

The industrial area of Faisalabad – once a bustling industrial city, known for its textile manufacturing – is slowly turning into a ghost town. The country is sinking rapidly, and the vultures hover above to pick up the pieces. This is largely due to the corrupt system in which bureaucrats, politicians and ‘others’ involved in mega corruption get away scot-free.

Pakistan faces three interconnected problems: a poor education system that has fostered massive illiteracy with 22 million out-of-school children, corruption in the judicial system, and the stranglehold of corrupt politicians, which allows the corrupt to pile billions abroad as loot and plunder go on unabated.

The first and most important prerequisite for Pakistan is to have an honest and technologically competent leadership who understands and gives the highest priority to the development of a strong technology-driven knowledge economy. Only such a leadership and government can give due emphasis to education, science, technology and innovation/entrepreneurship, needed for Pakistan to change tracks and transition to a knowledge-driven economy.

Pakistan is blessed with a huge young population. About 70 per cent of its population of 225 million is below the age of 30. Therein lies our future. And the road to follow is clear from the successes achieved in the past several decades by several Asian countries. The example of Singapore, a small country of a population of 5.5 million with almost no natural resources, stands out.

Singapore’s population was only about 1.6 million in 1959 when Lee Kwan Yew was appointed as prime minister. He established a competent and honest cabinet with top experts as ministers, ensured the training and availability of a trained workforce and created the excellent infrastructure needed to attract foreign investments. What followed was nothing short of a fairy tale.

The development policy of Singapore was changed from one focused on import substitution to one devoted to the manufacture and export of high-technology (high value-added) goods. Within a short period of 13 years between 1965 and 1978, the share of the manufacturing sector to the GDP jumped from 14 per cent in 1965 to 24 per cent in 1978. The average growth rate of the economy during this period was 10 per cent per annum, and there was a decline in the unemployment rate from 10 per cent in 1965 to 3.6 per cent in 1978. In the subsequent eight-year period (1978-1985) the high-technology manufacturing sector further accelerated, which is illustrated by the fact that the share of skilled employees in the total employment doubled from 11 per cent to 22 per cent in this period. This is also reflected in the salaries of workers that increased from an average of $18,400 in 1979 to $27,000 in 1985.

There was special emphasis given to the electronics, engineering goods and petrochemical industries. Education, science and technology were given the highest priority with the result that research publications shot up from 3,361 in 1987 to 11,302 in 1997. Leading universities such as the National University of Singapore, which is now ranked among the top 20 universities in the world, emerged.

As a result of these measures, the GDP of Singapore grew to $251 billion in 2010. It now stands at about $400 billion and the per capita income in Singapore reached $ 72,791 in the year 2021. This per capita income is higher than the per capita incomes of Germany ($50,802 in 2021), UK ($47,334) or US ($61,280), no mean achievement.

In the present dire situation that Pakistan faces, one cannot help but recall a handwritten note dated July 10, 1947 Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah wrote in his diary. Jinnah wrote: “Dangers of parliamentary form of government: 1) parliamentary form of government – it has worked satisfactorily so far in England nowhere else; 2) presidential form of government (more suited to Pakistan)”. Our Quaid realised 75 years ago that corrupt feudal landlords would not allow democracy to function due to their vested interests, and he had pointed out the evils of feudalism in several speeches.

Many confuse the military dictatorships of the past with presidential democracies. Pakistan has never had a presidential system of democracy, as under this system the president is directly elected by the people through a national election. Such democracies exist in France, the US and 77 other countries.

There are two main advantages of the presidential system of democracy. The first is that there is a better separation between the three key areas of governance: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. In a parliamentary system, the prime minister heads the ruling party and controls parliament as well as the executive, resulting in an overlap. The second advantage is that the president can appoint the most qualified experts in the country as federal ministers, and the role of parliament is reduced to the framing of laws. This results in the presence of experts as federal ministers who better understand the importance of the new and emerging technologies and the path to transitioning to a knowledge economy.

In the present parliamentary system, people wishing to be elected must spend Rs20 crores or more on election campaigns. This limits the composition of parliament to the rich and the powerful, resulting in elite capture of governance.

A fresh start is necessary if this nation is to survive. In this era of knowledge-driven economies, specialization has become a must for survival and progress.

A technocratic government under a presidential system of democracy is needed.

The time for a radical change in our system is now or never.

The writer is the former federal minister for science and technology and former founding chairman of the HEC. He can be reached at: