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A new paradigm of governance


July 27, 2016

For too long, other countries have been overtaking Pakistan while our children have been leaving their homeland in search of a better future abroad. For too long, millions have remained marginalised for generations untouched by any act of good governance, while false promising and play-acting leaders have robbed them of their faith in the system of governance. For too long, victims of malgovernance have been multiplying while the culprits have been resisting any change in their stranglehold over instruments of control.

Has deterioration in our system of governance been so deep and widespread as to have sapped its will and capacity to reform itself? Would a mere paint and dent job deliver good governance to people or are structural changes needed to make systems of governance deliver what they have been refusing to for so long?

In other words, would tinkering with changes in a horse and buggy system ever deliver an automobile? Or does one need to change to a different production platform and different technology to deliver a real solution of the problem (in this case, solving the problem of covering long distances in a short time).

For Pakistan to make up for the lost decades, a new paradigm of governance is needed, one that respects the value of time and focuses its instruments of governance on efficient and accelerated achievement of the ‘purposes’ of modern democratic governance and not be deflected by deviations.

Some of us think that such a new paradigm is not needed and the horse and buggy system will help Pakistan overcome the deficit of lost decades and overtake other countries and that its ‘business as usual’ governance will someday have a change of heart and take pity on the perpetually poor people of Pakistan.

We can learn from the world around us that it doesn’t work that way. Haiti – for instance – has been a sovereign, independent country for over 200 years, much before Argentina, Brazil or Mexico became independent, but has remained trapped in a vicious circle of corrupt and incompetent leadership. Today, even two centuries later, the country and its people rank at the bottom of almost every index of human development.

So how does a modern democratic government actually operate? Let me share my experience. In May 1990, the then prime minister Kaifu of Japan paid an official visit to Pakistan. Earlier, Japan had announced a 3 billion yen loan for Pakistan for which our side was to recommend projects. However, by the time our ministries completed project documents, the due date of their receipt at Tokyo had passed and prime minister Kaifu had embarked on his tour of Asian countries which would also bring him to Pakistan.

On his arrival in Islamabad, as coordinator of the meeting between the two prime ministers, I met the cabinet secretary of Japan to go over the agenda of the next morning’s meeting between the two heads of government. The then prime minister Benazir Bhutto was keen that projects recommended by Pakistani side receive approval in the meeting between two prime ministers.

But the cabinet secretary of Japan explained that as these projects had not been received by the due date in Tokyo, the relevant agencies/ ministries of the government of Japan had not completed their evaluation of projects, without which the prime minister could not give his approval. Therefore, he suggested that our prime minister should not insist upon their approval in the meeting as it would embarrass Kaifu.

When I pressed further on the matter, he said that the prime minister of Japan knows that these funds are not his personal property and he cannot approve this expenditure at his discretion. These funds belonged to the people of Japan who had laid down rules and procedures for evaluation of proposals to ensure that their funds were spent for the purpose for which they had been allocated.

To underline the seriousness, he said if the Pakistani side still raised this issue and his prime minister expressed consent in order to save his Pakistani hosts from the embarrassment of direct refusal, he (the cabinet secretary) would not record that approval in his official minutes of the meeting – because the prime minister of Japan knew that he cannot give such approval without first receiving a positive evaluation report from concerned agencies of the government.

This is the care democracies exercise in the use of public funds. We, on the other hand, do the exact opposite where about 50 percent of public funds are doled out as ‘development’ allocations – to be used at the ‘discretion’ of hundreds of ‘leaders’ – through a foolproof system where nobody can find out where the money went. No wonder, some foreign observers have labelled Pakistan as the place ‘where so little is seen for so much money spent in the name of development’.

All public funds for local projects should vest in local governments, while big ticket and technically complex projects should be decided on economic and social merits by inter-agency professional bodies at the provincial and federal levels. There should be zero discretion of anybody in the use of public funds. When projects and their development allocations are discussed at the time of budget approval, that is the appropriate occasion for legislators to provide their inputs.

Modern democratic governance is a multi-stakeholder system where power is diffused horizontally and vertically into the three branches of government and their constituent organisations, none of which has monopoly of power.

But the medieval political culture ruling the roost in Pakistan does not recognise any other stakeholder of democracy. Instead of diffusion, it wants monopoly of power without any constraints – legal, financial or institutional. In other words, power without responsibility. That is why it stands alone, isolated and at odds with other stakeholders.

This culture of power without responsibility has attracted diverse elements from across the aisles. Everyone wants to be onboard everything with the government. A new trade union of mutual benefits is born to disable laws and rules from preventing predators from usurping state resources and encroaching upon the rights of the weak and marginalised. The system has been structurally changed to deliver to the ‘leaders’ – whose fortunes have been rising by leaps and bounds.

That is why people have lost faith in the integrity and independence of institutions to deliver justice of any kind to them – because these are seen not as institutions of a neutral and non-partisan state but as extensions of partisan political machines.

Pakistan cannot overtake other countries and ride to power and prosperity on the back of a horse and buggy system. Nor can its deep rooted and widespread ills be fixed by tinkering with multi-dimensionally dysfunctional systems of governance.

That is why a new paradigm of governance is needed, one that recognises that governance is a serious responsibility, respects the value of time and uses instruments of governance – laws and policies – for efficient achievement of the ‘purpose’ of democratic governance.

Insanity, said Einstein, is repeating the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

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

Email: [email protected]

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