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Opinion

December 26, 2016

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Governance or window dressing?

Governance or window dressing?

All of us expect our governments at each level – federal, provincial, and district – to perform better and faster. Instead, they end up doing something has the least effect on our lives.

Whatever they have to offer is either entirely empty from the inside or contains elements that are of little value. The overarching consideration is akin to a form of window dressing or façade-making which consumes, rather saps, the resources which are otherwise meant for more important and meaningful ventures.

A striking feature of governance in Pakistan – which makes it similar to corporate governance – is the promotion of policies and programmes through all types of media – print, electronic and social. This is equivalent to product promotion in business. Surprisingly, our governments are making all-out efforts to outsmart one another by playing the game of numbers and gimmicks to fool the public. They have also mastered the art of ‘looking busy and doing nothing’ over the years.

Big billboards at busy crossings and prominent locations carry sanguine and elegant pictures of our leaders – who are nothing short of Mughal emperors – on the top left and right corners along with a list of game-changing projects they have introduced. Every project in Pakistan is a game-changer as it changes the rules of the game in favour of the rulers.

TV programmes are also flooded with commercials that aim to promote the government’s performance on the one hand and appease the powerful media houses on the other. Besides all this, they have dedicated resources and fully funded cells to carry out social media campaigns.

The promotion of performance, though entirely unnecessary and a complete waste of public money, is not as serious a problem as the relative emphasis placed on the input, output, and outcomes. What are generally shown to us are the observable or measurable features. The budget allocation for education and healthcare, the laptops distributed to students, the bridges constructed, and the new schemes launched are some of the examples of input-driven performance.

However, what does not bother anyone is the system which transforms the inputs, outputs and outcomes. This is because reforming the system is always a challenging task and cannot be readily cashed in on during the next elections. More importantly, most systems work independently of the personal likes and dislikes of individuals.

Though we are all victims of institutional failure in Pakistan, it is those who have direct experience of interacting with any public organisation often tend to narrate horrific stories of corruption, inefficiency, and apathy. One of my relatives received a letter of verification from the Peshawar health DG for medical bills he had reportedly submitted in June. This is how bureaucracy works.

The poor bureaucratic performance in KP seems to be an orchestrated attempt by some bureaucrats to prevent the government from delivering public services. Another reason – which is more plausible and has even been acknowledged in bureaucratic circles – is because most bureaucrats tend to do nothing as a means of avoiding blame and accountability. 

Since the reforms introduced to policies, procedures, and structures cannot be displayed on hoardings for publicity, they are not given due attention by our rulers even though the designing and developing systems have broad-based and long-term implications for the socio-economic development of a country.

The recent report on the August 8 Quetta carnage has exposed the way our institutions interact and respond to known and unknown problems.  Let it be known to our emperors, in all levels of the government, that Pakistan cannot be steered out the marshlands through slogans and symbols. Substantial reforms, aimed at strengthening institutions rather than individuals, will save us from dissolution and preserve the country as an integrated entity.

The writer teaches at the Sarhad University. Email:[email protected].pk

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