Saturday May 28, 2022

A technocrat government

January 03, 2018

A debate over what would make up for the best governance system for Pakistan has been doing the rounds of late. According to a hand-written note in his diary, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah noted in 1947 that the British parliamentary system has not worked well anywhere except in Britain and that a presidential system is more suitable. I have a copy of that note and I have had the handwriting verified through the National Defence University as being genuine.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah did not live long enough to bring about this change, and after Liaquat Ali Khan’s assassination we did not have the quality of leadership needed to think deeply into the problems of this country and how to address them. The refusal to recognise the rights of the Bengalis eventually led to the break-up of the country, and today we find ourselves in a very serious economic crisis with our former finance minister an under-trial absconder, and our former prime minister removed from his position with trials for corruption underway against him.

What are the advantages of a presidential system? First, it allows a better separation of the three major arms of governance, the legislative (parliament), the executive (ministries and other bodies) and the judiciary. Such a separation is not easily possible under a parliamentary system as it is the prime minister who is also the head of the executive and appoints the heads of key institutions including the police, FBR, FIA, SECP, and many other national institutions. This promotes cronyism and nepotism, and it is this overlap of functions that is responsible for the continued economic deterioration of the country.

Another advantage of the presidential system of government is that ministers do not have to be chosen from parliament but the president can pick the best experts from every field. This means that the president can appoint a team of top specialists in the country as cabinet ministers and secretaries, eminent experts who would otherwise not be interested in fighting elections for a specific position. It also blocks the path for corrupt politicians who invest hundreds of millions to get elected so from plundering billions once in power. As the role of parliament is limited to law making and no funds are available to its members, the greed element automatically vanishes.

Another advantage of a presidential system is that the public has an opportunity to test the capabilities of the presidential candidates through a system of joint public debates and grilling TV interviews before the elections. In Pakistan, there is never any opportunity given to the candidates for competitive public debates on key national issues for public scrutiny.

Only a technocrat government can understand the importance and the impact nanotechnology, regenerative medicine, biotechnology, genetics, artificial intelligence, new materials, energy storage systems and other such developments have in the process of creating a strong knowledge economy. That is why the establishment of a technocrat government, either under a presidential system of democracy or under a modified (separation of powers between the three arms) parliamentary system of democracy is an urgent need of the hour. Countries with technocrat cabinets are investing massively in Education, Science, Technology and Innovation (ESTI) and are progressing rapidly. The key to prosperity is no longer natural resources but the quality of human capital.

Hong Kong with a population of only 7 million (about one-third that of Karachi) has exports of $460 billion, Singapore with a population of about 5 million (around one-fourth that of Karachi) has exports worth $330 billion, whereas Austria with a population of only about 8 million has exports of $142 billion. The failure of Pakistan is that in spite of its huge population, of almost 220 million, our exports stagnate at $21 billion, largely due to the poor vision of successive ‘feudocratic’ governments as well as massive corruption in the energy sector.

The corrupt governments that have come into power in the past have ensured that the justice system remains weak so that criminals are never punished. As the judges have to rely on investigations and prosecutions carried out by the police and government agencies, the appointment of cronies as heads of such institutions as NAB, FIA, SECP, FBR, State Bank etc, often in connivance with the opposition parties, has contributed to the rot. The massive accumulation of foreign debt that rose from $33 billion to $84 billion since 2004 has brought the country to its knees. Most of the money taken was piled in foreign bank accounts of those in power while the IMF and others looked the other way praising Pakistan for its economic performance. If ‘democracy’ means loot and plunder by those in power while the poor get poorer and the justice system is stifled by improper prosecution and investigation, then I would have none of it.

It has become necessary to modify laws so that there is severe punishment for mega-corruption, with no time limitations for prosecution and complete freedom to open-up old cases, and bring those responsible to justice. Such laws should be applied across the board, on politicians, judges and military officers. It is also necessary that till such time that the justice system is made effective, trials for mega-corruption scandals are held in military courts because there is a strong nexus between terrorism and corruption. It is only after thorough cleansing of the present system that Pakistan can begin its journey towards prosperity.

Now comes the most important question. Who will bring about these changes, as those in parliament would certainly not be willing to do so? The question has also been raised as to which is supreme, the constitution or parliament. In my opinion it is the welfare of the common man that is supreme and both the constitution and parliament are mere instruments to guarantee this. So, in a true welfare state it must be the rights of the common man to education, health, livelihood and freedom of expression that must be preserved, and for this justice must reign supreme.

If the constitution cannot ensure citizens their basic rights, then it must be changed so that the justice system is provided the necessary muscle to enforce those rights. If parliament fails to deliver, then it too must go and be replaced by a more effective system. It is the constitutional right of every citizen to be guaranteed these rights, and it is the duty of the Supreme Court as the highest court of justice to ensure that these rights are provided. The ‘Doctrine of Basic Rights’ (DBR) needs to be enforced through judicial (not military) intervention to resolve the present crisis. To hold elections and allow the country to continue on the same path of self-destruction would be a travesty of justice.

The writer is the former federalminister for science and technology and former chairman of the HEC, andpresident of the Network of Academies of Science of OIC Countries (NASIC).