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Opinion

June 14, 2015

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Politics of malgovernance

Let us first take the mystery out of malgovernance. The principal ingredients of malgovernance of a country are two: the inefficiency of its state structures and the profligacy of its ruling classes.
This deadly combination has not only led to poverty in countries but historical evidence shows that inefficient state structures and the reckless profligacy of leaders have even been instrumental in the downfall and colonisation of several countries.
Empirical research at MIT and Princeton has confirmed that inefficiency and profligacy are principal culprits for malgovernance in a developing country. Poor governance in the initial years of independence of a developing country is attributed to coping with the teething troubles of newly acquired independence. But if malgovernance persists over the years there are reasons to believe that there is method in that madness.
The litmus test for good governance, therefore, is: practical measures taken to improve efficiency, capacity and neutrality of state structures and preventing profligacy of public funds by having every use of public funds audited and accounted for. Where there is reluctance to implement these measures – under whatever pretext – the conclusion can safely be drawn that malgovernance, not good governance, is the intended objective of public policy.
Inefficient, crony and politicised state institutions and profligacy in Pakistan are not incidental. These are intentionally chosen instruments of public policy by a medieval political culture that has captured the state and its institutions in Pakistan since long.
The reason behind failure of frequent calls for reforming governance is also the fear that the first casualties of such reforms would be removal of props of inefficient and politicised state structures and an end to unaccountable profligacy of public resources and rent-seeking benefits. Therefore, malgovernance continues despite the rhetoric of good governance.
And to make

malgovernance a permanent feature, the strategy of taking ‘everybody on board everything’ was crafted to prevent any opposition to the idea. A consensus seems to have been forged among several parties that inefficient, crony and politicised state structures are a beneficial form of governance and necessary props to capturing political space and extracting rent-seeking benefits by everyone onboard. Such streams of unaccountable benefits would not be possible for this medieval political culture in any other country or even under an efficient, merit-driven and neutral state structure in Pakistan.
Ask yourself: why have allocations of hundreds of budgeted billions for decades still left most people without clean drinking water or electricity? Why have they left us with the highest rate of school-age children in South Asia out of classrooms in Pakistan compounded by high rates of their malnutrition and mortality? And why has every country that was developmentally behind Pakistan overtaken us, leaving our people with the lowest per capita income in the world?
If these are the results of policy choices exercised by our rulers over the years – as they are – is it wrong to conclude that persistent poverty and underdevelopment of the nation are intended objectives, whatever the rhetoric be for public consumption?
No wonder then that to the outside world, we present the picture of a country that has ‘so little to show for so much money spent in the name of development’.
Leaving symptoms aside, the fundamental cause of this persistent failure is the traditional political culture that needs inefficient, crony and politicised state structures to create an environment of malgovernance for its members to accumulate medieval luxuries of unaccountable wealth and rent-seeking benefits from state activities.
The history of colonialism in the Subcontinent tells us that this native political culture was easily defeated. It was defeated because it had internally weakened society so much that the rajas, maharajas and even the Mughal Empire were unable to protect their rule from the tactics and onslaught of few thousand efficient and disciplined employees of a private trading company (East India Co). That at no time were there more than 22,000 British – civil and military together – who colonised and ruled India with 250 million people in 1857 sums up the consequences when efficient and inefficient structures of governance clash.
So, the question arises: how did a defeated political culture of a bygone era, which lost territories and was colonised in the 18th and 19th centuries, make a comeback to capture the modern state of Pakistan in the 21st century?
One explanation lies in the oil boom of the 1970s. As oil prices jumped from $3 a barrel in 1973 and kept rising to peak at $145 a barrel in July 2008, the medieval political culture ruling the oil-rich Gulf States was flooded with unprecedented, unearned wealth. They were now rich without being developed. This culture felt no need to acquire education, skills and work ethics of an industrial culture – which was the route to power and prosperity most of the world had taken.
Pakistan caught this fever in the early 1980s. It dumped its earlier path to development through education, skills, meritocracy, work ethics and industrialisation of the economy. Instead, it adopted the culture of our oil-rich neighbours – without any oil in this country. This fever also gave a new lease of life to our medieval political culture which came out of the woodworks to acquire wealth and power and claim leadership of the nation.
Politically and economically, we have been reverting to the past and recreating a medieval society – albeit with gadgets of imported modern technologies – and marketing it in the idiom of Islam and democracy.
Like in the medieval world, people are being made to accept – in the words of George Orwell in Animal Farm – that while all animals are equal, some are more equal than others; that the law is for the lowly; that economic opportunities are the privilege of the rulers; and that political power is hereditary and politics is above and beyond the laws and constitution of the country – neither of which existed nor meant much in the medieval world. This is the political culture of the medieval world that we are recreating here.
If this political culture was easily defeated in the 18th and 19th centuries, how can it take Pakistan to fame and glory in the knowledge economy of 21st century? The mismatch of two hundred years has further widened between the two cultures. One is conquering the space while the other is recreating a defeated world of medieval jugglery. One is driven by science and technology, competition and rule of law, while the other abhors rule of law and competition, has contempt for work ethics and feeds upon unearned income from rent-seeking.
The proof of this pudding is available in abundance in media reports on malgovernance in Sindh. The apex committees made a good start trying to revive efficient, capable and neutral state structures which had degenerated over the years by the use and abuse of a decadent political culture. Their rehabilitation would require serious efforts to enhance their capabilities and the win trust and respect of people by improved performance. It would take a long and sustained effort to dig the country out of the deep hole this medieval political culture has pushed it in.
The writer specialised in FDI from MIT and designed the Board of Investment and First Women Bank.
Email: [email protected]

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