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March 28, 2020

Crisis of governance

Opinion

March 28, 2020

Pakistan is faced with a deepening crisis of governance and public confidence in government institutions is fast eroding. The symptoms of the crisis are starkly clear and its roots lie in our history, social structure and ethos, and insatiable greed and corruption of the ruling elites.

A sense of fear, uncertainty and despair grips the people. There is a widespread feeling that national resources have been plundered by the ruling few, while the silent, suffering majority of people languish in abject poverty, deprivation and hopelessness. Unfortunately, the crisis of confidence is assuming ominous proportions, enveloping people in a self-defeating mould of despair and fatalism.

Protecting the life, property and honour of citizens is the primary responsibility of the state. There is an increasing sense of insecurity among the ordinary people who do not enjoy the protection of law. The body politic is riven with ethnic tensions, sectarian strife and parochial interests. The country has in the recent years witnessed a rising wave of terrorism, claiming innocent lives and shaking investor confidence. Heinous crimes like murder, dacoity, abduction and gang rape have been on the increase.

The deteriorating law and order situation could be attributed to a variety of factors: some historical like the kalashnikov culture and drug trafficking are related to the Afghan imbroglio; others are of contemporary origin like sectarian tension and political acrimony; still others emanate from rising social and economic inequities. All these factors have raised the level of violence in society, instilled fear and insensitivity in the minds of people, and blunted the edge of law enforcement.

Whatever the causes, people feel that criminals who wield money and influence can get away with the most heinous crimes, and the law enforcing agencies lack the will to bring them to book. This has far-reaching implications for governance. On the one hand, people continue to live under the shadow of fear and insecurity. On the other hand, the law enforcing agencies by their corruption, ineptitude and collusion with criminals forfeit public support in maintaining internal security and tackling terrorism, sectarianism and ethnicity.

The provision of justice has also declined. A large number of cases are pending in the courts. Litigation, particularly relating to civil disputes, drags on for years. Qabza groups flourish in the absence of adequate judicial safeguards and misappropriation of private and state property is rampant. Criminal proceedings rarely culminate in conviction for a variety of reasons, with the result that the system of criminal administration does not act as a deterrent against crime. The provision of justice is marred by delays, corruption and lack of transparency.

Equally distressing is the state of the economy. A country whose growth record was once the envy of the world is groaning under severe macroeconomic imbalances and structural constraints. Extravagance in spending, both private and public, misplaced priorities in public expenditure, absence of judicious planning and consistent policies, among other factors, have atrophied the sources of growth and piled up debt. The slowdown of economic activity, particularly since the early 1990s, has given rise to unemployment and widespread poverty. Owing to the weakness of the external sector, we are at the mercy of foreign lenders, who dictate terms that increase our vulnerability.

Economic growth has not translated itself into public welfare, thanks to the complete stranglehold of vested interests. The fruits of growth have not trickled down to the lower strata of society. Islands of affluence abound in an ocean of poverty, causing tensions and alienation among groups and militating against social cohesion and national unity. Widespread poverty, illiteracy and deprivation lie at the root of many problems.

The physical infrastructure, on which rest the foundations of growth and development, is in a state of wear and tear. The railways are in a pathetic state. The poor condition of road network and government buildings speaks volumes for the institutionalised corruption of the engineering departments. The irrigation system is falling apart due to weak maintenance.

Development of infrastructure is not keeping pace with the requirements of a growing population and a developing economy. The governance issue in this context is not so much the inadequacy of budgetary allocations (which is linked to the wider question of economic growth and fiscal policy) as the improper utilisation of scarce resources on account of poor supervision, corruption and collusion with contractors.

Although allocations for social sectors have grown apace over the years, there has not been a corresponding improvement in the quality and delivery of social services to the people. Human development surveys, depicting the lowest social indicators for Pakistan as compared to other countries in the region, should serve as an eye-opener. The number of schools and colleges has increased, but the quality of education has deteriorated. Ghost schools, teacher absenteeism, and examination malpractices have become common vocabulary.

Equally pathetic is the condition of government health facilities. The coverage of drinking water and sanitation facilities is sparse. A large number of sewerage and water supply schemes built in the rural areas are not functioning. The facilities in urban areas are under pressure as weak enforcement of collection of user charges makes proper maintenance and further extension financially non-viable. A huge investment on population welfare has not led to any appreciable decline in the population growth rates.

This by no means is an exhaustive statement of the deterioration that has beset our national life. Unfortunately, the rot is all-pervasive, affecting the political, social, economic and moral life of the country. Beneath the veneer of prosperity and privilege enjoyed by the few, public perception of governance is conditioned by the pain and practical difficulties that a common person faces in the daily grind of life. For him there is no end to the tunnel; the nightmare that he has lived through must be relived by his children and grandchildren. This indeed is the remorseless fate of a society that does not offer the sacrifice required for change.

The writer is a former cabinetsecretary.

Email: [email protected]