Thursday December 02, 2021

Doing vs not doing

June 23, 2021

Nations that have developed over the years are known for effective, clear and quick decision-making. Decisions are not always correct and people who are making tough decisions on a daily basis do not have the benefit of hindsight, while people who comment on their decision-making are not acquainted with the same facts or knowledge or realise how grave the situation is. Therefore, decisions should be judged based on good faith and the relevant conditions prevalent at the time of the decision being taken.

All over the world, it is the legislature that makes laws and policies and the executive, through the bureaucracy, implements those laws and policies. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, the decision-making process has been severely impeded due to various reasons which I will try to highlight in the following paragraphs.

Corruption is often quoted as Pakistan’s biggest issue since the early 80s, something that has led to the formation of various anti-corruption watchdogs and regulatory entities. The likely expectation from the formation of such organisations is to assume that corruption must have finished in the country. However, if one asks a common person, the conclusion would be that corruption still exists. On the contrary, and more importantly, the decision-making process has been severely affected and decision-makers are unfortunately faced with procedural bottlenecks, allegations and then inquiries.

So, the easier solution that unfortunately has become prevalent is ‘the more you decide, the more you will be open to an inquiry -- and the less you decide, the less inquiries you will face.” Hence, the problem.

To elaborate my point, let me give one simple example. If the prime minister of Pakistan or the chief minister of a province (all elected chief executives) want to build a simple road or a school or a hospital (all necessities), they can’t start construction without following a procedure given under the procurement laws. This procedure is time consuming and even after the process is completed, someone would go to court and can obtain a stay order. Even after that, the project development would be subject to any inquiry which may be initiated by any anti-corruption agency which exposes even the most well-intentioned executive functionaries to a criminal inquiry. The criminal inquiry leads to a media campaign, accusations, humiliation and likely arrest. Unfortunately, to avoid all of this, life has been made simpler by not doing the work.

All over the world, executive functionaries are protected unless their actions are proved to have been taken in bad faith -- meaning that the onus is on the person making the allegation. If one reads the constitution, Article 248 protects the acts of cabinet members. In the same manner, the SBP Ordinance protects the acts of officers of the State Bank of Pakistan and other banks, and Section 197 of the CrPC protects judges and public servants from prosecution.

The wisdom and rationale of the aforementioned laws from the times of the British to the Ayub era or the time when the constitution was unanimously passed was to protect the executive and the judiciary so as to enable them to make timely decisions. However, over the last few years, such protection afforded to public servants has been taken away and the result has been an abject surrender of decision-making by public servants which is now affecting governance.

Judges are still protected and are not questioned if they make a wrong decision (rightfully so) even if their judgment is eventually overturned by the appellate court. Shouldn’t the same protection be afforded to government servants or public office-holders and shouldn’t they be investigated or prosecuted based on evidence where dishonesty is first established?

One of the reasons why the private sector, as compared to the public sector, sees better governance is because of effective decision-making where the business owner or the manager makes timely decisions. Even large public limited companies which are governed by a board of directors having thousands of shareholders have a better decision-making process where the management decides, the board scrutinises and eventually the shareholders (with no interference from any external source) decide whether their policies are better suited to the company or not.

Going by the same analogy, why can’t we allow the executive to decide, parliament to scrutinise and the people of Pakistan decide whether the policy of any particular government was best suited to our country or not? Let there be no interference in the decision-making process -- apart from the interference that the people of Pakistan wish for. Otherwise, we will sadly be stuck in a situation where no one is willing to take any decision. I leave it to the readers to decide on this single most important issue plaguing our system of governance.

The writer is a former senator and currently serving as advisor to the CM Sindh.