Thursday May 23, 2024

Change the system

Pakistan is ranked at a shameful 130th position out of 139 countries on the Rule of Law Index 2021

By Atta-ur-Rahman
July 27, 2022

The failures of Pakistan over the last 75 years. The biggest of these failures is undoubtedly the judicial system. This includes the prosecution system, the number of judges available to tackle hundreds of thousands of pending cases, the lack of time targets for prosecution by NAB and other agencies as well as the control exercised by those in power over the prosecution process that allows some to escape prosecution.

According to the World Judicial Project (WJP) Rule of Law Index 2021 that was released on October 14 last year, Pakistan was ranked at a shameful 130th position out of 139 countries. The WJP Rule of Law Index was based on national surveys of more than 138,000 households and 4,200 legal practitioners and experts around the world. It considered eight factors: Constraints on Government Powers, Absence of Corruption, Open Government, Fundamental Rights, Order and Security, Regulatory Enforcement, Civil Justice, and Criminal Justice. No country can hope to progress with a weak judicial system where the corrupt can escape scot-free, as has been the norm in Pakistan for the last 50 years.

The curse of provincialism is the second biggest factor that has contributed to our decline. The founder of our nation Mr Jinnah had warned us of the “poison” of provincialism in his speech delivered in Dhaka on March 21, 1948 in the following words: “Now I ask you to get rid of this provincialism, because as long as you allow this poison to remain in the body politic of Pakistan, believe me you will never be a strong nation, and you will never be able to achieve what I wish we could achieve.” Alas the poison was allowed to spread and the lethal dose came in the form of the 18th Amendment to the constitution that transferred most of national funds to the provinces. With the responsibility of paying off national debts and defence expenditure resting on the federal government, this left no funds for national development, including education, health, building of dams and other needs.

The present parliamentary system of government has also fostered corruption. So corrupt is our parliamentary system that in 2009, some 200 parliamentarians were discovered with suspect or forged degrees, some of whom eventually became federal ministers. A system that allows such corrupt representatives to come into power must be done away with immediately. This failure of the parliamentary system of governance was also foreseen by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah who advocated a presidential system of democracy in 1947. A reproduction of his handwritten note in this respect was published in ‘The Jinnah Anthology’ (Oxford University Press, page 81, Ed Liaquat Merchant and Sharif al Mujahid).

We therefore need to move quickly towards a presidential system of government with eminent experts heading various ministries as ministers and secretaries. These must be appointed through a process of rigorous merit-based selection, rather than an election process. A Council of Elders comprising the most eminent persons of integrity should screen these nominees of the president to ensure a clean competent government system and keep a check on the president.

The third biggest failure of Pakistan has been a decaying education system. With about 67 per cent of our population below the age of 30, we must unleash the huge creative potential of our youth through massive investments in education, science, technology and innovation/entrepreneurship. An education emergency will need to be declared. Plans have already been developed by us for a national-level online teachers training and certification programme, which is demand driven and offers a personalized learning pathway to every teacher. It is based on similar needs and competencies, and not constrained by the physical location of teachers. Plans are also ready for an Online Distance Education programme that can be simultaneously launched under this ICT-based initiative to connect one million out-of-school children and 50,000 public schools to provide quality education. Students with smart devices and good internet will be able to participate from anywhere in Pakistan, posting questions, responded to by the live teacher in real-time.

Pakistan’s fourth major failure has been its inability to involve the private sector in the research and development initiatives. The private sector has to play a pivotal role, and the government must encourage private sector R&D. That has been the key to the success of the developed countries and emerging economies such as Taiwan, Singapore, Korea and even larger economies such as China. Indeed about 70 per cent of total R&D expenditure in China comes from the private sector whereas it is about 75 per cent in Korea, about 70 per cent in Germany and 68 per cent in the US. In Pakistan it is less than one percent, highlighting the poor vision of our national planners who did not understand the critically important role of private-sector research and development in the nation-building process.

Increase in R&D expenditure through government funding by the private sector will help acquire new technologies and create jobs for academic scholars in the private sector so that new value-added products can be developed, manufactured and exported. To foster innovation and entrepreneurship in industry, a large Venture Capital Fund should be established under the control of the private sector for promoting new startups, establishing technology parks and business incubators.

There are new and emerging technologies that can help Pakistan leapfrog. These include Artificial Intelligence, Energy Storage Systems, Next Generation Genomics, Nanotechnology, Mineral Resource Engineering, and Advanced Agriculture, to name a few. Carefully focused investments in such areas can help lift Pakistan out of the shackles of poverty and deprivation. To encourage private-sector investments in the new and emerging technologies, long-term tax holidays will need to be offered so that Pakistan becomes a leader in the manufacture and export of high-technology products.

Today we stand at a precipice. To move forward and achieve some of these reforms, the next government must win a two-thirds majority in parliament so that it can make the necessary changes in the constitution. We have already wasted 75 years. It is now time to elect an honest leader with the support to change the system of governance to a presidential system.

The writer is the former federal minister for science and technology and former founding chairman of the HEC. He can be reached at: