Is democracy the right policy-matrix for good governance in Pakistan? – by Qudrat Ullah

According to the latest report “The State of Economy: Pulling Back From the Abyss,” released by the Institute of Public Policy of the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore “Pakistan remained abysmally at the bottom among South Asian States as it lost 8.3 per cent of its GDP or Rs. 820 billion during last year owing to bad governance.” The report also pointed out that GDP could have been higher by three percent or around Rs. 450 billion, had there been no shortage of power and water that has adversely affected the national economy.

Today, bad governance has emerged as a much bigger challenge for the nation. Maladministration is not just limited to administrative failure but it also promotes a vicious circle of corruption which mars the whole structure and ultimately deteriorates the country’s socio-political system as well. Pakistani experience shows that as a direct result of bad economic policies of the past regimes since 1970s, corruption and poverty are rising drastically. The law and order situation is deteriorating with the government struggling to control it but all in vain as it lacks competent, professional and dedicated Officers who can bring desired social changes with effective reigning of the machinery.

The ruling coterie is dishonest, corrupt and above the law; the worst part is that the affluent strata are most certain that no meaningful action can be taken against them and they can get away at will. The most horrible impact of bad governance in Pakistan is that respect for rule of law has seemingly vanished in the minds of the rich. This has resulted in “might is right” syndrome in the society.

Another aspect of bad governance is absence of balanced check and balance system and government’s inability to redress public grievances. Our bureaucracy- the successor of the famed ICS, has also failed to follow the shining traditions of good governance of olden days; rather it has emerged as the complex and intricate administrative network which is self-servient. Steady transition of the bureaucratic élite from a key element in the State structure to a pervasive power in statecraft should be a case to study.

It is a common fact that good socio-economic conditions help reduce corruption. People living in countries with acceptable living conditions, higher literacy rate, nurtured democratic systems and good governance standards are less poised to indulge in corruption. But corruption is not just linked with socio-economic circumstances of a country, it also creates and reinforces a vicious cycle of bad governance which ruins all institutions and poor suffers the most. Therefore, it undermines democracy not just the economic welfare. Pakistan, unfortunately, has become a place where institutionalized corruption is taken as an accepted lifestyle. Due to lack of any institutionalized control mechanism, fraud is deep rooted in our social-culture and any half-hearted effort of eradicating it will not bear any fruit.

We may need to learn from the British who ruled the vast continent of India with not more than 1500 ICS Officers; there were only 96 Muslim ICS among them, and only 86 joined the newly independent State of Pakistan. While the British ICS Officers were giants in their field due to their dedication and competence, the bureaucrats in Pakistan have ended up as selfish pygmies, more interested in their postings, perks and privileges. Their Services’ infightings have further ruined the vital institution of civil service. For example, in Punjab DMG is skirmishing with its junior counterpart, the PCS and public relief is not a priority any more.

The frequent military interventions, insolence for rules by ruling elite, lengthy legal system, lack of public-trust on government institutions and civil service’s failure to help solve these issues so that country could take off on the economic super highway, are but some of the reasons for bad governance in Pakistan which promises equality to all of its citizens. Democracy, as a result, failed to ensure a system based on good governance.

Good governance can solve our most of the problems; it, if implemented correctly, can create an enabling environment for investment, including investment in the people and lead to higher income; help reduces poverty and improved social indicators. With the passage of time, good governance has become a more specialized term. Starting from corporate governance to global governance and from project governance to nonprofit governance; its new dimensions prove that governance is taking new roots in today’s complex life. Similarly, with the emergence of information and communication technologies, e-governance is also help creating a comfy, translucent, and economical interaction between government and its citizens.

Over the last more than two decades, as the ICT has started to grow up and influence our lives, several efforts have been conducted in the research and international development community in order to assess and measure the quality of governance all around the world. In today’s fast-paced world, good governance and bad-governance are going side by side in developing countries and Pakistan is no exception to this global phenomenon. The core issue of all of our national as well as institutional decay lies in our failure to adopt a system of governance which delivers to the most of the people and doesn’t prove beneficial to ruling coterie alone.

The mantra of democracy is good but we also need to develop and strengthen composite support institutions which could ensure corruption free functioning, efficient provision of basic resources to the public and transparency. Pakistani experience shows that our politicians prefer to sail along temporal slogans while ignoring the real issues and institution building.

Pakistan cannot achieve good governance unless and until it is ready to develop a State structure which is people-friendly, transparent and backed by an efficient legal system. Otherwise, Pakistan’s corruption ranking will keep on spiraling every year as our national leadership lacks sustained, sensible, coordinated and well-planned approach to national problems like floods, energy, poverty and parochialism.

This complex paradox points-up the importance of efficient democratic governance for eradicating poverty through sustainable work for the poor. This can be done by promoting genuine democracy having accessible to all the 170 million people of Pakistan.

This would be the right policy matrix for good governance in Pakistan.