For a Different Democracy (Part 5)

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Prof Atta-ur-Rahman,
FRS, N.I., H.I, S.I., T.I

The process of socio-economic devel
opment is a highly complex affair
which requires regular a visionary, competent and honest leadership. The examples of Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore, Mahathir Mohammed in Malaysia, General park in Korea and Deng in China serve as good examples of how visionary leaders backed by a strong central government can transform nations in short periods of time.
To formulate a strategy and action plan, “Foresight” exercises need to be undertaken so that the short, medium and long term road map of the country can be defined.
The key areas of focus of the new Pakistan should be education, science, technology and innovation with particular focus on social justice and inclusive socio-economic development. In order to harness Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for inclusive and sustainable development.The formulation and dynamic implementation of a farsighted action Plan is necessary. One such Plan was prepared under my leadership and the 320 page document covering all important sectors of the national economy laid out a 5, 10 and 15 year strategies and plans for national development. It was approved by the Cabinet in August 2007, an inter-ministerial Committee was formed for its implementation but it has since been gathering dust in government archives.
A number of aspects need to be considered in respect of the establishment of a technocrat government under a Presidential system of democracy, recommended by me in previous articles. The first question that arises is why are technocrats necessary, and why cannot politicians deliver. The answer to this is obvious. In this day and age of specialization, deep insight is requires regarding how recent scientific advances in agriculture, engineering, artificial intelligence, automated industrial manufacturing, medical biotechnology and in many other such fields are influencing the process of socio-economic development. This is absolutely critical, as Pakistan cannot migrate from its low value agricultural economy to a strong knowledge economy. Such a transformation can only be achieved if the country has the top specialists in each field as federal and provincial ministers and as secretaries. Each federal and provincial ministry should be backed by a powerful think tank comprising the best experts in the country so that the policies for socio-economic development are well thought out by the best minds available.
The advantage of “selection” of Federal Ministers by the President of the country, instead of appointing them through an“election”, is that the top specialists in the country can thus be inducted. They would otherwise not be interested to face the vagaries of the election process. This valuable asset of the country can hence be tapped. Secondly if the role of the Parliament is limited to law making and oversight then the powerful “electables”, who spend crores to get into the parliament, and then seek to make billions through unlawful means, will no longer be interested in becoming members of such a parliament, which will thus be cleansed of most of the negative elements. The extent to which our “honourable” Parliamentarians will sink to get into power is reflected from the fact that HEC had discovered that there were some 200 parliamentarians who had forged their degrees in order to become members of Parliament. One member of Parliament with forged degrees ended up becoming our Federal Minister of Education, a classic case for the Guinness Book of Records!
Another issue to be addressed is: what is to prevent a corrupt President to be elected under the new Presidential system being advocated by me and what will ensure that he does not select corrupt cronies as Federal Ministers. The answer to this lies in the strong screening system that I have proposed involving a “Committee of Elders” who will carefully vet each person through various agencies regarding the integrity and capability of the nominated individuals for the task at hand. This selection process would apply to all critically important posts including those of the President, Federal and Provincial Ministers and Secretaries, heads of national institutions including State Bank, FBR, SECP, FIA, Police, NAB, Steel Mills, PIA etc. In the Islamic Republic of Iran a “Guardian Council” carries out a detailed vetting of the candidates for the post of President. Each candidate for the Iranian Parliament must also be carefully screened through legally mandated election boards (“heyat-ha-ye ejrai”). Thorough background checks of the candidates are carried out through the police, judiciary, census registry and intelligence agencies.
Another important aspect of the new system of governance should be the complete independence of the various key institutions mentioned above so that they are governed by independent Boards of Governors with no representation or say of the government. The massive loot and plunder seen in Pakistan was because national institutions were corrupted by the appointment of cronies with shady character who then facilitated the process of mega corruption.
The Election Commission of Pakistan must also go through acomprehensive reform process under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. At present two of the 5 members of the Election Commission are appointed on the recommendation of one political party while two others are appointed on the recommendation of the other political party. This puts to shame the concept of a “neutral” Election Commission as the members appointed have political leanings. The members of the Election Commission must be appointed by a Committee selected by the Supreme Court to ensure complete political neutrality of this august body.
NAB has instituted a ridiculous system of plea bargaining which allows the biggest crooks in the land to go scot free after returning a small part of the billions that they have stolen from the national exchequer. NAB officials themselves benefit in this process of plea bargaining as shady deals are made under the table. This process must be stopped and capital punishment made mandatory in cases of mega corruption even after all the ill-gotten wealth has been returned.
One should also consider the votes to be “weighted” according to the qualifications of the persons casting the votes. So persons who have not done matriculation could have a weightage of 1, those with matriculation a weightage of 5, those with high school qualifications a weightage of 10, those with Bachelors a weightage of 20, those with Masters degree a weightage of 50 and those with PhD degree (or other highest degree in their field) a weightage of 100. Persons with corresponding qualifications from religious institutions should also have similar weightages. This would help in loosening the stranglehold of the feudal powerful landlords, the “electables” over the masses in rural areas. It is important also for voting to be done electronically (except in a small % of cases where the finger prints are not easily recognized). This must be made mandatory.
Pakistan must migrate to a “knowledge economy”. In order for education, science, technology and innovation to contribute to the process of socio-economic development, it is critically important to have sufficient educationists, scientists and engineers in the country. Pakistan has barely 162 scientists and engineers per million population as compared to 2,000 to 5,000 scientists and engineers/million population in technologically advanced countries. This number is woefully inadequate and a major national program to create 100,000 PhDs in science, engineering, social sciences and economics is urgently needed. The present Parliamentarians are giving the lowest priority to education or science, as a perceptive educated mass will be a threat to their very existence in power. As a result Pakistan spends only about 2% of its GDP in education, which ranks us among the bottom 10 countries of the world. To establish a knowledge economy requires top quality schools, colleges, universities, research centres and an innovation system where ideas can be converted quickly into commercial products and processes. This is completely missing from government policies. The most significant cuts to higher education were made by the previous government which triggered my resignation as Chairman HEC in protest. I had hopes that the present government would do better and it started off well, but then suddenly a 60% cut was imposed on the development budget of the higher education sector in the last financial year, resulting in chaos and disarray in our universities.
Pakistan stands at an important cross-road in its history. The country looks only towards the Supreme Court to find a way forward so that an interim technocrat government can be appointed under the provisions of our present Constitution for a sufficient length of time to implement the required reforms. If the choice comes between preserving our country or our Constitution, then the country must come first. We must remember that the Constitution has been formulated for the betterment of the citizens of Pakistan. It has been tarnished by corrupt leaders, and immediate remedial steps are necessary, as our very survival is at stake.

— The author is former Federal Minister of Science & Technology, former Chairman Higher Education Commission and Chairman of UN Committee for Science, Technology and Innovation for UNESCAP.