SLIDE DOWN IN GOVERNANCE: WAY OUT

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Zahid Malik

Monday, May 03, 2010 – After successfully addressing some of the contentious political and constitutional issues, which sapped most of the time and attention of the Government in the past two years, I am of the considered opinion that the time has come when the PPP leadership and the Government must wholly devote their energies in the remaining three years to deliver on their election manifesto and resolution of problems being faced by the masses including price hike, poverty, unemployment, crippling energy shortages, insecurity, corruption and the unending grievances of business community and agricultural sector, to point out a few.

Although the Government claims to have been taking a number of measures to address these issues, and one hears and reads them so frequently, yet according to impression in the masses, which I gathered at common places like market centres and meeting members of the civil society, these actions have not so far delivered anything with the exception of widely acclaimed, and rightly so, the flagship Benazir Income Support Programme.

Though I don’t mean at all to degrade the achievements of the past two years which include the NFC Award, 18th Amendment in the Constitution, Balochistan Package i.e. Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan, self-rule for Gilgit-Baltistan, political ownership given to the critical fight against terrorism and above all the reconciliation policy of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani which helped in strengthening the political system, in total contrast to Pakistani traditions where governments in the past used all tools at their disposal to victimize the Opposition, yet unless and until people feel a sense of relief, satisfaction and security, the Government loses the popularity through which it comes to power. Some of the achievements that I have recounted are developments at the macro-level, which do not have immediate bearing on the overall day-to-day problems of the people and there is, therefore, an impression that the performance of the Government has been lacklustre vis-à-vis resolution of grievances of the masses. It is because of this that a vast majority of people have started losing faith in the ongoing democratic process as they see no ray of hope for any meaningful change in their wretched destinies.

There are several reasons behind the perception that the Government has yet to deliver to the expectations of the masses and this perception is due to two main elements – slide down in governance and acute financial constraints.

Good governance is important for countries at all stages of development. Our approach should be to concentrate on those aspects of good governance that are most closely related to our surveillance over macro-economic policies, namely, the transparency of government accounts, the effectiveness of public resource management, and the stability and transparency of the economic and regulatory environment for private sector activity. Pakistan’s bureaucracy which, in my view, is one of the finest outfits, is not ready to take risk of decision making on its own and is always looking totally towards the political leadership for advice even to perform its normal duties. It been forced to do so.

Anyhow, people are losing hopes as governance is not seen anywhere to provide relief to them. Good governance is a precondition for economic development as the quality of governance plays a vital role in ascertaining the needs of the people and the country and an efficient bureaucracy gives its input to the political leadership on a road map for implementation. As the bureaucracy had been highly politicized and victimized by the successive governments, it has become diffident and somewhat lifeless as it is shy of taking any major initiatives, as has been the practice during the days of its glory.Appointment of political cronies on key posts with no Experience has added discontentment among senior functionaries who consider it as usurpation of their rights and hence they take no interest in even routine business.

Change of attitude in bureaucracy cannot be brought by an Act of Parliament. It needs sense of security, responsibility and observance of merit so that plans are drawn up and decisions implemented with diligence. So, in the given situation where people are looking towards the Government to deliver on its election manifesto, agenda and pledges, we require vision, commitment, consistency and a certain degree of professional competence in the bureaucracy.

Political leadership gives its agenda and this is implemented by strong and efficient bureaucracy. Having long experience in the field, the bureaucrats give necessary inputs and plans of actions to deliver to the people and put the country on the path of sustained development. Unfortunately that is not being seen and the main reason is that senior bureaucrats feel themselves insecure while giving their views on different issues fearing that if they were not to the liking of the burly Ministers, they would be terminated or made OSDs. No one is ready to lose one’s lucrative post and the result is that they have become almost “YES MINISTER” attendants.

There is no miraculous cure for overgrown, unmanageable problems like power shortage and the depleting water resources, nevertheless one hopes that professional handling of basic problems can at least provide some relief. Good governance can alleviate certain problems by finding effective and workable solutions which do not require much monetary funds but efficient handling.

In this backdrop I would suggest to Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, as a first step, to call a meeting of all the Federal Secretaries, heads of important Departments and Corporations, take them into confidence and seek their views on improving governance and providing possible relief to the people within the available resources. That would rejuvenate the civil service, which had been once considered as brilliant, and some of our bureaucrats of yester years who have left their footprints in various countries. We need to know why they have become lacklustre. I think they must be assured about security of their posting and given free hand to even oppose their Ministers where they consider that they were being forced to go for a wrong decision.

The Prime Minister should also start revisiting each ministry, get detailed briefings and point out the shortcomings on the basis of inputs from experts. There are many experts in different fields in the private sector and their services could be utilized for a limited period to suggest plans and the ways and means to deal with different crucial issues. Many of these experts are willing to work on an honorary basis. Based on the experts’ inputs, the Secretaries and their senior staff should be goaded if they sidetrack the issues and come up with lame excuses to hide their failures.

I think there is a dire need to revive the practice of convening envoys’ conferences periodically for having brain-storming sessions on the current issues and how to effectively project Pakistan’s point of view across the globe. At the international level, staff members are posted in Embassies and High Commissions but they have no means and resources to interact with the host countries media and business community. If they are provided resources and given a free hand, they can be certainly helpful to recreate a better image of Pakistan commensurate with the inherent strength of the country. There is slide down in the image of the country at the global level but the people in Foreign Office are sitting with their legs crossed.

If the Government succeeds in initiating genuine people-friendly policies and actions then it is the job of the Information setupof the Government to recreate a better image of not only the Government at home but also that of the country abroad.

Limited space does not allow me to dilate upon each and every subject, yet I expect that the Prime Minister would give serious consideration to the points as suggested in the larger interest of the country and its people.

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