Aug 2 - 8, 20

Is good governance possible in a corrupt society governed by corrupt rulers irrespective of the governance system: democracy or autocratic democracy? The answer is surprisingly yes, albeit to a certain extent only. But, the extent to which the objective of good governance could be achieved can make a great difference. The objective of good or at least better governance can be achieved through a sustained process of strengthening institutions instead of persons.

Institutions can be strengthened by having in place well defined rules, regulations and laws that alone could decide the legality - or otherwise - of actions taken at corporate or government level.

Take the example of the outgoing CCP chairman who was sacked by the country's highest authority, but had to be reinstated immediately as the law under which Competition Commission of Pakistan was set up did not approve such sacking.

The issue of corruption is as old as the history of humankind. No nation or society could boast of being very free of corruption. The principal of good governance warrants focus on control of corruption rather than its outright eradication. Through well-defined rules and regulations and effective laws, a society can erect barriers in the way of corrupts and corruptors. Proper documentation is yet another tool that could be used to minimise corruption. With the IT explosion having taken the entire world by storm, Pakistan being no exception, the documentation for control purpose has become easy and cost effective. A number of institutions have made use of IT to streamline their working with better control of their business and reduced chances of fraud and corruption. Federal Board of Revenue, for example, has revolutionised its tax collection system through the use of information technology. Lesser cost of collection, enhanced amount of revenue and "an arms length" dealing with the taxpayers leading to comparatively lower corruption levels are the major benefits that IT has brought to FBR. No doubt much more needs to be achieved by FBR. Other revenue collecting organisations, especially custom department, .should also take such initiatives to check corruption. It will automatically result in increased revenue.

Social justice is the weakest area of governance. Pakistan's judicial system does not have much to sing about. The inefficient courts, the ever-mounting load of cases, the terribly slow process of case-hearings, all present a sorry picture of an august institution. The downstream linkages, especially lawyers and police, make the lives of justice-seekers still more difficult. Although the revamping of this entire system cannot be undertaken overnight, yet a beginning can be made through computerisation of all records to eliminate the centuries-old paper-file system. Getting an FIR registered is one of the most difficult jobs under existing Thana system. Sometimes, the issue of jurisdiction also unnecessary delays the registering of FIR. A central reporting system should be introduced to facilitate the citizens.

Good governance cannot be visible unless we make those destined to govern us answerable to some well-founded system. Going through the history of Pakistan, one can infer that the people have now become used to two forms of governance - the so-called pure democracy and autocratic democracy. The masses judge a certain phase of governance on the basis of what quality addition, if any, has been made to their lives. They have little to do with the media clichés, democracy and dictatorship. As the political history tells, we have had been under pure dictatorship for a shorter period of time as every "dictator" ultimately took to the democratic course by implementing his version of democracy. So, for analytical purpose, the term "dictatorship" would turn out to be a misnomer; autocratic democracy would be a more expressive description. The democracy cannot be strengthened, in our case, by blocking the alternate way of governance by simply maligning it on public forums. The masses have not only become used to that form of governance but have also developed a soft corner for it as they tend to feel less pressurised economically during autocratic democracy. To effectively block the alternate form of governance, the pure democrats will have to deliver on a consistent basis. So far, they have failed to do so. They take for granted that the masses abhor the alternate form of governance, which is a fatal mistake. With the media gaining in stature, it is the so-called democracy that is being exposed rather than the dictatorship. You cannot stop anyone from comparing the Musharraf era's economic conditions with those prevailing now. Media can only present a certain viewpoint. It cannot make people accept it.

How to make the pure democrats believe that unless they upgrade their delivery system, they are not going to survive? Unfortunately all sorts of pleading and counseling through public forums, particularly the TV reality shows, is likely to go in vain as our hardened democrats pay little heed to such benign suggestions. They are not going to improve their governance unless they are compelled to do so. In order for us to achieve this objective, we will have to revamp our constitution by replacing ambiguous generalisations with specific statements of goals and objectives for every elected government.

On economy side, the improvement of macro indicators, the soundness and compatibility of monetary and fiscal policies could be aimed at. It should be made incumbent upon the succeeding governments to improve upon the macroeconomic indicators during their period of governance. Quantification of certain economic targets, wherever possible, should also be undertaken, at least in broader terms. For example, the inflation and policy rates are to be kept in line with the average inflation and policy rates in the region. The government borrowing must not exceed a certain percentage of GDP. At least five percent of GDP and three percent of GDP are to be spent on education and health respectively. The number of ministries is to be kept within a prescribed range, say 15 to 20. The desired employment level may also be quantified. Mobilisation and exploitation of domestic resources leading to agriculture and energy sector growth may be ensured through setting of realistic and achievable targets.

The national economic council should assume the responsibility of preparing for public consumption a white paper with comparative economic achievements of the current and previous governments at least six months before the next elections. This will give the competing political parties a fair opportunity to make themselves presentable to the electorate.