POOR GOVERNANCE: WHO IS TO BE BLAMED?

MUHAMMAD ASHFAQ
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 2 - 8, 20
10

A large number of people believe that good governance has long been considered an exclusively Western concept rooted in largely Christian social value systems. But I am not convinced with this argument that it's only western concept. Some may argue that seeking Qur'anic guidance on good governance appears unnecessary because they believe that religion is absolutely a personal affair whereas matters of governance involve communal considerations. Indeed, politics and religion are legally separated in many countries in the world today. In this journey of life one is happy and successful when one enjoys one's life in an orderly and civilised manner.

It gives spiritual satisfaction when one fulfills one's responsibilities to God and the society. In this process the individual will not only satisfy his material and spiritual needs, but also contribute positively to human civilisation. Naturally, for the realisation of this vision of human life, good governance is a prerequisite. The importance of good governance is underscored by the fact that no civilisation in history was established without a good government. Therefore, an individual may seek happiness and success in his personal life by obtaining guidance from the Most Merciful the Creator of the universe - in fulfilling his obligations toward society. The inaugural speech of the first Caliph, Abu Bakar (RA) describes the fundamental characteristics of good governance. Immediately after being elected by the community, he said:

"I have been given authority over you although I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me; and if I do wrong, set me right. Loyalty is to tell the truth to a leader; treason is to hide it. The weak among you will be powerful in my eyes until I secure his rights, if Allah so wills. The strong among you shall be weak in my eyes until I get the right from him. If people do not follow in the way of Allah, He will disgrace them. Obey me as long as I obey Allah and his Prophet, and if I disobey them, you owe me no obedience."

Inherent in the statement of the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Siddiq are the cardinal principles of good governance such as honoring the will of the people, freedom of expression, rule of law, and judicial independence. Those who believe that good governance is come from west, I would like to give reference of comprehensive letter written by Hazrat Ali (RA) to Maalik al Ashtar, newly appointed Governor to Egypt articulating principles of public policy. In this fascinating directive, Hazrat Ali (RA) advises the new governor that his administration will succeed only if he governs with concern for justice, equity, integrity and the prosperity of all. Many European nations were at one another's throats in the first half of the 20th Century. But these same nations after World War II developed and adopted systems of good governance. These systems have enabled them to earn and maintain the trust not only of their citizens but also of the other European nations. The mutual trust among the Western European nations has reached such a high level that they have established the European Union, under which the members have abolished the national currencies and borders that used to separate them from one another. The institutions in the Union guarantee justice and dignity to citizens. Now they have a common currency and free movement of goods, services, capital, production plants and even citizens all across the union. And this is not the end; there is an ever growing list of countries eyeing to join the EU. Again we see that at the root of this wide acceptance of the EU is the successful realisation of the Qur'anic concepts of trust and justice.

The critical judgmental factor of good or bad governance in any country is the level of performance of different institutions under the umbrella of government. Governance is just like the measuring scale, which shows effectiveness and efficiency of institutions of society. If the level of governance is high, then the ultimate outcome will be good governance in all sectors of country. The concept of 'good governance' has not emerged from outside mankind's experience throughout the ages. It is based on lessons from history which records both the downfall of nations resulting from bad governance, and also lessons of how nations have risen to great heights as a consequence of 'good governance'. The main benefit of good governance is that it creates such an environment, where every individual and organisation have fair game play. Good environment leads a country towards higher level of investment, trust, accountability and creation of further employment opportunities which increase the income of people and consequently the living standards of people improve. World Bank has described the concept of good governance in various dimensions such as rule of law, government effectiveness, regulatory quality and control of corruption.

Pakistan remained at the bottom among South Asian states as it lost 8.3 per cent of its GDP or Rs820 billion during last year owing to bad governance. Corruption Perceptions Index 2009 by Transparency International ranks Pakistan at 139 position out of 180 countries. India's ranking is much better than Pakistan, which is 84. If we look at Human Development Index report of 2009 issued by United Nations Development Programme, the situation is even more worse. Pakistan ranks at 141 out of 182 countries. Pakistan was established under the slogan of Islam but practices carried out in Pakistan are totally against the golden principles of Islam.

Unfortunately in Pakistan, due to multiple factors, the level of performance of various government and non-government organs is declining with the passage of time. Good governance is also pointed out as one of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an agenda for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. But nothing is realised on ground realities except paper work. Instead of diverting Pakistan towards prosperity and good governance, our ruling elite class secures their own interests first, irrespective of national interests. Even they raise slogan of Pakistan first. When the civilian regime came into power after the February 2008 elections, good governance slogan echoed once again. But so far government could not deliver to people and still demands another three years to deliver fruits of democracy and good governance in Pakistan.

The double standards of our leaders are not hidden from people now when they claim we will provide every necessity to the nation but on the other hand queues of people are growing to get basic necessities like flour, sugar and medical facilities on roads etc. Mismanagement and lack of effective control on business regulations, it is another avenue of failure of our political government. Politicians claim that there will be no shortage of commodities in country soon. But as soon as any religious festival like holy month of Ramazan comes, hidden forces trigger artificial shortages in the country to earn undue profits. Government is unable to identify such forces because MNAs and MPAs are directly and indirectly parts of hoarders.

Every new regime has been blaming the previous government of all the bad things and mismanagement it inherited like inflation, electricity, gas outrages etc. Pakistan's so called democratic government completely failed in implementing regulations about prices of different commodities like sugar, flour and many other kitchen related products.

If it is not the primary responsibility of government to keep prices in such an affordable level that every poor family can survive instead of committing collective suicides and selling their beloved children, then who else is responsible? We are an Islamic country with more than 95 per cent Muslims but our ethical and religious values have so badly deteriorated that we do not miss any chance of making profit. When western countries look the collective suicide of families due to hunger, poverty and unequal distribution of wealth in an Islamic country, which was established in the name of Islam, they simply laugh at us.

It is an age of communication and globalisation, so other countries know much more about us and our practices. If I compare the price and quality regulations of commodities in west, I feel disgrace that we are followers of such a nice religion who teach us purity in every aspect whether it is in our dealings or in products. In our country, unfortunately the quality of food items is so bad that people are having more and more health problems. If the government itself increases the electricity prices four times within a month, then business community also do the same because no one seems accountable to any authority.

The landlords of Pakistan are the major hurdle in the way of development of Pakistan.

Economists point out five basic reasons of deplorable economic conditions and bad governance in Pakistan which has liner relationship with overall governance in country: corruption, political instability, no rule of law, lack of accountability at government level principally and bureaucratic ploys.

During my company visit to Germany, I met various business leaders and every time I proposed them to invest in Pakistan because we are a market of 180 million people, country with full of natural resources, 45 million labour force and corporate taxes and other incentives are pretty good for foreign investors. They have long list of reasons like political instability, attitude of government officials regarding issuance of business licenses and demand of kickbacks and law and order situation etc. If we ignore the foreign investment and look only Pakistani institutions and corporations, the performance is getting worst due to political appointments, which result incompetence of employees and non-transparent systems. The efficient allocation of resources to ensure widespread and equitable economic and social development of a nation is the basic responsibility of any government and this can only be achieved through good governance. Where governance practices are distorted away from these sound principles, there is a lack of accountability and minimal transparency. This results in injustice and bad governance with unbridled corruption.

Due to corruption, the level of spending of government increases and collection of revenue remains same. Governments borrow loans even on unfavorable terms and conditions. If we look at the current governments efforts, all machinery is doing outstanding job to get as much loans as they can instead of talking empty promises to improve the overall tax collection in country.

Now situation is at such a critical point, our overall revenue collection is almost equal to interest payments on foreign and domestic loans. While government in Pakistan has been spending and consuming more, its expenditure on the development of infrastructure and social services has been declining. One of the consequences of this breakdown in economic governance results from the failure of governments to institute a progressive taxation structure. Today taxes are imposed on and collected from the poor.

For me good governance is achieved only when people are actually involved, not just superficially, in the decision making process by the means of policy formulation and implementation. All activities are coordinated to achieve sustainable development of human resource and raising the standard of living of the common citizen. But of course people's participation can be fruitful when people are educated and hence it is must for effective governance to have an aware and educated public who can bring the government to stand when the situation demands. Good governance is achieved when all sections of the society irrespective of the caste, creed, race, color, sex, religion and other differences get equal opportunities and access to the facilities available in the country especially education, food, health , clean drinking water, proper sanitation etc. It is a must that the youth today demand good governance from the governments. It is our right to have transparent, accountable governance in the country, and it is well within our rights to ask for transparency on the issue. The youth should get together and make people aware of their rights and duties by organising workshops to achieve the aim. The general complaint with respect to Pakistan's exports has been the absence of quality control. The private sector must ensure that this becomes a necessary condition for export. Towards this end, trade associations should be encouraged to establish and operate training centers and central quality control facilities, set standards which are mandatory, and establish a system of penalising violators.

One obvious mechanism to eliminate corruption would be to review factors leading to corruption: monopoly, discretion without checks and balances, authority without responsibility. Parallel to this should be an effort to reform the judicial system generally. Another mechanism would be to introduce legislation which is effectively implemented through an impartial and independent authority (with substantial representation from civil society and the senior members of the judiciary). Corresponding changes in the laws of evidence and trial should allow for flexibility in procedures and rigour of evidence.

Competition, clear rules, and disclosure are important first steps for removing corruption. Many countries have sophisticated and strict laws addressing corruption. Yet the existence of legislation alone is insufficient. To implement core institutional reforms and repair corrupt systems is the need of hour. Public welfare is perhaps the most important function of good governance.

When one evaluates how guiding principles of good governance are actually applied in real governments, one naturally finds many gaps in implementation of the ideal. Contradictions exist between principles and political reality, in our judgment, mainly because ruling elites often seek to maintain their dominance by denying what many ordinary citizens want and need given their human nature. That is why it is necessary to examine both the ideals of good governance and the realities of actual governments.

Where there are gaps, efforts are justified to better align practice with aspiration. Drawing a lesson from past, one may conclude that for the state to ensure sustainable and equitable development, it must realize that while the government has a role to play in economic development this can only be achieved best through a realisation that such a positive role requires not an expansion in the scale of government activity, but an increase in its effectiveness and a major reallocation of its resources.

Today, Pakistan faces very serious challenges and biggest is inflation. The only way to cope with these challenges is the alliance and cooperation of public and private sector to help poor people of Pakistan and provide them some relief. In fact, Pakistan needs to redirect its priorities and state must focus efforts towards the core human development concerns. This would entail liberal investments in basic human needs of the poor and a major redistribution of such productive assets as land and credit. Moreover, the state needs to provide a major stimulus to economic growth, involving an equitable fiscal policy that emphasises progressive taxation and 'pro poor' expenditures. There is the need for revitalising existing state institutions. Political systems need no longer to have representation based on oligarchic interests. The civil service needs to be made more efficient and productive. Similarly, judiciary needs to be more independent as well as accessible to people at lower level. Ultimately, none of these reforms will take place without political will. A new vision of governance built on the principles of ownership, accountability and even decency, are only too increasingly becoming imperative for its citizens.

In sum, governance is a continuum. It does not automatically improve over time. Citizens need to demand good governance. Their ability to do so is only enhanced by awareness, education, and employment opportunities. The government of Pakistan needs to be responsive to those demands. For change to be effective it must be embedded in the societies concerned and cannot be imposed from the outside. As it is well known, good administration is possible through fair and successful management which make their peoples happy and prosperous. Good governance however is possible through strengthening of the civil society and its participation in the administration. The most important condition for catching up with the future is to establish good governance in which non-governmental organisations are effective.

The subject of good governance is pertinent to all people in all times in history but it is more important at this juncture of history for Pakistani government and nation.

It is my firm belief that, we as a whole nation must take responsibility of our own future. Nobody from outside can deal our own affairs and improve situation. We have to trust on our capabilities and deal with the challenges. It is we, who will decide what will be the future of our generations. Government must ensure public welfare as a part of the mandate given to it by peoples of Pakistan.

The writer is a student of University of Applied Sciences Coburg Germany.