BUILDING OF INSTITUTIONS

SHAMSUL GHANI
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 2 - 8, 20
10

While drawing a comparison between the approaches of Ashoka, the champion of behavioral reform, and Kautilya, the principal advisor to Ashoka's grandfather Chandragupta and a firm believer in the role of institutions, Amartya Sen the winner of Nobel Prize in economics writes in his book The Idea of Justice:

"Kautilya's political economy was based on his understanding of the role of institutions both in successful politics and in efficient economic performance, and he saw institutional features including restrictions and prohibitions as major contributors to good conduct and necessary restraints on behavioral license. This is clearly a no-nonsense institutional view of advancing justice, and very little concession was made by Kautilya to people's capacity for doing good things voluntarily..."

We have been experimenting with democracy since inception but our achievements in this direction have been restricted to the rituals of balloting. Public reasoning and public welfare have remained ever missing. An efficient delivery system under democratic governance guarantees social uplift of masses - the basic component of democracy. A well-fed, a well-educated and a well cared-for society can be expected to do good things voluntarily. Neglected, exploited and impoverished masses cannot be expected to do good things. Democracy, as an institution, was never present in this country and is hardly expected to take birth here unless those expected to run this institution - the political parties and their leaders - started realising that masses and their welfare are central to the idea of democracy.

Good and strong institutions can only be created by good and strong characters, as Amartya Sen puts it: "There is no chance of resting the matter in the 'safe' hands of institutional virtuosity. The working of democratic institutions like that of all other institutions depends on the activities of human agents in utilising opportunities for reasonable realisations."

With the exception of Jinnah and a handful of his deputies, Pakistan historically lacked true democratic leadership and therefore the concept of institutional democracy ever remained illusive. We started with balloting and are still in the phase of balloting. The disconnect between the so-called democrats and the voting masses has made it impossible for democracy to get recognition as an institution. The society, anyway, has developed means to atone the democratic behavior by pinning its hope on institutions other than democracy - judiciary and media to start with. Judiciary, although having got the vote of public approval, is still in infirmity zone. Its weak linkages, bars and administrative support are trying to hold it back. But the public awareness and media support will see it through the difficult phase to transform it into a strong institution.

The media with all its nonsense and nuisance is doing well to institutionalise this important forum of public expression. Electronic media may sometimes appear overbearing and arrogant, yet the euphoria of a sudden change and unbridled power is not likely to last long. Once this phase is over, we will witness a marked change in media's approach towards creation and stabilisation of true democracy.

Print media owing to poor real literacy rate has little role in public-opinion-making which has up till now thrived on image-building and character-assassination type of reporting feels threatened by the plurality and openness of electronic media.

The old-timers who based their reports/columns on their bias for or against particular political parties and personalities are going to get hit hard as young generation with little or no biases is waiting in the wings to take over. Even among the new lot, only those with a broader knowledge of global politics, economics and finance will stand the test of times and will be able to play a role in the strengthening of institution of Urdu press.

Besides these primary institutions, some of the secondary institutions have also come to the front with a clear message that they mean business.

Competition Commission of Pakistan is one of such institutions. Having gone through the phases of demise and rebirth CCP has attracted public attention for its brave initiative against corrupt trade practices leading to consumer exploitation. Its resolute and uncompromising chairman having recently retired and the CCP itself facing second demise at the fag end of this year when the Ordinance was due to expire, the prospects of survival of an important institution hang in balance. While the government has acted prudently by nominating the next chairman from within the organisation, the role of media in ensuring CCP's existence as a facilitator of good governance is very crucial.

Higher Education Commission is yet another secondary institution that has directly and indirectly contributed to the concept of good governance during the current decade. Its ex-chairman, with his profound love for education, science and technology, did wonderful things to upgrade the education system and promote educational pursuits. Since education does not go well with the feudal democratic agenda, the chairman was removed with the change in the government and HEC grants were downscaled. Surprisingly for the nation and shockingly for the government, the new chairman added a new dimension to the history of HEC by resolutely standing in the way of corrupt democrats who fooled the nation with the help of faked degrees. The war is still on but HEC has gone a long way in proving that good and strong institutions are created and secured by good and strong characters.

Banking sector is a secondary national institution of great economic importance. Its strength was tested during the recent global financial crisis. This institution was born with the birth of this country. Those who worked for its strength selflessly have their names recorded in Pakistan's financial history. Unfortunately, this institution despite being strong, is not serving in the best interest of the country. Its shylock practices were challenged by the CCP but the bank cartels came to its rescue. Strong institutions need to have good and strong-character people to survive. Pakistan's banking institution's loose oversight by a weak institution - State Bank of Pakistan - is a long term threat to its strength.