Transparency International’s (TI) 2017 report ‘People and Corruption: Asia Pacific” voices concerns across the globe about growing inequality, poverty and exclusion of the most vulnerable. As a diverse and rapidly developing region, “it is essential that the countries in the Asia-Pacific region achieve sustainable and equitable development – this can only be done by ensuring that public decision-making promotes the common good. Corruption undermines this, as it distorts democratic processes and promotes private over public interests”. Ranked among the highly corrupt countries in TI’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for a straight 22 years (1995-2016), corruption in Pakistan derails governance by being deeply entrenched in almost all State organs and in public institutions. Effective anti-corruption has failed to be implemented because the role of the State’s anti-corruption bodies is wanting and questionable.
To combat corruption and resolve the problems of governance, it is essential to look at the impact on social development. Social development is meant to improve the living conditions of the people, enabling them to become useful members of society, so they can benefit from changing living conditions. This means progress in its economic and all other definitions needs to benefit people and recognition that people shape development processes. The major indicators of social development are poverty rate, infant mortality, general life expectation, literacy rate, health care factors, gender equality, etc. It is very clear that Pakistan lags behind in most, if not all of these indicators.
Corruption undermines structures of governance that are already weak and hampers the State’s service delivery. Weakness of State institutions is often blamed on repeated army rule, but what about our many civilian governments who came into power through the ballot but not one of them exhibited even an iota of intent in improving governance? This become clear from the apathy of successive governments relating to a 2008 report ‘National Commission on Government Reforms’ (NCGR) authored by Dr. Ishrat Hussain. This contained a comprehensive analysis of the problems of governance and offered a very well-thought out and carefully planned roadmap of solutions. Swept under the carpet this report, thus remains dormant even today.
Pakistan’s social indicators are abysmal, human development has never been a priority in Pakistan. In the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI) Pakistan has been ranked at 147 out of 188 countries ranked. In order to improve human development, Pakistan will have to invest heavily in employment, engagement and empowerment of youth whose numbers are growing and also provide basic social services and safety nets that will empower people to live lives they yearn for. Recently there has been a spate of incidents of civil unrest by opposition political parties and other groups, these were fueled by a growing perception about the government failing in its policy-making and has not prioritizing the people’s needs nor listening to their voices and grievances – all these are negative indicators of governance.
Given the connection between governance, service provision and social development, there is a dire need for reforms in governance in Pakistan. This has been conveniently neglected and downplayed especially by our political rulers who fear for their reliable power structures that can be used to win next elections. Given the appalling situation in the social sector, the national interest and the interest of the people require the government to take measures for improving living conditions. While the NCGR report will need some updating it can otherwise be used as a starting point for reforms. To quote Dr. Ishrat Hussain, “Government reform has to be comprehensive, concurrent and coordinated as partial, isolated and ad hoc efforts will not produce the synergy required to achieve the desired results.”
Devolution of power must be the focus of governance reforms. While our centralized system of government has positive aspects, its negative factors include the break-up of Pakistan, dissatisfaction among provinces, demands for autonomy and secessionist movements. We must have the reorganization of the federal set-up with a stronger role of the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and a new basis for the National Finance Commission Award (NFC). Such measures will discourage ethnicity–based policies and movements and strengthen unity of the country. Devolution of power must reach down to the grassroots level and create, expand and improve a local government system which is covered in the Constitution under Article 140A. Almost no one talks about the lack of local government structure at the lowest tier through which the State is supposed to provide essential services to the people. The media rightly focuses on the PanamaGate or the Swiss cases, however these are remotely connected to the masses. The absence of local governments or the shams being run as “grassroots democracy” do not seem to warrant serious media attention. The implementation of the devolution of power plan of 2010 in the provinces was lacking, real devolution of power means the higher levels should give way and transfer powers to a lower level. With the system in full control of feudal, old and nouveau alike, this will never be allowed to happen.
As highlighted in the NCGR report, institutional reforms at the federal, provincial and local levels are clearly defined and overlapping avoided. The British civil service strength is the strong ethical commitment of service members, sadly this was lost. There is a need to re-install such ethical commitment into the services through training but also through a transparent system of accountability in all spheres of govt. Such accountability would not only be means to fight and prevent corruption, it will also promote effectiveness of governance and create trust in the government. Equal treatment by the State will create feelings of equality and commitment that is the basis of democracy, unlike recent experiences with political accountability where a gap is seen between legal and moral accountability. Given our special identity, ethical aspects of governance must be grounded in general principles of Islam to bridge the gap between legal and moral rightfulness and join the two together.
Crying out for change and resolution of issues faced, today there is dismay among the people of this impoverished nation in the air with negativity, gloom and distrust assuming threatening proportions even as the nation faces challenges, some quite formidable. While accountability cannot happen overnight things seems to be changing. The Supreme Court verdict explicitly damning Mian Nawaz Sharif for his recurring penchant for untruths and evading facts is most refreshing. Coinciding with the Saudi Crown Prince’s onslaught against corruption, would Maryum include Saudis along with the superior judiciary and the Army in the “conspiracy against the Sharifs”?
The writer is a defense and security analyst.