LAHORE: Pakistan’s economic growth and development are in limbo for the institutions of the state have lost their effectiveness in more ways than one, only due to unbridled political interference at all levels.
There is no consensus on vital economic issues and the stress is mostly on personal gains instead of public good. Pakistan cannot achieve its growth potential without effective and strong institutions and building such institutions would be an uphill task without changing our political attitude. Our politicians reject even the most prudent and economically sensible decisions, made by the public regulatory bodies, to appease public or to continue with their past policies. The principle of passing on the changes in the global petroleum rates is not passed on in accordance with the recommendations of the regulator. When the opposition seems to be gaining grounds, the advice for a price increase is rejected but when the going is good for the ruling party, the recommended cut is vetoed.
One cannot blame the ruling party alone for this state of affairs. The opposition cries foul every time prices of petroleum and electricity tariffs are revised upwards on the recommendation of regulators. The clichéd mantra the economists never get tired of advocating is: ‘Invest in building capacities through innovative technologies.’ This, if implemented, certainly brings transparency, but our past practices reveal that reforms can be reversed if the political engagement is not ensured. Failures of the government, the world over, are due to unhealthy political engagement. We have seen our leaders are selected and sanctioned not on merit, but on the basis of providing personal benefits. It goes without saying the personal benefits cannot do public any good.
There is no denying the fact the unhealthy political engagement persists even after the introduction of measures of transparency. The political forces are advised to bear these discrepancies for a while as the systems gears up for better governance. It has been universally experienced that the greater the political engagement the better the outcome.
Saner elements in the countries’ political parties should foster healthy political engagement within any formal context. There’s no better tool than transparency to develop political engagement. This is because transparency ensures shift towards the public good at all levels of the government, from bottom to top.
Up till now, our politicians have been either trying to make ‘the top’ transparent through merit-based appointments or target lower level corruption through administrative measures. Transparency would be visible when practiced at all links of the institutional chain. At the political level both the voters and the candidates are influenced by transparent information.
The main aim of the ruling party, in a democratic set-up, is to provide the public goods. Unfortunately after elections the leaders tend to overlook sound technical evidence intentionally or unintentionally. Ignoring a well-worked-out advice makes the implementation of good policies impossible, no matter how good the intentions may be. Politicians alone are not responsible for the sorry state of affairs in our institutions. As after years of bad governance, perverse behavioral norms of the society have been embedded in the bones of public sector, among citizens, and cadres of public officials.
The vested interests simply do not allow the meritocracy to prevail. They do not tolerate honest officials. Take the example of our power sector, where the stealing of electricity by the influential is a norm.
When the powerful ones get away with power theft, the lower cadre in the administration promotes power theft among general consumers at a cost that benefits both the stealer and the facilitator. In these circumstances, there is no room for reforming public officials.
They either have to follow the norm or be prepared for immediate transfer. Power theft is not possible without the connivance of all the cadres in service providers.
Transparency and accountability would be much easier if the politicians are positively engaged as it will overcome most of the government failures. It has been globally acclaimed that political engagement responds to transparency and the role of mass media is important in this regard. Investigative reporting based on the fact that could be presented in courts could deter most of the wrongdoings. Also, false allegations on media should be immediately addressed through courts for it would also pave way for merit-based selections and appointments.
However, social media is important but lacks transparency. This is the reason the transparency initiatives targeted at promoting social accountability have proved ineffective. Capacity building of institutions would remain ineffective if the incentives to improve performance are weak. We have seen that due to weak incentives and treating incompetence and competence in the same way, reforms have been sabotaged or repealed despite the use of innovative technologies.