What is the cause of sustained scientific, technological and innovative development in the West? What makes the West so advanced socially and economically, and better from the rest of the world? Why Western societies are politically stable enough to ensure continuity of democratic regimes for the last many decades and even centuries? Why do disasters cause surprisingly low number of casualties in North American countries? How foreign policies of Western countries are designed that they are anticipatory enough to cater for the needs of decades to come? How did the US succeed to maintain its unchallengeable status of global power for seven decades? How did China transformed from an opium-addicted nation to a global economic giant within only four decades? What were the reasons when India and Bangladesh outpaced Pakistan in early 2000s in all economic and social indicators despite the fact that they were far below us in all annual GDP growth and human development indices during first four decades after partition and Fall of Dhaka? Why couldn’t we maintain the hard-earned annual GDP growth of six percent and above despite impressive economic performance up to the 1990s?

The most direct and straight answer to all these questions is: the institutions. Robust, dynamic, independent, de-politicized and responsive state institutions are the underlying factors that helped Europe, North America and China achieve a fast-paced growth and economic development. On the other hand, absence of such institutions is responsible for a plethora of social, economic and political challenges due to which countries like Pakistan are plunging into the abyss of stagnant economic growth and deteriorating social indicators.

Sociologically, an institution is an organized system of social relationships and embodies certain common values and procedures and meets certain basic needs of a given society. This definition dwells on two fundamental underpinnings: concept (notion, idea, doctrine and interests) and common procedure, that is, standardized behavioural patterns followed by a sociological group. Broadly speaking, there are five types of institutions: economic, religious, political, legal and recreational. Out of these, economic, political and legal institutions have a determinant role in increasing or decreasing the ability of a state in the areas of service-delivery, conflict-resolution, economic management, social advancement, law and order, rule of law, dispensation of justice and social integration. These institutions are vulnerable to state interference and, hence, demand continued inputs for better performance. Recreational and religious institutions, on the other hand, are somewhat resistant to deliberate reformative approach, and require internal, sustained and incessant informal efforts to be able to serve the needs of the people.

Institutional incapacities are causing heavy losses to the state and people of Pakistan. There are multiple factors that are responsible for long-festering institutional shortcomings. These include politicization of public-sector departments which has resulted into nepotism, favouritism and politically-biased and patronage-based service delivery; lack of continuity of democratic regimes and the bitter and grim legacy of military regimes that severely undermined the capability of civilian institutions to deliver; meagre revenue generation that has crippled the political and operational autonomy of these institutions leading them to dependency on budgetary allocations; and the criminal negligence on the part of the government to formulate well-thought-out reform package for public-sector institutions to enhance their capacity to enable them to tackle the challenges of the 21st-century and meet the aspirations of 207 million Pakistanis.

Currently, Pakistan is passing through the most tumultuous period of its history. We are facing unprecedented internal and external problems. The menace of climate change has further aggravated due to institutional mismanagement and has brought us to the brink of a water-scarcity-led disaster; the economy is crumbling under the burden of mounting debts, ever-widening deficits and fast-depleting foreign exchange reserves; the hard-earned dividends from successful war on terror are at stake owing to increasing diplomatic isolation and non-acknowledgement of our huge sacrifices in the form of colossal losses in men and material – more than $120 billion and 70,000 lives; the infrastructure of basic amenities such as public health, education, transportation and information communication facilities is dilapidated and in dire need of restructuring; we are suffering from food, nutritional and energy insecurity that is causing profound economic, social and political consequences; the six parameters of good governance – government effectiveness, control of corruption, regulatory quality, political stability and absence of violence, ease of doing business and corruption perception – are being ranked constantly low in rankings maintained by the World Bank and other global institutions; not only are macroeconomic indicators suggesting the fragile health of the country’s economy, social indicators such as life expectancy, maternal mortality rate, infant mortality rate, adult literacy, net enrolment ratio, access to clean drinking water, widespread endemic diseases and out-of-school children, too, are presenting picture of deteriorating potential of our human capital.

To tackle all these challenges effectively and sustainably, we need to chalk out comprehensive and well-deliberated reform package that engages all types of institutions, especially the economic, political and legal ones. In this regard, following remedial and corrective steps are urgently required.

Political institutions such as parliament, political parties, Election Commission of Pakistan, national and provincial governments and local bodies play a vital role in ensuring accountability, improvement and advancement of democratic traditions and political stability. Unfortunately, even the most supreme political institution i.e. parliament, has failed to carry out its core three functions: drafting and passing progressive legislation, providing parliamentary oversight through Public Accounts Committee and other standing and petition committees, and representation of public aspirations and interests.

As far as parliament is concerned, capacity-building of its members through effective training and refresher courses; making sure their attendance in regular sessions; increased media coverage of important sessions of parliament; empowering the standing and petition committees; reduction in size of constituencies to make parliament more representative; introduction of direct election to the Senate; and issuance of development funds to local bodies rather than MNAs and MPAs would go a long way in improving the performance of parliament and thereby reinvigorating public trust in it. It is beyond any shadow of doubt that political instability caused by Panama Papers scandal could have been averted, had the political parties shown political maturity and spirit of accountability and merit. The undemocratic decision-making in parties and arbitrary discretionary powers in the hands of a party’s top brass is inimical to the democratic traditions. And, it is the very reason of our chronic leadership crisis as the leadership does not let any other worker to express his independent opinions.

The democratization of political parties through ECP-conducted intraparty elections is imperative to provide the country with fresh blood and new ideas. Structural, legislative, financial and administrative reforms are also imperative in the ECP to empower it and to ensure that it conducts free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections independently. Local bodies’ role in strengthening democracy, improving service-delivery, fostering genuine political leadership and making efficient and productive utilization of resources is self-evident.

Despite the passage of the landmark 18th Constitutional Amendment that mandated the devolution of power, the provincial governments are reluctant to genuinely devolve power to the local governments. The LGs are working without financial resources and operational autonomy. Barring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all provinces enacted Local Bodies Acts and, consequently, installed local governments, but they are still financially handcuffed and administratively dependent on country’s bureaucracy. It is extremely important to empower the local bodies as per the aspirations of the people for ‘local problems, local solutions’.

Better economic governance is inextricably linked to political stability, execution of public welfare projects, improvement in social and economic indicators, robust foreign policy, regional connectivity, cordial relations with immediate and distant neighbours and enhancement in geoeconomic and geostrategic relevance of the country. Unfortunately, our economic institutions are too fragile to undertake radical reforms by themselves; hence, governmental interference is inevitable to their restructuring. Federal Board of Revenue, Securities and Exchange of Pakistan, State Bank of Pakistan are some of the vital institutions that require immediate, radical reforms. In addition to these, there are dozens of other miserably performing public sector enterprises that are a constant burden on our national kitty.

De-politicization, empowerment, operational and financial autonomy, three-step privatization – corporatization, commercialization and privatization – complete or partial, of the PSEs, enhanced budgetary allocations as per international standards for public health and education to improve on human development index, business-friendly regulatory frameworks to encourage foreign direct investment, utilization of public resources for enhancing the productivity of our industrial, agricultural and services sectors, introduction of public-private partnership model in public institutions that are responsible for research and development to improve the global competitive index of our finished products, reorientation of our foreign policy with more focus on geoeconomic considerations rather than geostrategic ones, establishment of state-sponsored think tanks exclusively responsible for carrying out research to improve trade and foreign policy and encouragement of institutional sub-legislature to enhance the policy formulation and implementation capacity of public institutions can pave the way for better economic governance.

Given that we are already suffering from drought-like situation and more than 20 percent of our GDP is dependent on timely availability of water, it is extremely important to have full-fledged federal ministry for water that should oversee the development of catchment areas and reservation, protection and development for water reservoirs. This proposed ministry should be assisted through research institutions, well-equipped Pakistan Meteorology Department, IRSA, provincial departments of irrigation, agriculture, extension and forestry, in a bid to formulate and implement comprehensive, well-delineated and dynamic water policy to protect Pakistan from imminent drought that is very likely to hit Pakistan – if we fail to undertake remedial measures – around 2025.

Speedy dispensation of justice, improved law and order situation, rule of law, conflict-resolution, protection of fundamental human rights, interpretation of constitution, protection of life, property and honour of people, subordinate legislation on the part of institutions in order to improve the effectiveness, responsiveness, discipline and to ensure better rankings on the Corruption Perception Index are the exclusive domains of legal institutions. Parliament, courts, tribunals, bar councils and Supreme Judicial Council are some of the key legal institutions currently working in Pakistan. In this regard, strengthening, through legislative and executive means, the civilian anti-terrorism courts, making transparent the appointment of judges in apex courts via increased parliamentary oversight, introducing mechanism in bar councils that any wrongdoings on the part of lawyers or groups of lawyers are punished and no leniency is shown from legal fraternity, enactment of mandatory SOPs for providing security to witnesses, judges and other law professionals through enlisting the support of executive agencies, introduction of reforms in civil and criminal procedure codes in order to make litigation and adjudication cost- and time-effective, legalization of alternate dispute resolution to lessen the burden on lower and higher judiciary, increase in number of judges – pendency of 1.2 million cases against the total availability of 4000 judges is unmanageable backlog – are some of the remedial and immediately required measures. Institutions responsible for accountability and law and order work are ancillary to the judiciary. It is also essential to introduce radical reforms to NAB, FIR, police and other civilian law-enforcement agencies to improve investigation and prosecution with an aim to help judiciary adjudicate cases speedily.

Capacity-building of public institutions to undertake basic functions of policy formulation and execution, modernization through equipping them with latest information technology tools to help them better cope with the 21st century challenges, de-politicization in a bid to provide complete administrative autonomy, providing space for nongovernment organizations to ensure the provision of education- and health-related facilities in remote areas, structural reforms in executive, legislature and judiciary and strict adherence to separation of powers with mutually-agreed checks and balances are some of the pressing needs if we want to steer Pakistan out of multiple, multi-faceted and multidimensional challenges. One can hope that the upcoming government would undertake institutional reforms on urgent basis.

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