Marc-André Franche, the country director for UNDP Pakistan for four years, recently bade farewell to Pakistan to take a position as the Chief of Financing at the United Nations Peace building Fund. Unlike most of his peers from international development community, Marc has usually been found very vocal about the causes and consequences of Pakistan’s socioeconomic problems. In an interview published in Business Recorder (August 24, 2016), Mr Franche talked at length about various problems faced by Pakistan. Here are some key points, he discussed during the interview:
1. Pakistan’s Progress on Development
When you read the history of Pakistan, it was not obvious that this country would survive. There was a lot of criticism and people doubting that it will. Yet it has, and it has come very far and achieved a lot in many ways. But, at the same time, it is also extremely frustrating to see a country and people that are so capable and intelligent, not making more progress than they should in terms of poverty reduction, inequality, modernising the state, and functioning institutions.
The fact that even in 2016, Pakistan has 38 percent poverty; it has districts that live like sub-Saharan Africa; that the basic human rights of minorities, women and the people of FATA are not respected; that this country has not been able to get its act together and hold a census; or that it has not been able to push for reforms in FATA, an area that is institutionally living in 17th century.
2. Pakistani Elite
The critical change will happen in Pakistan only when the elite of this country, the politicians and the wealthy sections of the society, will sacrifice their short-term, individual and family interest, in the benefit of the nation. You cannot have a political class in this country that uses its power to enrich itself, and to favour its friends and families. This fundamental flaw needs to be corrected if Pakistan is to transform into a modern, progressive developed country.
Although I don’t see those circumstances emerging for that in Pakistan at the moment, it will eventually happen in one way or the other. You cannot have a country, where nearly 40 percent of the people live in poverty.
The fundamental reason that can attract them [people from elite class] is their self-interest. If they want to sell more products, they need a greater economy, they need more consumers. And certain small groups have already understood it, like the people in Sialkot who are not waiting for the government to build an airport. They understand this naturally, that the elite need to collaborate and invest in public good for their business to grow.
3. Rich-Poor Divide
Pakistan will not be able to survive with gated communities where you are completely isolated from the societies, where you are creating ghettos at one end and big huge malls for the rich at the other end. It is not the kind of society you want your kids to live in.
You cannot have an elite that takes advantage of very cheap and uneducated labour when it comes to making money, and when it is time to party it is found in London, and when it’s time to buy things it is in Dubai, and when it’s time to buy property it invests in Dubai or Europe or New York. The elite needs to decide do they want a country or not.
4. Local Government Systems
We are generally disappointed with the quality of local government laws that each province has developed. Only KP has a decent law that gives real power and real money to the local government. Local government does not mean that you just elect them and deny them fiscal resources or power. We have been advocating for a review of those laws. In KP, because they put in place a decent local government law, we are currently finalising the agreement with the provincial government to support them in local governance, focusing first on seven districts, one from each division.
5. Role of Media
Media is of course a business. But a business that does not contribute to the public good has very little utility. It is important that media houses make money, but the media is one of the pillars of democracy and in that capacity it has to educate the public. Unfortunately, the level of dependence of the government on military authorities, and the degree by which a lot of media in this country is manipulated by powerful sources, are sources of erosion of democracy and erosion of the institutions that are the foundations of this country.
6. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
If there is one issue that will be determining all of the UN’s sustainable development goals, it is what the world does with inequality. And it’s interesting that this is not only a developing country problem, it’s a global issue and it’s much harder to tackle inequality than it is to tackle poverty.
In Pakistan’s context, I am concerned about both; but more about inequality of rights and opportunities. The apartheid of opportunities in Pakistan is horrible, which is why so many young people are trying to leave the country. This is one of the issues that UNDP will continue to work on in Pakistan for sure — investing in both improving the quality of data, and the quality of analysis of inequality.
7. UNDP in Pakistan
UNDP is the generalist development agency of the UN, and in that sense we have the flexibility to adapt to each country context. We have what is called the UNDP strategic plan, where we set priorities globally, and within that here in Pakistan we chose those the government was interested in, and the programmes that we have now were agreed and signed formally with the government of Pakistan.
In Pakistan, the UNDP has remained focused on inclusive growth. But it is true that the strategic framework for economic growth that the previous administration had developed was not re-taken by the new authorities, though a lot of the elements from that framework were adopted in broad terms in the Vision 2025.
My focus has been in bringing that broad vision into concrete implementation, and deliver on that with the government and I think by and large we have achieved that.
About 35 percent of our spending is on FATA, 35 percent on KP, 15 percent on Balochistan, and the rest is spent nationally; including Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore. So, in total, about 85 percent of our spending is on FATA, KP and Balochistan.
UNDP’s Focus Areas
1. The UNDP is increasingly playing as a facilitator of public debate on poverty, equality, FATA reforms and so forth. Before I arrived, we hadn’t been playing such a role for a while, because we were very focussed on responding to disasters, floods, earthquakes, etc. We were always reactive to the latest crisis. I had the opportunity to establish a much greater role which is not only helping the government in developing its policy but also creating a space for policy dialogue with the civil society.
2. The second is the much greater investment in provinces; FATA, Balochistan and KP. A great proportion of our funding on the ground is now with the provinces. So there has been a big shift in the UNDP. Previously, we used work exclusively with the federal government, but now we have done a lot of decentralisation in terms of implementation, and created strong offices in Balochistan and Peshawar.
3. UNDP was used to doing so many different things. In the first six months that I was here, we were able to close about 144 projects, and instead focused only on seven areas by beefing up the expertise in knowledge management, and engagement with civil society and government in those seven areas.
Courtesy: Business Recorder