Tag Archives: governance

Unpacking the governance debate

If the intent of the unregulated media and a recalcitrant establishment is to dismiss the government to achieve better governance then this is at best a delusional goal
Recent weeks have witnessed a supercilious debate on how the current government’s misgovernance is a potent reason to boot it out. Governance is about decisions, resources and management of public affairs. The sad reality is that Pakistan’s media now controls and spins the public discourse on these issues. The popular media never wanted this government to begin with. Since 2007, it sided with the ‘clean’ and morally correct lawyers’ movement that presented an alternative to the corrupt politicians and shunned the 2008 election. First, it vilified Benazir Bhutto for making a deal with the Generals on initiating a transition towards a power-sharing arrangement. This was a classic worldview of the urban middle class, which has never been a keen participant of the messy electoral politics that brings rural politicians with fake degrees at the helm of affairs.
The second critical moment was the election of the President, which sparked an unprecedented media trial with stories (mostly unsubstantiated) of Zardari’s corruption. There was a strong alliance between the local and the global media churning out a thousand stories highlighting his insanity, fallibility and venality. This happened despite the full confidence expressed by Zardari’s party and its allies. A rare federal consensus over the election of a President was undermined and the media perception intensified how all the crooks stand together to rob the country once again.
Now the third moment in the aftermath of the floods has arrived; and the high-pitched voices against the politicians have reached their peak. The charge-sheet is long but, in a nutshell, states that the feudal politicians were inept in handling the July-August 2010 disaster and harmed the poor to save their lands. This is a simplistic conclusion that has emerged without proper inquiry and mainly through anecdotes from the urban anchors visiting rural victims and interpreting their anguish as a condemnation of the politicos.
Discussions around regime change have strongly articulated the displeasure of the unelected institutions of the state on ‘governance’. The media has faithfully reported that the Army is unhappy about the corrupt ministers still in office and the looming economic crisis. The Judiciary is perturbed, as its judgement on NRO remains partially unimplemented and key appointments reek of illegality. The perennial power-seeker class of politicians has started to reconfigure the political landscape while fringe parties like Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf and the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami want to seize this opportunity for short term gains. The ever-ready crop of technocrats is also getting anxious due to the anonymous contacts being made by the invisible elements of the state.
This display of crass opportunism by Pakistan’s traditional elites is nothing new. Since 1947 (including that fateful year), they have cared little for the ordinary citizens. But the alarming aspect of our present dilemma is the way Pakistan’s much-touted free media has become an instrument in spurring political instability. The endemic problem with Pakistan’s governance is that regardless of the government in power, the state (if we were to include all the dominant classes in the wider definition) remains disconnected and disengaged with the citizens. What is more worrying is that the state no longer is a monolith as it has delegated the state’s monopoly powers to faith-based militant groups which are ready to exploit its increasing inability to ‘govern’.
With 20 million people still struggling to reclaim their livelihoods, entitlements (such as land), shelter and security, Pakistan’s establishment and its politicians are all but willing to do anything about it. It is therefore problematic to see a legitimately elected government preparing a summary on NRO cases for 34 out of 8,000 beneficiaries and the Supreme Court chiding it like an accused party. Or, to read about the panicky meetings of the PPP while the latter should be strategising about re-enacting the NDMA legislation or preparing a resource mobilisation strategy to rehabilitate the flood victims and reconstruct the damaged infrastructure.
Equally disturbing is to witness the saga of Courts in effect suspending new Constitutional provisions while they are expressly not mandated to do that; and placing abstract notions of people’s will above the Constitution. In a similar vein, the Army has a separate fund for flood relief and the elected Public Accounts Committee cannot be given the details of how and why a Rs 5 billion supplementary grant was given to the country’s premier intelligence agency.
The argument on misgovernance by a coalition government is bogus when unelected institutions of the state are unaccountable, non-transparent and unwilling to accept the oversight of public representatives. Until the Army budgets can be audited, and judges are appointed through parliamentary commissions and the bureaucracy is answerable to legislature, we will continue to swirl in a vicious cycle of political instability.
If the intent of the unregulated media and a recalcitrant establishment is to dismiss the government to achieve better governance, then this is at best a delusional goal. Pakistan cannot afford another upheaval and the recent signals by the Army that it wants stability are welcome. But then Pakistan is an unpredictable polity with a growing constituency for suicide missions. Strange times, indeed.
Raza Rumi is a writer and policy expert based in Lahore. He blogs at http://razarumi.com. Email: razarumi@gmail.com
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Addressing the challenges – a short term agenda

Raza Rumi

Strange things are happening. Two months after a natural disaster hit millions of people and created essential prerequisites for an economic meltdown, the focus of Pakistan’s ruling elite — elected and unelected — remains on power politics. As if the utter lack of preparedness to cope with a disaster was not enough, the response to the disaster and its monitoring by a holier than thou media is baffling.

The primal cause of the post floods mismanagement, if were to believe the analysts on prime time TV and opinion piece writers from the press, is the corrupt clique headed by Mr. Zardari. Those with the most religious bent of minds have cited a divine wrath as a cause of this calamity. A few right wing newspapers have even blamed the United States and India to have caused this natural disaster to punish Pakistan for its nuclear weapons. The genesis of such intellectual confusion and distortion of public debate lies in the way the Pakistani mind has evolved into a hydra-headed, paranoid and militarised being. This has been the greatest contribution of the Pakistani state to shape and craft a society that places a premium on nuclear weapons over citizen welfare and which demonises the political process and celebrates religious militancy as a just cause. This is why militarism of a softer variety is back in full force.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan army has done a tremendous job in rescuing people and ensuring that relief efforts are well-executed. However, this is neither unusual nor a matter of surprise as it happens to be an organised institution. But to apply this success in an emergency situation by a force trained to deal with urgent situations onto the domain of national governance brings back the central issue of Pakistan’s statehood: the unresolved and now perhaps a permanent civil-military imbalance. It started with the TV channels eulogising army efforts and creating a binary between the army and the civvies — a half truth and a rhetorical polemic with little substance. This was followed by calls for army intervention by the MQM and its nemesis, Mr Imran Khan. Luckily, for Pakistan the Generals appear to be in no mood to intervene and rock the applecart. Well, at least for now. Continue reading

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Collapsing local governance

By Raza Rumi

Recent floods have exposed the capacity of the state to govern, especially at the local level. The disintegration of local state is not a recent phenomenon. The continued experimentation with and frequent strangulation of local governance arrangements have led to a situation that Pakistan’s burgeoning population is now without a representative, accountable local state.

Erosion of state writ: Three historical trends are noticeable for their impact on the overall governance and the writ of the state. First, centralisation is a tendency that is most attractive to those who govern Pakistan at the federal and provincial levels. The post-colonial Pakistani state has retained the official obsession of controlling power and patronage at the top and denuding the local space for democratic development and sound mechanisms of accountability. Secondly, granting local autonomy has, by and large, been a smokescreen for powerful military governments to bypass provincial politics and control the levers of state and society from above. Thus, we have an established pattern: local government experiments flourish under authoritarian regimes and get undermined whenever democracy, a la Pakistani variety, returns. Finally, the constant denial of a responsive state at the local level has led to erosion of state legitimacy and the void has been filled in by mafias, politico-criminal gangs and militant non-state actors.
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Post-floods: Pakistan must embrace a comprehensive reform agenda

Raza Rumi

Pakistan’s recent disaster has exposed the long standing crisis of statehood. It would be a cliché to state that even the best prepared country would have been swamped by the scale of the floods. However, the flood also exposed our failing state and never before have we witnessed such radical damage wreaked on the governance institutions in the country.

Beyond the early recovery phase: The enormity of the humanitarian crisis requires concerted planning and a seamless transition into the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase. A key reason for the skepticism of citizens and the international community relates to the obvious challenges of governing Pakistan and ensuring that the state delivers on its inherent mandates. Humanitarian assistance has been forthcoming and the pundits’ credibility-deficit argument has been trashed by the world as it made pledges of over 600 million dollars. However, resources for the post-relief phase are uncertain. The usual recipe of the international economic order through IFI loans seems to be the only solution in sight unless the world wakes up to the potential long term consequences of this disaster and finds other ways than to increase its debt.

Financing challenges: A bigger challenge that faces Pakistan’s crumbling governance is related to financing the disaster-management. Already, competition between the Pakistani state agencies and the United Nations system seems to be apparent. The intentions of the UN notwithstanding, its inefficiencies (such as high administration costs) are all too well known. Similarly, the funding tensions between the federal and provincial governments will also come to light as and when assistance arrives. The criteria are unclear – Punjab wants it according to the damage while the smaller provinces are already talking about the state of ‘relative devastation’ and losses. This is something that the national council of common interest will have to resolve, lest it creates more fissures and becomes another pretext for an extra constitutional upheaval. Continue reading

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State accountability – all is not that bleak

Raza Rumi

Earlier, I had written a piece on citizen accountability and Jhang model innovated by a bureaucrat – Zubair Bhatti – who ironically resigned from the civil service. I am posting a video of his talk and the article for readers here at PTH.

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Governance failure: Anarchy or speedy justice?

Faisal Naseem Chaudhry has contributed this excellent piece for PTH. Apparently, the Supreme Court has taken notice of this incident. But this incident itself is reflective of the growing frustration among Pakistanis with respect to governance and in particualr the failures of the criminal justice system. As Faisal says people have lost faith in the judicial system, no matter whosoever heads the institution! Whilst Pakistan gears its creaky state machinery to face the monumental challenges ahead, this incident is a parable of our times. The pending reform agenda of improving the police, the courts and administration cannot be further delayed lest we want to promote anarchy and mayhem in the country. Raza Rumi

A horrifying incident took place in Mauza Buttar District Sialkot on 15 August when two alleged dacoits were not only stoned and beaten to death rather their dead bodies were hanged upside down for four hours in the presence of District Police Officer (DPO Sialkot), and later put on a tractor-trolley for public exhibition. According to the printed news appearing in Daily Express, Daily Khabrein, and Daily Pakistan;

1. A total of 4 dacoits were robbing people of their belongings at 6 AM on 15 August.

2. One namely Bilal was killed by the dacoits. A few others were injured.

3. Those injured were strong enough to get hold of two dacoits whereas remaining 2 managed to flee successfully.

4. The captured one were beaten and stoned to death, dead-bodies hanged with a pole.

5. After ‘negotiations’ the bodies were handed over to Police.

6. A case has been registered against the deceased ‘dacoits’ and their buddies who managed to flee the scene.

7. The grand-father of the deceased dacoits stated that one of them was a Hafiz-e-Quran; both were brothers and were going on a motorcycle to play cricket in the morning after SEHRI. When they were passing by the place of incident, they were apprehended by the village men (perhaps because they were riding a motorcycle and dacoits do it) and mercilessly killed.

The above incident reminds us of an incident dated February 2010 when two dacoits were burnt alive in Karachi. Continue reading

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Saving the Capital

The recent decision of the Supreme Court to order closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad is path-breaking

It has become a cliché to praise the Supreme Court of Pakistan these days. Clichéd, because many partisan agendas find resonance within the all-embracing spectrum of judicial activism. Those who have been critical of judges turning into activists must rethink their misgivings. While the dangers of such blanket approval of the workings of a state institution are apparent, it is still a welcome change in a country known for its culture of impunity. This is why the recent decision of the mighty Supreme Court to have ordered the closure of a multinational food chain restaurant in Islamabad’s ill-designed public park is path-breaking.
First of all, the fact that a municipal matter reached an overburdened superior court speaks much about the dysfunctional executive that manages our lives. That the court had the wisdom to uphold the rights of ordinary Islamabadites marks a new beginning which, if taken to its logical end, would mean that all public spaces in Pakistan should come under intense judicial scrutiny. Lastly, the court’s effort to enforce accountability could very well turn out to be a new beginning in our murky public affairs.
Effective municipal management requires that we revisit the urban governance frameworks that are now outdated to handle the population growth, changed needs of the population and dwindling state capacity to enforce regulations. Notwithstanding that Islamabad is fifteen kilometres away from the real Pakistan, the management practices are no different from the rest of the country. Essentially, the Islamabad saga reveals a case of serious governance failure. Continue reading

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