Crisis of Good Governance in Pakistan

Outlines

  • Introduction

  • Manifestations of Crisis of Good Governance Caused by Institutional Decay

  • Increased violation of human rights

  • Weak writ of the state

  • Increased gender discrimination

  •  Tragic fate of ethnic and religious minorities

  • Entrenched poverty

  • Lingering deprivations coupled with acutesense  of marginalization among majority of masses

  • Abysmal health care sector

  • Widespread illiteracy

  • Failing education system

  • Abysmal conditions in the judicial system

  • What are the much-needed Reforms, the Absence of which has Given Rise to the Country’s Governance Woes?

  • Need of holistic intervention in the education sector

  • De-politicization of the bureaucracy

  • Decentralization of power to the grass-root level

  • Extraordinary emphasis on transparency in the affairs of the state by robust legislation increasing public access to information

  • Promoting a strong and vibrant accountability culture

  • A major overhaul of the taxation system to bring the holy cows in the tax net

  • Moving towards formal and documented economy

  • Substantive land reforms

  • Privatizing public sector enterprises to eliminate their status as white elephants

  • Massive reforms in the election commission

  • Judicial reforms

  • Conclusion

There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is faced with formidable problems of governance. And, institutional decay coupled with the absence of reforms in the key areas of governance is the main driving force behind these problems.

To one can deny the fact that good governance is the result of strong and independent institutions of the state. These institutions need to be built, nurtured and sustained on durable footing in order to make them stronger than individuals. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, successive regimes under self-centric rulers have deliberately weakened the key institutions of the state in order to reinforce their vested interests. Since independence, little effort has been made to build institutions on a stable footing. Resultantly, institutions are so weak that individuals have taken precedence over institutions. Needless to say, massive erosion of key institutions has given rise to formidable problems of governance. These problems are so overwhelming that they have plunged the entire country into a shambles, giving birth to the crisis of governance of alarming proportions. The state of governance is so critical that different terms like failed state, crisis state, fragile state etc. have surfaced to describe the prevailing situation. This crisis is not manifested in any single institution; rather all the institutions present a deplorable picture of governance. Socially, the public sector institutions are in such mess that they have failed to deliver on many fronts. Their failure, on one hand, has perpetuated the deprivation of basic necessities of life like food, clothing and shelter; while on the other, it has made health care and basic education rare commodities for the public. As regards security, security institutions are so dilapidated that terrorism has become a norm, triggering an environment of entrenched insecurity and fear among the masses. As far as economic aspect is concerned, the picture is bleak and depressing as well. Economic stagnation has not only fuelled the vicious cycle of poverty, turning huge population into an unbearable burden, but has also intensified the malaises like gender discrimination, extremism and illiteracy in the society. The lamentable performance of institutions on the social and economic fronts has, in turn, led to the massive erosion of public faith in the democratic set-up, perpetuating political instability in the country.

Pakistan’s quality of governance has not just slipped; it has collapsed due to the crippling failure of key institutions. Deliberate weakening of key institutions coupled with political elite’s failure to take tough and unpopular decisions regarding much needed reforms in key areas of governance is mainly responsible for such alarming failure. Lack of political will to initiate reforms on the part of rulers has not only accelerated the institutional decay, undermining the internal structure of institutions, but has also rendered them incapacitated towards service delivery, hence compounding the problems of the masses on multiple fronts. Needless to say, institutional disrepair has given birth to a plethora of ramifications on the socio-political and economic landscape, taking heavy toll on the common masses. It would be quite pertinent to shed light on the effects of institutional decav on various fronts.

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One of the dismal indicators of crisis of governance has manifested in Pakistan in increased violation of human rights. There is no denying that human rights are the bedrock of human development. However, due to constant weakening of the law enforcement and security institutions, human development has been acutely hampered by the abuse of human rights. Violence and militant extremism pose a serious threat to people’s right to life and security. Suicide bombings, armed attacks and killings by the militant outfits have become a norm rather than aberration, targeting almost all segments of population – religious and ethnic minorities, security personnel, health workers, lawyers, and journalists. Aside from the abuse of rights to life and security, right to free speech has also been impinged adversely. Due to immense pressure, many media outlets and journalists practise self-censorship, avoiding reporting on or criticizing human rights, violations in counter-terrorism operations. Besides, violation of women’s rights has become a routine. Violence against women including rape, honour killings, acid attacks, domestic violence and forced and early marriages, has made the country a hard place for females. Along with women, violent attacks on the trans-genders also remain a routine. Adding fuel to the fire, the right to fair trial is also subjected to abuse in the form of forced disappearance of some dissenting people.

The picture of abuse of human rights further becomes dispiriting and dismal when one analyses abuse of right to equality. Inequalities and marginalization are pervasive across various groups of people, most prominent being women and religious minorities. Entrenched gender discrimination in the country presents a fairly concerning picture of the crippling failure of state institutions, especially political ones. Women are faced with a plethora of unequal opportunities on many fronts. On one hand, they face discrimination with respect to productive assets, such as the right to land and property; while on the other, they are subjected to inequalities in education, increasing their vulnerability to illiteracy and poverty. Women are unable to make major strides in all walks of life. Despite the country entering in its 70th year of independence, women are still unable to be productive economic actors, prudent decision-makers, visionary leaders, compassionate volunteers and constructive peacekeepers. They are faced with vast disparities in health, education, employment, skills development and civic participation. Access to employment opportunities has become a Herculean task for many women. Woman-owned businesses in the country seem to be a figment of the imagination. Lower female participation in the workforce is highly dismal and depressing. All this points to the fact that women’s economic empowerment is really a hard nut to crack. Women are faced with great obstacles in overcoming their traditional roles. Males continue to dominate the guardianship system, which prevents women from engaging in fundamental tasks without the permission of a male relative or without being accompanied. Society poses multiple challenges to what women can achieve and contribute. Regressive norms, values and legal frameworks are designed in such a way that they accelerate discrimination against women, domestic violence, and sexual harassment in public places. There is no doubt that prevailing gender gaps owe their strength and vitality to the intensely dilapidated state institutions in the socio-economic and political spheres, making gender equality and women’s empowerment an impossible dream.

Along with women, ethnic and religious minorities also meet the same tragic fate. It goes without saying that prevalence of worst conditions for the minorities is one of the leading indicators of dismal human development in the country. The situation is highly critical on many fronts as far as safeguarding the rights of ethnic and religious minorities is concerned. They are one of the most poor, marginalized and vulnerable groups in the country. They are not only faced with violent extremism, but they also bear the brunt of exclusion from education, employment opportunities, administrative and political positions, increasing their vulnerability to extreme poverty. Besides, their access to health care and social services is also much dismal than the other segments of population. In short, they are treated as second class citizens in their own country. Briefly speaking, such plight of minorities in the country is symptomatic of weak and frail institutions.

Apart from minorities, other segments of population are also embroiled in extremely hard conditions due to constant crisis of good governance in the country. Majority of population are trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. Poverty is so ingrained in the social and economic structures that the deprivations of one generation in education, health and income are carried over to the other generations. With population growing at high level, the clutches of poverty get further stronger on the lives of people, turning them into an unbearable burden for the country. Adding fuel to the fire, due to the emergence of challenges like climate change, epidemics, and violent extremism, more people are pushed below the poverty line each year. These challenges not only undermine the progress of those who have moved out of poverty, generating new deprivations, but they also widen human development gaps to such alarming proportions that bright and promising future for the coming generations is under heavy shadows. Due to persisting economic stagnation in the country, many people are also forced to become economic refugees, searching for jobs in other countries, hoping to enhance their livelihoods and send money back home.

Due to crippling failure of state institutions in the socio-economic and political spheres, the effects of poverty are far-reaching. It not only constrains people’s access to resources, but it also exacerbates development challenges in the form of lingering deprivations. Majority of masses are faced with the denial of basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter. Such basic deprivations are so pronounced that many segments of population remain excluded from the socio-economic mainstream. Such exclusion not only causes pronounced long-lasting effects on their capabilities, but it also reduces their voice in the socio-economic and political system, resulting in an acute sense of marginalization among them. An ingrained sense of alienation among many segments of population, on one hand, leads to the erosion of nationalism in the country; while on the other, it enhances people’s susceptibility to militancy and extremism.

Apart from militancy and extremism, state institutions’ failure to eliminate poverty has also constrained a large number of people’s access to health care, leading to abysmal health indicators. Due to scarcity of infrastructure of health care in the public sector, the vacuum has been filled by the private sector, making health care highly unaffordable for the majority of the masses. The ruling politicians’ obsession with the grand projects of highways, motorways, underpasses and flyovers has exacerbated the scarcity of physical infrastructure in the health care sector to alarming proportions. Besides shortage of infrastructure, the prevalent conditions in the public hospitals are exceedingly pathetic. Patients are seen crawling like vermin on the floors of hospitals due to scarcity of beds. Doctors’ absenteeism and scarcity of medicines further compound the abysmal picture of public health care. All this has led to dismal health indicators in the country, which manifest mainly in the form of high infant and maternal mortality rates. In addition to that, state institutions in the public sector have also failed to enhance people’s access to other basic social services. Many people have poor access to improved sanitation, with many people resorting to open defecation, a major source of transmittable diseases such as cholera. Majority of people still have poor access to an improved source of water. And with rapid urbanization across the country, the proportion of the urban population living in slums has increased considerably, further exacerbating the health indicators.

The destructive effects of the weak institutions are also reflected in the education sector. Pakistan’s education system is highly mismanaged and chaotic. Its poor management has given birth to many challenges the country is facing presently. The most prominent among them is illiteracy which is so widespread in the society that a large number of people are unable to become productive members of the society; they are unable to make major strides in all walks of life. Due to snail-paced literacy rate, a large number of children remain out of school. The gap in literacy between men and women is also on rise, showing no improvement in literacy among women. Widespread illiteracy has made gender equality and women’s empowerment an impossible dream. Apart from gender inequality, illiteracy also plays a key role in fuelling militancy and extremism in the country. Millions of poor and illiterate people serve as fodder for the militant and extremist outfits.

The story of crisis of good governance does not end here. It goes far ahead. The crisis of good governance is also reflected in the judicial institutions which are rotten to the core. The concepts of fair trial and expeditious justice are alien to the prevailing system. Besides, legal justice is so expensive that it is beyond the reach of poor and disadvantaged people who can rarely afford the cost of legal processes. High cost of access to justice leads people resort to informal judicial institutions like Jirga and Panchayat’, which is a dismal testimony of the abysmal failure of formal judicial institutions. The poor availability of police stations and courts in remote areas coupled with lack of awareness and legal knowledge among the masses further add to their problems.

The alarming ramifications unleashed by the crisis of good governance clearly point to the fact that they are the upshot of lack of much-needed reforms in the key areas of governance. In the tragic journey of governance, the state under successive regimes has simply abdicated its responsibilities, which should have remained central to improving governance in the country. It has always avoided making hard and unpopular choices to reform the state, which has, undoubtedly, resulted in the alarming erosion of the key institutions At this point, it would be quite appropriate to take into account the long-neglected reforms in the key areas of governance.

There is overwhelming consensus among the educated circles that lack of reforms in the education sector is primarily responsible for the country’s governance woes. The education sector is in such dire conditions that it needs holistic intervention. The state’s continued abdication of its responsibility to make education its top priority is, undoubtedly, a main reason behind the country’s education miseries. There is no denying the fact that failing education system has engendered the social evils of poverty and illiteracy, which are the root causes of governance challenges. Due to these entrenched social evils, majority of the masses are unable participate in the socio-economic and political mainstream of the country, thus leaving the entire system at the mercy of the elite class, which is, to be sure, main driving force behind the emergence of elitist form of democracy in the country. Such form of democracy is primarily responsible for the absence of inclusive governance, allowing the political elite to blatantly trample the basic rights of the majority of the masses. This is why the state under the successive regimes has deliberately avoided injecting reforms in the education sector, keeping majority of masses illiterate. The political elite are well conscious of the fact that education is the foundation of the vibrant and right-conscious citizenry, a prerequisite for good governance. Briefly speaking, reforming the education sector is a must at this critical juncture, and this is only possible through diverting major chunk of resources towards the educational sector. Once education is recipient of hefty allocation of resources, the country can be liberated from most of its educational miseries. More importantly, the spread of education will also go a long way in curtailing the extremist tendencies in the society, hence debilitating the crisis of governance to great extent.

Equally important is the injection of reforms in the executive body to inake it more public-centric and people oriented by curtailing political influence on it. There is no denying that political shadow is so immense on the bureaucracy that it has eroded the internal structure of the institutions. Owing to overwhelming political influence, the institutions having direct dealings with the general masses have been metamorphosed into blood-sucking bugs feeding on the very public they are meant to serve. Additionally, political influence has given rise to the evils of favouritism and nepotism, which are at the forefront in placing inept persons on the key posts. Needless to say, the principle of ‘right man for the right job’ is in short supply in the key institutions of the country. If reasonable limitations by robust legislation are placed on the powers of ruling politicians with respect to transfers and postings of bureaucrats, the governance scenario can be ameliorated to great extent.

Coupled with de-politicization, decentralization of power to the grass-root level is also indispensable for making institutions tools of efficient and expeditious delivery of basic services. There are no two opinions on the fact that centralization of powers is the result of both politicians and bureaucrats’ greed for unlimited power. To be sure, centralized governance results in massive increase in corruption as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Too much power vested in few hands is not only against the basic principle of justice, but it also undermines the prospects of inclusive governance in the society. Briefly speaking, trickle down of power to the local level is central to coping with the governance challenges so that majority of the masses could reap from the governance dividends.

The tale of reforms cannot be completed without mentioning transparency. Transparency, being one of the main pillars of good governance, contributes greatly to mitigating the governance woes. The reverse is also true. Lack of transparency in the government’s dealings not only exacerbates corruption as corruption takes place in the shadows, but also leads to alarming disconnect between the rulers and the masses, The element of transparency has long been neglected by the rulers under successive regimes in the country. The level of transparency is so miserable that majority of masses are quite in the dark about the management of affairs, especially financial ones, by the state. Despite influx of digital technology, almost all the institutions are still engaged in the manual way of working. Needless to say, such alarming level of transparency has created huge space for the state authorities to indulge in financial embezzlement at the cost of public interest. Unsurprisingly, this aspect of governance is in dire need of reforms. It is high time that the authorities introduced legislation to boost public access to information regarding the governments’ dealings. Coupled with robust legislation, reforms should be introduced regarding use of digital technology. like computerized maintenance of record along with its availability on websites, so that public access to information could be accelerated in order to make governance more inclusive and responsive.

It is an admitted fact that the existence of transparency is meaningless unless it is accompanied with vibrant and ruthless accountability. In other words, accountability is the bedrock of good governance. Governance without vibrant and indiscriminate accountability becomes an instrument of public oppression and exploitation. This is so true in case of Pakistan. Since its very creation, the country has been beset by the absence of an efficient and non-selective accountability culture. Undoubtedly, such absence has given rise to the forces of corruption in all spheres of governance, eroding the very roots of institutions. To be sure, such alarming situation is the corollary of absence of reforms in the accountability institutions. For their parochial interests, the political elite have deliberately weakened these institutions by neglecting reforms. Adding fuel to the fire, these institutions have been used as tools of victimization of political opponents, resulting in the phenomenon of selective accountability in the country. Briefly speaking, the accountability institutions are in dire need of reforms, especially with respect to resource allocation and appointment of persons on the key posts in these institutions. If these institutions are liberated of their politicization, it may give rise to impartial and independent accountability culture in the country. If not, the situation will continue to remain what Senator Cato had said about Rome: “Simple thieves lie in prison and in stock; public thieves walk abroad in gold and silk.”

There is no denying the fact that one of the reasons behind crisis of governance in the country is lack of abundant resources at the disposal of the state. Due to crunch in resources, the state is usually compelled to make meagre budgetary allocations for the key institutions. It can be inferred that abundant revenues are prerequisite for the state to reform the institutions. Needless to say, these revenues come from the taxes. Hence, reforming the taxation machinery is indispensable for boosting the state’s revenues. Without an iota of doubt, the taxation machinery of the state is infested with many flaws. This quite explains the fact of dismal tax to GDP ratio in the country. Alarming tax to GDP ratio, to be sure, is symptomatic of crisis of governance in the country. It is high time that the state introduced major reforms in the taxation machinery in order to enforce a more effective system of collecting taxes. Among the key reforms are extending the reach of the tax collection machinery to the grass-root level coupled with bringing the political elite into the tax net. Convincing the public to pay taxes is not possible unless political elite becomes the role model with respect to tax payments. Besides, it is also important to bring agriculture in the tax net, given the fact that agriculture is one of main contributors towards the economy.

It goes without saying that improving the state’s revenues by promoting efficient tax culture is not possible without taking hard and unpopular decision of documentation of economy. The fact that major parts of the economy are informal and undocumented is an alarming indication of crisis of governance. To be sure, this aspect of governance is in dire need of reforms. It is high time the state broke out of the cycle of informal and undocumented economy. Although it is huge challenge for the state but given the gravity of crisis of governance, moving towards documentation of economy is central to tackling the governance miseries in the country.

Coupled with documentation of the economy, much neglected land reforms are also essential to relieve majority of masses in rural areas of the vicious cycle of poverty. Land, a key asset in the rural areas, is mainly in possession of the feudal lords. Honestly speaking, land reforms will not only give a death blow to the curse of feudalism, but will also help considerably in coping with the social evils of illiteracy and poverty. However, it cannot be denied that the decision of land reforms is a Herculean task for the state. But keeping in view the role of poverty in aggravating the governance challenges in the country, it is necessary for the state to swallow the hard pill of land reforms.

Quite hand in hand with land reforms, privatization of public sector enterprises (PSES) is also significant challenge for the state. State entities like Pakistan Railway. Pakistan Steel Mill, PIA etc. have become white elephants for the state, devouring major chunk of resources every year, thus putting extra strains on the national exchequer. Privatizing these bodies has long been suggested by the educated circles. However, rulers have always avoided taking this hard and unpopular decision. Hence, in the larger interests of the state, it is necessary that these white elephants should be privatized.

Equally important are the reforms in the election commission of the country. There is no denying the fact that lack of reforms in the election commission has resulted in a plethora of diseased norms in the political culture of the country. More important of such norms is the lavish spending on the election campaigns which has made politics ‘the game of the rich’. Coupled with lavish spending, the culture of dynastic politics has further added to the country’s political miseries. Needless to say, these diseased practices have metamorphosed democracy in the country into kakistocracy the government by the worst people. It can be inferred that reforms in the election commission are a must to cure the country of its political ills.

It is all the more important to inject reforms into the ailing judicial body. Like all other institutions, the judicial bodies are also beleaguered by alarming flaws, making them a pathetic picture of disappointment. The successive governments’ adherence to absence of reforms has turned the legal system into an instrument of public torment and victimization, making judicial justice one of the rare commodities in the state. Coupled with its poor availability, its enormous cost has further aggravated the situation, making it out of the reach of majority of the masses, especially ones at the bottom rungs of the social ladder. Unless the judicial institutions are reformed, the picture of governance will continue to remain dismal and depressing.

To conclude, it can be said that Pakistan is in severe grip of governance challenges. These challenges are so dire that the country is almost on the verge of anarchy. Undeniably, such alarming crisis of governance is the result of weak institutions coupled with lack of reforms in the key areas of governance. Owing to massive erosion of institutions, all the institutions, be it institutions concerning law enforcement, revenue collection, delivery of basic services like education, health, social welfare etc. are in grave mess, calling for urgent reforms on large scale. It is high time the state introduced these reforms from top to bottom, making governance a tool of public welfare and prosperity in the society.

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