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Old Friday, January 28, 2011
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Default Poor governance & poverty - Shakeel Ahmed

Poor governance & poverty - Shakeel Ahmed

Theoretically governance is defined as the manner in which political and administrative power is exercised in the management of a country’s social and economic resources for development. In the case of Pakistan this need not be the case as political and administrative power can be and is in fact utilized for the economic and financial well being of the leadership in power. Good governance requires a vision and an executive and administrative understanding and capacity to utilize public revenues for human development such as education and health. Measured on this yardstick the government of President Zardari does not get even a passing grade. Good governance is held to be an essential pre-condition for pro-poor growth as it establishes the regulatory and legal framework essential for the sound functioning of land, labor, capital and other factor markets. This agenda is missing from President Zardari’s radar screen.

The overthrow of an elected government in 1999, the scrapping of the Constitution and the adoption of other unlawful actions clearly established that governance including adherence to the rule of law was the country’s foremost problem. The discontinuity in the democratic process accelerated corruption. Political instability resulted in disastrous consequences for the economy. For the first time in Pakistan’s chequered history, poverty reared its ugly head. Notwithstanding the import of private banker Shaukat Aziz as the country’s Finance Minister, and the installation of another World Bank import as the Governor, State Bank of Pakistan business confidence continued to wane, economic growth continued to worsen, and the country’s debt profile continued rising despite major debt relief granted by the donors in the wake of 9/11. The rich began to grow richer. Nearly one third of the country’s population fell below the poverty line.

The right to education and health is a basic entitlement. Development allocations in these sectors showed no improvement. With the introduction of devolution, there was a visible decline in the governance abilities. The deterioration is evident from the fact that funds allocated for education and health could not be fully utilized. The surrender of scarce funds at the end of the financial year was not treated as criminal negligence. No action was ever taken against those failing to fully perform this nation building task. Corruption flourished in the delivery of public services. There were hospitals and basic health units without medicines. Medicines meant for these health facilities were regularly sold in the market. The existence of ghost schools was endemic. Salaries were drawn regularly. The teachers never showed up for work. Artificial enrollment reports were sent to those who cared to receive them. Women and girls were the worst to suffer in this situation. The rich could afford to send their children for studies abroad or in expensive English medium private institutions at home. Children of the poor had nowhere to go. Those who have somehow managed to go on to colleges and universities are ill-motivated and abhor the acquisition of knowledge. Pakistan has rapidly fallen behind in the human development index.

Poverty is considered intolerable where strong state institutions exist. There was a serious undermining of state institutions when in the name of devolution, the age old and well established institution of the Deputy Commissioner and the Divisional Commissioner was abolished. Governance took a nose dive. The familiar and functional police system was also tinkered with in the name of reforms. The lack of public confidence in state institutions, including the police and judiciary, eroded their legitimacy and directly contributed to worsening conditions of poverty, public security and law and order. The present Government has been unable to carry thorough reforms to restore the legitimacy and performance of many institutions that are in desperate need of rehabilitation. These include the executive, administrative, and magisterial organs of the state. Its focus of attention is in promoting cronyism and ignoring their rapacious tendencies.

Investment helps generate employment and alleviate poverty. A stable and well functioning democratic system and an independent judiciary is fundamental to the creation of an enabling environment for domestic and foreign investment to take place.. The lack of transparency in public sector planning, budgeting and allocation of resources in Pakistan has ensured that those who do not constitute the political elite (read the poor and the vulnerable) are unable to make political leaders and the Government responsive to their needs or accountable to promises. This has led to a supply driven approach to service provision, with development priorities being determined not by potential beneficiaries but by an inefficient, dishonest and incompetent bureaucracy and a political elite which appears to be completely out of touch with reality. In order to tackle the rising trend of poverty, the government of President Zardari should re-arrange its priorities and assign improvement in governance as the foremost task. This is a key determinant of long term poverty. Poor governance tends to exacerbate the vulnerability of the lowest income groups in times such as those that have been ushered in by President Zardari”s government.

The writer is a member of the former Civil Service of Pakistan.

Poor governance & poverty - By Shakeel Ahmed @ Pakistan Herald
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