National priorities and institutions
Raashid Wali Janjua
12/10/2018

 

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have averred in “Why Nations Fail” that the nations fail not because of the geography, culture, and resources but the lack of inclusive political institutions. Nations like Pakistan that have inherited functional, albeit colonially grafted institutions, fail to develop inclusive institutions that combine participatory governance with the state objectives. Instead what we have are extractive institutions in which a tiny sliver of population earns rents as a consequence of government policies, cunningly contrived to benefit the few at the cost of many. The classic example in our national context is the industrial permit system that promoted crony capitalism, thriving on special concessions and exemptions by the government. Lack of institutions that could promote an institutionalized decision making for the benefit of both state as well as the people have resulted in a non- institutionalized decision making that resulted in the rise of personalized decision making based either on bureaucratic fiat or the political chicanery.

The inclusive institutions not only ensure an institutionalized decision making but inclusion of several stakeholders in the process of decision making that makes the possibility of arbitrary decisions serving the interests of few a distant possibility. The inclusive institutions according to Acemoglu and Robinson need to be sufficiently centralized to provide basic services like justice, health, education, and enforcement of contracts.

The extractive institutions can also result in provision of public goods and services besides delivering economic progress but would ultimately atrophy and fail under the weight of their own contradictions. Ancient Rome and Venice are quoted as exemplars of economic growth, based on inclusive political institutions and deceleration of the same growth, under the extractive institutions during the Julius Caeser’s dictatorship after a golden period of Roman republicanism. In recent times South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, and China prospered under non-inclusive political institutions and except China all developed into democratic societies, yielding question if democracy is a consequence or cause of inclusive institutions.

While the PML-N government at least had few infrastructure projects to flaunt and few in the pipeline the new government has nothing so far to show. The state of uncertainty and a virtual halt of development projects have begun to test the public patience

The crux of the argument by both writers ie inclusive institutions promote innovation and competition so vital for economic progress while the extractive institutions promote monopoly and inefficiency is quite relevant to our polity wherein a clique has ruled through fiat extracting benefits for the few at the cost of economic progress and egalitarianism. The present government needs to set its politico-economic priorities right in addition to developing inclusive political institutions that promote economic growth. The problems confronting this government are a legion, the foremost being the looming economic crisis followed by the security challenges both internal as well as external. What would one advise PTI government that has inherited the detritus of the past decade of mal governance? The first advice would be to take a stock of the economic and security challenges and to prioritize these for a politico-economic solution. The time is not on the government’s side and the challenges are mounting, not helped in the least by the policy paralysis due to over analysis. What the government needs direly is to take time by the forelock and address the urgent issues by maximum celerity.

What the PTI government has inherited is a charred institutional landscape due to non- institutionalized governance of the past two governments by PPP and PML-N. The national policy scene lacks a healthy menu of inclusive political institutions that have been deliberately neglected to benefit vested interests and influential lobbies in the country. Identification of these lobbies and their hidden vested interests is the first requirement for the callow apparatchiks of the fledgling PTI government. Some of these interests are painted in the patriotic hues which makes a confrontation with them a very difficult proposition.

In countries like Pakistan that are veritable national security states rather than a development state the taming of the stakeholders benefiting from a standoff on borders and a conflict in the interior is a tall order. The development and strengthening of the right institutions to steer the national security, economic, and foreign policies however is an idea whose time has come. If the present PTI government fails to rise above the usual political expediencies to create a set of political institutions capable of delivering economic growth, public services, and human security then the present democratic experiment might find an autocratic challenge in not too distant a future.

The first institution and priority to be focused on is the “Planning and Development” portfolio of the present government. Planning and Development Division needs to be strengthened to be able to give strategic policy direction to economic, power, housing, and infrastructural development ministries. This ministry needs to be completely overhauled and optimally resourced in terms of human resource, comprising the best and the brightest in the economic, public policy, power, infrastructure, and trade and commerce spheres. It should be the dynamo firing the economic, industrial, and power progress of the country. The ministry should be institutionally linked to the think tanks in the country that should be officially sponsored to be able to provide policy inputs. The planning ministry should be overseen by “Senate and National Assembly Committee on Planning and Development” comprising legislators with the right intellectual and educational background. Sufficient centralized control in planning needs to be kept at federal level. The eighteenth amendment needs to be revisited to give greater control to federal government in policy planning in line with Acemoglu’s prescription in his book.

The instruments of local governance should be suitably strengthened to empower people at grassroots level. More provinces should be created to improve service delivery and public administration. The anachronistic District Management System needs to be replaced by a new bureaucracy comprising specialists in the fields of administration, education, health, finance, and accounting. The executive should be truly separated from the judiciary and the judiciary overseen by the people’s representatives and the civil society. The second priority and institution to be set right is the judiciary.

Since judiciary is the fount of all justice zero tolerance for corruption and inefficiency should be ensured. Judiciary needs to be overseen by a “People’s Commission” comprising parliamentarians, members of judiciary, legal community, and civil society in a balanced proportion. This commission should be empowered to select judges for key appointments, and scrutinize their performance. Judges should not be allowed to be the sole arbiters of their performance, pay/pension benefits, and selection on key appointments.

The present system of selection of lawyers as judges of high courts without any competitive examination needs to be replaced by a proper selection system in which the final selection should be the responsibility of the “People’s Commission” proposed above. The rot in the lower judiciary in terms of inefficiency, work load, and corruption should be arrested through bold reforms and strict monitoring. The mal-practices and blackmailing of judges by the lawyers who have become too unruly due to higher judiciary’s inability to discipline them need to be eradicated through strict retributive action against the errant lawyers. Next on the reforms menu is the National Security Apparatus. Three institutions need strengthening ie Cabinet Committee on National Security, National Security Council including Advisor and his Secretariat, and Ministry of Defence. Pakistan must have a properly resourced National Security Advisor’s Secretariat on the lines of US National Security Council’s Secretariat and a Deputies Committee for inter-agency coordination. Ministry of Defence in its present form as a toothless body needs to be replaced by a properly functional ministry coordinating all major military functions.

With a fully functional and empowered Ministry of Defence organized either on the lines of British Ministry of Defence or Pentagon there is a need to bring all three services and Strategic Planning Division under Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Staff Headquarters should be organized to exercise operational as well as administrative control over the three services with respective services chiefs only responsible for force readiness, recruitment, and logistic functions. The fourth priority of the PTI government should be infrastructure, water resources, and power sources/grid development.

Even if no other threat poses existential challenge the runaway population would soon engulf us. Our roads are getting choked while our water resources run dry alongwith power shortages due to our long neglect of human as well as infrastructure development. PTI government is displaying a fatal flaw i.e too much focus on accountability while taking eyes off the ball in the sphere of development. People need jobs, health, education, public transport, housing and communication infrastructure badly while a sea of population rapidly drowns the existing inadequate public services. A drive down the traffic jam infested roads and over flowing sewers in shanty towns will drive home the horror staring us in the face. While the PML-N government at least had few infrastructure projects to flaunt and few in the pipeline the new government has nothing so far to show. The state of uncertainty and a virtual halt of development projects have begun to test the public patience. Rapid reforms, institutional development and public service delivery is the silver bullet that the government can dodge to its own peril.