The Pakistani media has been awash with heated debates over the ‘unconstitutionality’ of the concerns on good governance that General Raheel Sharif conveyed during the November 10 Corps Commanders’ conference. Opposition members of parliament pounced upon the army chief’s advice in order to settle scores with the government. The discourse in the media clearly stemmed from the civilian government’s displeasure over the advice coming from a “constitutionally subordinate institution”.
But was this really something unusual given Pakistan for decades has been guided by the military establishment and an erratic, self-serving civilian ruling elite? Certainly not. So, why all the fuss? Let us first see how the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific defines good governance. It describes it as “decision-making by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)”. It also identifies eight major characteristics that constitute good governance: a system that is participatory, consensus-oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive, and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimised, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. Can the federal and provincial governments claim they are following all or some of these ingredients of good governance? The answer is largely in the negative on many counts.
Despite Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s rosy projections, Pakistan is ranked a lowly 138 out of 189 countries on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2016 ranking. Has the government elevated or jolted the confidence of multinationals already operating in a fragile situation? We understand that the FBR is acting like a ‘robber baron’ to extract funds for its IMF-dictated resource mobilisation campaign. In a high-handed, unbecoming manner, individuals and businesses are being asked to cough up funds to meet IMF demands. This state of affairs will certainly not encourage foreign investments, nor will other countries remove travel advisories for those of their citizens intending to visit Pakistan.
The recent Midterm Report Card for Members of National Assembly (MNA), launched by Alif Ailaan, states that only three out of a total of 272 elected MNAs managed an overall ‘A’ grade in the scorecard for progress in terms of school facilities, student retention, gender parity and the student-teacher ratio in public schools of their constituencies. So much for the democrats’ love and commitment to education! Has the Model Town case of 2014 or the Kasur child sexual abuse case been resolved to the satisfaction of the aggrieved? What steps have been taken so far to review and amend the dated Criminal Procedure Code or the 1861 Police Act — both being at the root of low conviction rates, heavy pendency and unreasonably protracted trials often to the disadvantage of the poor and the victims?
Has the Punjab government followed principles of transparency, fairness and the rule of law when approving funds for the Orange Line project or for the security of the Sharif family in Jati Umra? Removal of reluctant government officials and replacing them with yes men certainly doesn’t bespeak good governance. Hospitals, even in provincial and federal capitals, are extremely short on critical, life-saving vaccines and equipment, such as ventilators. Hospital administrations have to wait for months to get petty amounts approved, while pregnant women are forced to give birth on the stairs of hospitals. On the other hand, the bureaucracy and chief ministers hardly waste a minute in approving tens of millions for their own security, with some 2,751 police officials already in the service of the entire Sharif family. Is this good governance? Has the government transparently resolved fiascos such as the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Park and Nandipur project? Or do ‘democrats’ believe that the poor man’s vote makes them accountable for their deeds?
The list of such questions is endless and this obligates civilian rulers to handle the poor man’s trust, i.e., votes, with some sincerity. All stakeholders — politicians, bureaucracy, the military, media and the civil society — are supposed to raise concerns when there are administrative lapses and legal deviations, more so in a culture where abuse of power and deviation from the rule of law are norms. Votes from the public do not give our rulers the carte blanche for arbitrary and self-serving governance. Questions, like the ones raised by General Raheel, will continue to be asked as long as rulers continue to abhor the rule of law and transparency.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2015.