111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Art of policymaking

They say when you really love something the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it. As a nation, had we love for true democracy or good governance we would have got it by now. We are a nation madly in love with conspiracy theories and that is precisely what we get aplenty even after more than six decades of independence.

One can write a well-researched piece about the need for health centres or access to clean drinking water for highly vulnerable sections of the country’s population in the most widely read newspaper, and only a handful of people would notice. On the contrary, write about conspiracy theories and palace intrigues about the presumed tugs-of-war in the power corridors of the twin cities and everybody who is somebody would sit up and take notice. Such is the travesty, that where it comes to policy making, the priorities of our rulers and masses are no different.

Around the world, policymaking is not the exclusive domain of politicians; it is an inclusive process that involves all stakeholders. A bureaucrat is the implementer of the policy; therefore his input is imperative. A politician is the leader who inculcates ownership of the policy among the masses. Civil society and opinion makers play the role of constructive critics and the result is a refined policy that provides for the optimum utilisation of resources. A country with limited resources must adhere to these principles of policymaking in order to progress. The next rung on the ladder is decision-making, which has to be carried out in the same inclusive spirit.

The consultative process we have in this country is cosmetic; it is not substantive. Unless it is made substantive, policymaking will remain irrelevant. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why the real issues of the people are put on the back burner while power-grabbing takes centre stage. In Pakistan policymaking matters, but political mileage matters more and lies at the core of all decision-making. It seems that focus on policymaking is important only to the extent of being a chapter in our political parties’ manifestos, which even their leadership hardly reads let alone implements.

In Pakistan policy making matters, but political mileage matters more. The recurrent floods in Punjab have exposed the gap between decision-making and policymaking. While an amount of Rs74 billion on a couple of Metro bus projects gets the nod because of the political mileage to be gained from them, a dam near Chiniot with an estimated cost of Rs24bn and recommended by the disaster management authorities to mitigate floods has been deferred for lack of funds since 2009. Gimmicks are all that fascinate the media, bureaucrats, intellectuals and politicians. The masses can only suffer in silence.

There is a generally accepted, albeit wrong notion in Pakistan that being the direct representative of the people makes the politician superior to everyone else in the policymaking and decision-making loop. On the contrary, this is a systemic flaw that gives him the power to override the opinion of the bureaucrat, the technocrat, and the critic.

The vote bank that elevates the politician to decision-making and policymaking positions should only be a ticket to the position that a bureaucrat, a technocrat or a critic has reached by dint of his administrative capability, academic knowledge and critical analysis. Once there, all notions of superiority of one over the other should be relinquished. Only then is policymaking — free from personality biases and personal preferences — possible.

I hope for a time when somebody from the hordes of civil servants surrounding our political leaders would be given the confidence to stand up and articulate his sentiments and cite statistics without exaggeration or euphemistic glos­sing over of facts. Circ­ums­tan­tial evidence so far in the third term of the ruling party suggests it is difficult for a Pakistani politician to be wise even in retrospect.

Our love for gossip and rumour-mongering is grotesque at times. The most effective way to monitor Punjab’s flood relief effort in this age of communication would have been to set up a control centre in the chief minister’s secretariat: visiting flood-affected regions actually shifts the local administration’s focus from flood relief activities to the reception of the VVIP. However, it does not surprise me that the Punjab chief minister chose to conduct things in a way that could earn him maximum brownie points and also provide some use of his gum boots which were hitherto a shopping blunder. To be fair, had the chief minister not opted for this barnstorming, the frivolous media would have criticised him for not leaving his comfort zone. The situation in this country resembles a circus with the spectators (the general public) locked inside for as long as the show lasts.

The writer is a former civil servant. syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com

Syed Saadat, "Art of policymaking," Dawn. 2014-09-22.
Keywords: Social sciences , Socioeconomic issues , Social media , Social rights , Political aspects , Policy making , Decision making , Political parties , Disaster management , Civil servants , Civil society , Project-Metro bus , Society-Pakistan , Politicians , Bureaucracy , Democracy , Floods , Pakistan