111 510 510 libonline@riphah.edu.pk Contact

Democratic times: Economic decision-making

There is always a lot going for democracy but its institutions have sooner or later had to deliver or face the breakdown of social contract. A social contract is not necessarily a well written document but something that is perceived by the population at large. In such a situation the intangibles of social life become more important. The poorest of the poor will make comments that would ultimately affect the outcome for and of democracy. At a recent talk show on agriculture I was asked by the anchor person as to what agriculture always was on the back burner and why despite the majority of the elected representative being from the agriculture sector do not bring in desirable policies that could help the farmer. In recent days I have had activists come to me for a heart to heart talk and despite my efforts at telling them that I am no longer in decision-making they still persist. My friends from Bahawalpur and Cholistan were here and they saw the ever emerging gap between the rural and the urban living. If these people saw the effect of exclusion what would be the impact on the people that live in far-flung and deprived areas.

If one was to see the anchors and their discussion partners then Pakistan have either done everything well or as the opposition puts it nothing is working. The truth is somewhere in between. The tragedy is to do with another aspect of life. Institutions are not free to work on their own steam. Those that have captured the TV time can say anything about anyone and the one factor that is important is loyalty to the political system. Is it possible to have a position of authority without paying lip service to the boss?

Can there be a concourse between the political bosses and the bureaucratic system? Can the lowest be allowed to work under stipulated guidelines? Is audit of their functions important especially in the rural areas where the assets are acquired by the powerful through these upfront institutions? Is financial audit the only way forward in accountability? Can the decision making be checked? What was the function of the Ombudsman? I had an interesting meeting with a Canadian ombudsman and I asked him what would be the consequences of a failure of their institution? He was pretty candid and said that the institution was to remove all kinds of nuisances in the system. How that was done was dependent on the culture of each country but if this were not to be done then there would be inevitable collapse of the governance of that country.

What comprises concourse and what is the impact of this on the economic events in a country where resources are limited? A concourse represents a place where ideas, positions, opinions, arguments, criticisms, models and theories run together in a seemingly chaotic way. An economic and a democratic concourse would mean the collective construction, distribution, application and limitation of political authority. Given our culture is it possible for apolitical system or a bureaucratic system to sustain itself. There are so many who will shoot their emotions just for the sake of criticism without ever considering how fair or unfair they are being. Power is not about using force it is much more subtle. I had seen the use of power in former East Pakistan and I maintain that power would be self-defeating and the goals would never be achieved. This is what has happened in the Peripheral areas and this is what has happened in Karachi and Balochistan. Governance is a fine art to be dealt with a light touch. Those seeking power entry points are merely pushing democracy in the wrong direction. No one can save democracy by verbal means. If it has to stay it would be based on governance of the many systems that have to run concurrently. How then will conflicting political and economic systems resolve such conflicts? Do we have a mechanism or is the one dependent on APCs. The democratic institutions’ decisions are meant to be taken in parliament and that institution has been made weak by the absence of thoughtful discussions and the absence of debate in that forum. In fact the institution of and the characteristics of the Speaker’s position has never been understood. The Speaker is always from the opposition party referring back to the times of king James of England. That is always done so that the opposition is confident of getting their rights. It’s not about blocking speaking rights to any one.

Are politically convenient decisions economically correct and informed? Or are these misallocations of scarce resources? Are the poorest of the poor to be looked after or are the rich and the powerful to have their ways?

Kindly have a consideration for the poor. Are they not of us? Is land acquisition not unfair? Is action not required? No action will be taken because under the garb of land acquisition the powerful can get anything done. They can rough up the poor of their only asset that they have-land. It is being done ever since colonial times. Should the system then be about future course of action and developing a consensus on the way forward? The debate is about informed individuals taking part in a decent way. It is not about I have done no wrong and therefore you can go wherever you want to. The loyalists have to be loyal to a state and not to a government or a political party. The debates are not in Parliament but a slogging match on the TV channels. That is how we are.

So where will this take us? The collapse of the system in Pakistan means that the goondas will have an open invitation to do anything. Bhatta khori that was rampant in Karachi will now be here in other parts of Pakistan. The police are helpless. Law and order has broken down and the inevitable will take place? Economic democracy is about debate and how to make the rupee go further. It is not about egos of the powerful? It is not about drum beating? But then we are Pakistanis that have a narcissistic attitude in which the powers that be think that they are indispensable. Well when the shove comes they are helpless. It is necessary to have safety valves in a social system if only to blow off the hot air and to allow the poor and the weak to have their say if not their way. The pleasures of the rich have no place in the system of governance. It is the pain of being in power that holds everyone together.

But then go to the functioning of any institutions in Pakistan and you will come face to face with reality. In seeking justice you will come face to face with arrogance and injustice. Try it my friends. The pleasures of the rich are served by incontinence. Governments are about helping people not putting them in jail. Try decency and goodwill for once and get your mouth sharp shooters out of the way. Unemployment means deterioration in social systems. It means that crimes against property will increase and they have. We are incapable of governing ourselves and the evidence is pretty damning. The solutions are getting knowledgeable and upright persons in positions of authority. Why not?

Dr Zafar Altaf, "Democratic times: Economic decision-making," Business recorder. 2014-05-10.
Keywords: Economics , Economic issues , Economic policy , Economic system , Economic growth , Political issues , Agriculture , Population , Audit , Balochistan , Karachi , Pakistan