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Governance – the dark aspects thereof

After the comments of the CoAS about ‘governance’ became common knowledge, for the past fortnight official spokesmen have been busy pointing out how “good” has been the governance of the state under the PML-N regime. They may go on denying governance failures in the context of containing corruption that finances terrorism but what about the other gruesome failures?

While the Pew Research Centre recently came up with an amazing discovery about the level of ‘popularity’ Nawaz Sharif enjoys, other research centres are coming out with far more realistic research-based conclusions about the profile of governance of the state under his premiership – conclusions that place in doubt the discovery by Pew Research Centre.

These research centres have highlighted many areas of bad governance globally. On the World Food Day, research reports released by the International Union of Food and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research disclosed that South Asian nations have failed to reduce poverty and hunger by 50 percent in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

According to these research reports, in the global population, close to 795 million people (ie approximately 12 percent of the total) are food deficient and the root cause of the global food crisis, hunger, and poverty, is lack of transparency and bad governance because state policies are not pro-people, which reflects an unforgivable failure of the “democracies” in Africa and South Asia.

The big governance failure in South Asia was that, while as a whole this region performed better than other developing regions (average GDP growth rate being 5.9 percent per annum during the last decade – second only to East Asia and the Pacific) and therefore per capita GDP kept rising, per capita incomes kept sliding pointing to rising inequity in the distribution of national wealth.

Pakistan earned another distinction too; agriculture and rural workers didn’t have access to even safe drinking water; they and their families drank dirty water because rivers and canals were polluted courtesy unchecked release of contaminated water into rivers and canals by factories. Besides, this dirty water also kept flowing into fields near big cities where vegetables were being grown.

Today, 37.5 million Pakistanis are food-deficient, 40 percent children are underweight, and malnutrition causes half of the child deaths. Add to this, the recent discovery of “factories” manufacturing fake medicines, and the scenario becomes twice as worrisome. Thanks to the operation “clean-up” launched by the defence services, at least these “factories” are being wound up.

Research results indicate that successive governments failed due to lack of administrative capacity, corruption, disregard of climate changes that caused natural disasters, unequal distribution of natural resources, working conditions becoming more precarious for the workers, inadequate social safety nets and, above all, rising unemployment – a mix that increased poverty and hunger.

What compounded this expanding mess was the virtual absence of laws and institutions for imposing them to ensure that working conditions in all sectors, especially undocumented sectors like agriculture, fisheries, livestock, and domestic, complied with the minimum requirements for providing secure working conditions, and limiting the work-time to 8 hours a day.

In its “Human Development in South Asia-2015” report released by the Mahbub-ul-Haq Human Development Centre, the key conclusion was that during the past three decades, despite producing enough food to ensure its availability to its growing population, the number of food insecure Pakistanis has been rising although, until 2003, out of every 10 only 4 were food insecure.

Given the rapid rise in inflation until 2014, these statistics worsened as proved by the frequent public protests against price increases of basic food items and rise in poverty and unemployment due to power load-shedding and closure of factories. In this backdrop, all that the government advises is to wait until 2018, ie the end of its term, for things to improve.

According to this report, despite an increase in agricultural productivity (consistently higher than the rise in population) the government failed to translate this advantage into commensurate reduction in poverty and malnutrition due to a combination of flawed economic policies on employment, food security, education, health, and empowerment of women.

This mix of goof-ups reflects all-round governance failure the reason there for is devolution of authority to the provinces in health, education, market and institutional regulation, development work, and taxation because, besides being overly suppressed (courtesy “wadera” raj in provinces), bureaucracy in the provinces also lacked the requisite administrative capacity.

This reality was repeatedly highlighted by observers during the last PPP regime (that virtually bamboozled the 18th constitutional amendment), but their fears were simply ignored because PPP is now the waderas’, not peoples’ party, and now that provincial bureaucrats (especially in Sindh) feel under threat due to the operation ‘clean-up’, things have become worse.

The PML-N government claims helping the poor via subsidies but ignores the fact that increasing indirect taxes at retail and wholesale levels nullifies the concessionary impact of the subsidies – taxes that now constitute 44 percent of the total federal revenue while direct taxes account for just 40 percent – an escalating distortion for which credit goes to the PML-N regime.

What policymakers in the ministries of finance and economic affairs don’t see is that this distortion is rapidly expanding the rich-poor divide because, instead of being surrendered to the FBR, the bulk of the indirect taxes is pocketed by the collecting agents. That indirect taxes levied at the retail and wholesale levels are enriching the players in these sectors at the cost of the poor doesn’t bother the policymakers.

PPP’s proclaimed initiative for containing inequalities was the BISP – a set-up designed to dish out alms instead of enabling the poor to learn ie acquire the ability to earn their living. This aspect of this initiative manifests a strategy for keeping the poor trapped in poverty but with just enough to survive and remain dependent on alms and thus pose no threat to the government.

That BISP, Zakat, and Bait-ul-Mal programmes have been misused to enrich some people has been exposed by the corruption of these programmes. As for poverty reduction the Structural Adjustment Programme and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme (PRSP I and II), they too have been ineffective in promoting food security and human development.

This continues despite the fact that, by 2011, Pakistan’s population falling below the poverty line (as per the national poverty line) had risen to 35.6 percent. Rise in inflation thereafter (primarily due rapid depreciation of the Rupee) worsened this scenario, and now close to 40 percent of the total population has fallen below the poverty line. Governance cannot be assured unless unbiased professionalism, not politicking, sets the socio-economic goals to be achieved.

A. B. Shahid, "Governance – the dark aspects thereof," Business recorder. 2015-11-24.
Keywords: Political science , Agricultural industries , Natural disasters , Economic policy , Social security , Food relief , Corruption , Education , National health services , World Food Day , Pakistan , South Asia , Africa , PRSP , BISP , PPPs , FBR , GDP