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Leadership and economics

Upon the conclusion of every single overseas visit I am filled with sadness and a deep sense of disillusionment. This is despite a divinely blessed deep reservoir of optimistic attitude and behaviour. This despair and desperation emerges out of a continuous comparison the mind engages in, on why and where we are today in an economic downslide as a nation and where the other countries are in every aspect of life; be it economic or social development. These sentiments or similar must be something that resonates with all my compatriots. They too I feel are equally distressed on our waywardness in every single facet of life. A lot of good admittedly also exists, but a lot more could have been achieved if the leadership had internal motivation to make national progress. We may have made individual progress but collectively we lag behind many countries.

We have spent (wasted) valuable seventy five years in merely experimenting various political and economic ideologies. The exercise has given us nothing except costs of severe nature, irreversible and irrevocable. A consistent lack of consistency in policymaking whether it be economic or political has brought us to the precipice of economic quicksand that seems to be attracting us with magnetic powers. Several countries that achieved independence much later than us have progressed in all facets and dimensions that define growth and development.

Almost fifty-one years back, when we lost half of our beloved country in 1971, the same time around a new country was born in the Middle East/Persian Gulf. The enlightened leaders of the seven Trucial States decided to form a Union that was christened to become “The United Arab Emirates”. The foresight of the Founder of the concept, Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahayan of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Shaikh Rashid bin Mukhtum of Dubai, alongside other Rulers of the remaining Emirates, were instrumental in forging and weaving the seven emirates into a sound and formidable Nation.

From 1971 to date, even on being a truncated country, we are in an unending economic morass, while the UAE that had absolutely no infrastructure, infact had nothing then, has emerged as an island of great economic progress , with visible benefits that have been passed on to its population. In the journey of progress, no sight was lost, in the upholding of the highest and sound principles of good governance and in the adaptation of internationally accepted best practices. Neither have they compromised their rich culture to economic well-being. Today’s UAE is very different even for those who lived and worked there in the decades of the 1990s and 2000s onwards.

A dispassionate introspection of the current economic disparity between us and many newly independent countries, inclusive of the UAE, would reveal to us, that the singular difference of distinction, is the, ‘Quality of Leadership’. Mahatir, Lee Kuan Yew, Park Chung Hee, Deng Xiaoping, they were all individuals , who were driven by an internalised passion of dedication towards growth of their respective countries; and these leaders gave the necessary economic foresight, and developed an economic vision for their countries. Besides the predominance of the quality of leadership, the other single most significant factor that facilitated and accelerated their economic progress has been their political stability.

Only a few of the newly industrialised countries had/ have full democracy as a political system; most were authoritatively administered through “managed democracy”. The concept has familiarity to the foreign exchange concept of “managed Float”; this allows for intervention by the regulators in the market should the exchange rates start to misbehave against the country’s preset objectives. The idealistic concept of power to the electorate wasn’t misused or abused for creating conditions of anarchy and social unrest. Instead the workforce was channelised, sometimes with an iron hand, towards creating highest levels of productivity.

The cornerstone of any political philosophy is to make available for the masses food, shelter and clothing security in the first place; only when these basic needs are met and satisfied, only then can any society indulge and romance with the sublime status of having other types of human rights. In hunger every man is an angry man. If deprived of the basic necessities, such societies cannot be expected to talk about a Westminster type of parliamentary democracy. The experience with democracy in the developing countries is that it is only poverty that is distributed well.

The discovery of ‘black gold’ (oil) led to literally striking an El Dorado by the Middle Eastern countries. The surge in oil price following the Ramadan War or the Arab-Israeli war in 1973 brought windfall profits and wealth to these countries. But certainly and surely, it wasn’t the petro dollars overflowing in the coffers that set the pace of economic development of the UAE; it was the benevolent, strong, firm and almost dictatorial leadership that ushered in economic growth. Devoid of such type of leadership, they (UAE) could be another Iraq, Libya or more appropriately, Nigeria, that boasts of huge reserves of oil and sells it in the international market, yet is dismally underdeveloped. Nigeria has rowdy version of democracy, where corruption reeks through every layer of society; hence their oil wealth has found residence in the palaces of the few elite and there is no trickle-down effect of any benefits being passed on to the poverty-ridden masses. Essentially, lack of leadership and bad governance is the root cause for the economic backwardness of Nigeria and many other developing countries.

Pakistan hasn’t been blest with mature and forward looking political, social or economic leadership. Every outgoing government was a mess and every incoming government is merely a promise. Our society represents collective failure to find and nourish quality and dedicated leadership. Our definition of democracy is always in a fluid state; with each induction, it finds to itself a newer dimension — inflicting policies that are self-serving to the privileged few. We have no economic vision; we are trapped in yearly budgets. A rudderless vessel, navigating itself upon the seas of troubled, turbulent times and circumstances.

Liberalism, in thought and action, in the UAE is slow and gradual, which is the finest way to do it too; because what use is it if the political system cannot give a better lifestyle to the citizens? On this score, each Emirate is progressing at its own need of speed. Abu Dhabi, the largest emirate in the Union, reflects a story of economic success, just like Dubai shines out with its economic dynamism. The initiative is led by an organisation that has the most appealing and apt acronym, “ADDED” (The Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development). In a recent press release the Statistics Centre of Abu Dhabi (SCAD) informs of a 9.3 % GDP growth estimation by the year end, in comparison to last year. This growth rate makes the emirate as the fastest growing economy in the Middle East and North Africa region. The robust economic framework that operates smoothly within the ambit of the legacy of its Founder; a legacy that is being carried forward by the successive leadership. The President and The Prime Minister are visible with their tireless efforts to bring greater economic stability and well-being to their people.

While all multilateral institutions are forecasting lower GDP growth rates for most countries, the UAE is forecasted to register a strong GDP growth by almost 2.8% during 2023.

Pakistan and its people played a significant role in the building of the Middle East, and in particular, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Kuwait. From professionals to labour, we made a contribution. The influence today is diminishing and is on a new decline, due to our own inadequacies of not enhancing the capacities and skills of our people, to match the speed of their transformation. The human capital is of low end value.

Essentially, it is therefore ‘Leadership’ that has made the UAE climb the ladder of economic growth to better heights and our leadership has led us to move several places down on the many indexes of economic and human development. It proves that we have talented people, who need to be harnessed to become more productive units of energy, but to do this, we need the following minimum: political stability, economic vision and planning and replacement of incompetence, owing to nepotism, with sincere and strong leadership. Leaders must have no personal stakes in business or wealth creation. They must remain above board; with zero tolerance to issues of conflict of interest.

Our political leadership would do a great favour to these 20 million odd hapless citizens, by spending less time in getting back at each other’s throats, privately, publicly and on television screens; and instead spend more of their productive hours at their work stations/offices, alongside their respective teams. If we can apply the work ethics that we exported and practiced in building other countries, what stops our leadership from exploiting that potential for domestic economic progress?  The need really is of honest, dedicated, selfless, and tireless leadership across the entire spectrum of the economy, society and politics. Pessimism is not my cup of coffee. Hope is not an intoxication; it is entrenched in Faith. We will be out of the woods. Leadership, where are you hiding for this long?

Sirajuddin Aziz, "Leadership and economics," Business recorder. 2023-06-07.
Keywords: Economics , Economic framework , Economic issues , Economic conflicts , Interest rate , GDP growth , Leadership , Shaikh Rashid , UAE

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