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Navigating the path to progress

Governance has emerged as a key challenge in both developing and developed countries, presenting a range of complex and interconnected issues. The rapid pace of globalization and advancements in communication technology have introduced additional challenges and opportunities.

Public officials now require a different set of skills, expertise, values, attitudes, and knowledge to effectively navigate this changing landscape. The widespread use of the internet and social media has raised citizens’ expectations regarding the speed, quality, and personalization of public service delivery. With an educated and vocal citizenry, active media, vibrant judiciary, and political demand for change, public servants find themselves under intense public scrutiny while facing heightened expectations.

Governance during the four-year rule of Imran Khan’s PTI can only be described as ‘chaotic’. These years were marked by a turbulent economy, foreign policy, and security quagmires that seemed to have no end – failing on every front, and driven merely by empty rhetoric and rabid populist propaganda. The selection of chief ministers in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, choices for key ministerial positions and the musical chairs that continued throughout the tenure on key bureaucratic appointments are examples of the whimsical and chaotic governance approach citizens had to endure in the name of ‘change’.

Yet amidst this wreckage, the PML-N led coalition government did not shy away from taking responsibility. The first step toward redemption lies in forsaking narrow and short-term political gains. We dared to sacrifice political capital for the greater good, steering the ship towards fair negotiations with the IMF, making tough decisions to revive the stumbling economy, and working tirelessly to mend the damage on the foreign policy front.

Today, we stand tall and vindicated with hard-earned achievements that have reshaped the course of the nation. A recently secured IMF agreement breathed life into our economy, while the revival of the CPEC reaffirmed our commitment to a promising future. The unwavering support from our brethren in the Middle East stands as a testament to the strength of true alliances in times of adversity.

However, our journey has only restarted. Now is the time to envision a governance model anchored in terms of the Stability, Transparency, Agility, and Responsibility (STAR) principles. Adopting such a vision for governance is critical to achieve the targets we have set for the short and long term under the ‘5Es Framework to Turnaround Pakistan’. The 5Es prioritize Exports, Energy, Environment, E-Pakistan and Equity & Empowerment to ensure that we are able to meet our needs in 2035 and turn Pakistan into a $1 trillion economy by that time. Adopting the STAR governance approach is critical to enable the state and society to achieve these targets.

Stability lies at the heart of effective governance, threading the tapestry of inclusive, consultative, and evidence-based policies. Such policies are not forged in isolation but through collaborative working relations among all the organs of the state. From the legislature, executive and judiciary to the federal, provincial and local tiers of government, and encompassing the political leadership, bureaucracy, and military – every facet of governance must unite in a symphony of cooperation within the constitutional framework.

In the past, the PML-N has demonstrated the capacity to forge consensus on key national issues. These include the monumental NFC Award, CPEC, water accord and the first National Water Policy, Pakistan Digital Policy as well as the National Action Plan against terrorism. Vision 2025 itself was the most thorough consultative exercise that provided a unified holistic development agenda of Pakistan. By following a consultative and inclusive approach, we were able to forge consensus on shared prosperity and rid the country of the menace of terrorism.

Transparent governance serves as the bedrock of accountable and effective leadership and is built upon the principles of openness, accessibility, and proactive information sharing with the public. At its core lies the responsible and strategic utilization of data-driven policies, empowering citizens with easy access to relevant information through accessible platforms. By embracing transparency, corruption can be rooted and public accountability can be ensured at every level of government. In pursuit of transparency and accountability, it is essential to highlight achievements in the realm of financial integrity. In projects such as the multibillion-dollar CPEC undertaking and others, not a single rupee of corruption or financial anomaly has been substantiated, contrary to false claims made by political opponents. Recent efforts include the establishment of the PSDP portal, where all intricacies of development projects are made available online and easily accessible to the public.

Agile governance and a dynamic and forward-thinking approach empowers governments to navigate an ever-changing world with swift responses to emerging challenges and seizing of opportunities. Rooted in flexibility and adaptability, agile governance facilitates quick decision-making and integrates cutting-edge innovations and best practices. Again, during the PML-N’s tenures, several milestones such as resolving the energy crisis, improving infrastructure, building motorways, bus rapid transport systems, highways, and hydropower projects, have been achieved through agile governance. The execution of mega development projects worth $25 billion under CPEC in record time is another example of an agile approach towards governance.

Going forward, it is important that we make incremental but substantial improvements to public-sector management. We have already prepared a reforms package that is being published as part of the Pakistan Governance Roadmap 2023 after wide consultations. We need to prioritize performance management, subject specialization and create space for professionals in the public sector.

The professional development of civil servants must include training in data sciences and communications to incorporate evidence-based policymaking and engagement with the citizens through social media. We have established a ‘Champions of Reforms’ Network comprising leading professionals across sectoral areas and meaningfully involved them in policymaking. We have also inducted sector experts at the Planning Commission of Pakistan to enhance technical capacity of the public sector. Such initiatives must be continued, expanded and institutionalized.

We are focusing on leveraging technology and harnessing the potential of youth to bring fresh ideas, energy and efficiency in the public sector. We have established a Governance Innovation Lab and launched the Pakistan Innovation Fund at the Ministry of Planning & Development to effectively coordinate the process of tech-led modernization in the public sector. Similarly, we have launched Pakistan’s largest ever internship programme to provide valuable experience to bring young talent at an early stage of their career. The Young Development Fellows inducted at the Ministry of Planning & Development add substantial value to the functioning of the ministry and have spring-boarded their careers to impressive trajectories. Another recent example of stable, transparent, agile and responsible governance can be seen in Pakistan’s response to the 2022 floods. The Ministry of Planning, Development, and Special Initiatives swiftly conducted the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) to accurately assess the impact and facilitate timely recovery efforts. We were also able to formulate a resilient relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction (4RF) framework to guide the short to mid-term post floods effort. The international community reposed its trust on our efforts by pledging financing of nearly $10 billion on the basis of these plans at a time of dire need. Similarly, the government’s proactive response to combat dengue and polio showcases its commitment to safeguard public health and well-being. Indeed, to the credit of the PMLN, numerous examples can be cited where STAR governance is exemplified in crisis management and long-term planning.

In conclusion, we must restart the journey towards good governance and effective service delivery by ensuring policy continuity and political stability. Let us reject chaos, hatred and experimentation, and embrace responsible and stable governance. Together, we can build a prosperous and harmonious society, rooted in transparency, agility and responsibility.

Email: betterpakistan@gmail.com

Ahsan Iqbal, "Navigating the path to progress," The News. 2023-07-25.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Foreign policy , Transparency , Terrorism , Imran Khan , Pakistan , PDNA , PMLN