Friday, October 1, 2010

The Change Pakistan Needs...Now!

So while I have been lazy and not writing anything, my cousin has been at it and came up with this interesting article about the need for more competence in the civilian government:

Pakistan is at a very crucial junction in her short and warped history. With the annual monsoon rains wreaking havoc and the armed forces stretched thin from providing relief to citizens from floods and militants, we are at our wits end. The irony here is that the political elite ceases to wake up and smell the rotten political air that has clouded Pakistan. Bickering over whether the Army should take over or how corrupt the current crop of politicians are, seems to have become a permanent feature in our national discourse. But the real question to be asked is – how do we pick ourselves up once our political elite has pounded us into the ground?

Why are 180 million held hostage to our politicians? With the National Reconciliation Ordinance hovering in the background in 2008, mixed with the unfortunate assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the PPP managed to garner enough votes to form the Federal government. They started of by installing the largest cabinet in history with tens of Federal Ministers, along with granting Minister-at-large status to many PPP stalwarts. I believe that although these Ministers carried with them a vote from the people, their appointment to some of the crucial Ministries is questionable, and detrimental.

In a Parliamentary form of democracy, the Prime Minister enjoys the right to appoint any elected politician to a particular ministry. Why does our democratic system – which should epitomize transparency and accountability – not have a vetting process for those members nominated to take charge of critical ministries? Why has such a process been absent from our political discourse when appointing Federal Ministers?

What needs to be condemned is the lack of professionals taking part in the political process. There are over 60 members of Parliament who enjoy the status of a Federal Minister within Pakistan today. Unfortunately, only a few are technocrats who have secured a portfolio to bring back Pakistan from the abyss. Information and Technology, Commerce, Industries & Production, Law, Education are only a few Ministries that require the need for adept candidates. These Ministries need to be taken over by qualified, skilled professionals who know the intricacies of such dense portfolios. Leaving them to be looked after by shrewd politicians will only confine us to the black hole we are stuck in today.

The question then arises, how should professionals be incorporated into the political system where they match the legitimacy of those who have secured a mandate from the electorate? A few options come to the forefront. First, technocrats become part of the ballot and seek votes to become a Member of Parliament. The second option is to enhance the capabilities of the Civil Service, which has brutally been ignored over the years and is currently being left to rot. Such an institution would groom competent and proficient individuals who would have the capacity to run the affairs of Ministries that require delicate attention. The third alternative is an amendment to our Constitution that would empower the Parliamentary Committees. This would allow elected officials to thoroughly scrutinize a nominee for a Federal Minister. Such individuals could be political or apolitical, but will gain legitimacy after having being vetted by those representing the electorate. Introducing this clause can provide specialization of labor, demand for greater qualifications and increase the quality of those seeking to be Ministers.

The above-mentioned solutions to our fractured Parliamentary system are farsighted but not out of reach. However, with the current state of affairs, we need to achieve a more viable resolution that would reform the current battered methodology of appointing Ministers.

Pakistan is not deficient in professionals. For the fiscal year 2010, Pakistan received $8.906 billion in the form of remittances. In order to bring about a game-changing solution – by addressing issues of the middle class – the Federal government (political parties) needs to seek out professionals. The Senate could be used to elect certain professionals in order to allow them to become part of the Cabinet. Thus, political parties need to utilize their political capital and assist proficient individuals in securing votes.

By bringing professionals into the arena, the Federal government can create efficiency within the Cabinet, free itself from big governance, empower the middle-class, gain public support and have a better chance of getting re-elected in the general elections. Such a move would allow elected members to devote greater time in their constituents (the reason for their election) by addressing social issues, while not having to delve on the intricacies of running critical Ministries.

The practice of placing subordinates to essential Ministries – who will toe the party line and uphold the status quo – can only cause more damage to a weakened nation. Our feeble and fragile democratic system needs to be challenged, but challenged through the political system. The Army is not a solution – and those with ranks on their shoulders need to be kept at bay. It is due to the incompetence of many Ministries across the board that has increased the call for a change in government. I am not endorsing such a policy, as it would be detrimental for the country - at this point in time. What Pakistan requires is a change within the political set-up that would cater to public sentiment and give power to an evaporated middle-class.


  1. Every time you flock like sheep to cast your piece of shit vote, your capitalist overlords turn the rope around your necks tighter, and cast you further down into the pit of slavery. All of you will die, and no one will save you, because your mothers no longer bear heroes, only slaves.Your made up gods will crumble, and when those who lead truthful lives reign again, you will see that you were blinded by greed. Creatures of the earth, death is upon you; Immortality was never your lot but of those who follow the light of truth. So rejoice in death, it is all you ever toiled for.

  2. The problem with having technocrats running ministries is that it absolves the bureaucracy of its responsibility. As Mosharraf Zaidi has written recently, the civil service has some of the smartest minds in the country, yet most of them show their prowess only after they leave the government for development agencies and businesses. As you've eluded to in this article, the best way forward is to empower the civil servants with better financial incentives and training programs. If you have an efficient and intelligent core in the ministry, even the most incompetent minister is likely to look decent.

  3. I agree with the article for the most part; managerial capacity is severely lacking in the public sector. Also agree with Umair: you can have both and civil service reform should be on top of any overarching reform agenda, which is saying a lot. In fact, I'm all for making selected ministries for-profit organizations...great results for Singapore, so - tested on a pilot basis - it could be the innovation we need.