A new dawn is possible.
The predominant debate on TV, print and social media is obsessionally and disproportionately focused on issues like, ‘are civil and military on one page or more’, ‘if the army chief is going or staying’, ‘who will be the next chief’ and more recently on censorship of ‘Joyland’ or the performance of Babar Azam. It almost seems as if one would not be considered an intellectual, liberal or progressive unless one can push-fit the above themes in every discussion as the most serious problems of Pakistan. Sadly much of this debate has no relevance or impact on the lives of the ordinary people or the real issues that haunt Pakistan today.
Insolvent, unstable and unsustainable – economically, politically and socially, Pakistan faces numerous fundamental problems, that are entirely missing from our national debate. There are at least five critical aspects of governance that call for an urgent and collective response. These are: failure to control alarming and unsustainable rise in population; failure to stop the economic violence against 70 million workers by the elite of this country; failure to make our colonial bureaucracy adopt modern digital methods of governance; failure to provide any education (leave aside quality education) to more than half of our children and failure to collect taxes. Only 1.4% population files tax returns, of which one third declare a zero tax liability. We could learn much from countries like Canada where 76% population and UK where 57% people file tax returns.
A prerequisite for progress is willingness to acknowledge one’s failures. Pakistan simply refuses to learn this lesson. It appears to have little remorse, concern or understanding of its crumbling systems, depleting resources and impending bankruptcy. There is no serious urgency, dialogue or plan to rebuild this broken-down structure. There is unmistakable evidence of Pakistan on an irreversible self-destruct course, with only an outside chance of recovery.
The first step for progress and moving forward is to end the cacophony of irrelevance and shed the state of denial we are in. The existing dysfunctional and decomposed governance mechanisms, people and processes have no capacity to handle the nature of crisis we are in. Our bureaucratic and political system has broken down and atrophied beyond belief. We can no longer even sweep our streets – a task well known to Homo Sapiens 5000 years ago. Pakistan now sublets these tasks to Chinese and Turkish companies. Instead it would be far more rewarding to replace our existing inflated cabinet of 76 clueless ministers by just ten highly qualified and skilled non-political individuals, chosen from across the globe. This could perhaps mean a presidential form of government – a chemotherapy that we must be willing to undergo.
The existing government machinery is a parasite that consumes almost the entire budget for its own maintenance and benefits, adding negligible value to the purpose of its being. Only as an example, consider the Sindh Child Protection Department, which last year consumed its entire budget of Rs73 million on its own salaries, perks, vehicles, fuel, phones, repairs and celebrations – without adding an iota of benefit for the protection of children. With minor variations, this pattern of budget consumption is consistent and self-serving across the board. Thousands of directors and director generals, completely inept and non-productive, suck out the largest portion of budget for their official cars, perks, televisions and other wasteful luxuries. Our only escape lies in closing down many of our non-productive ministries, departments and commissions and downsizing the rest to half.
It is time that we recognise that our salvation depends neither on the appointment of the next army chief nor the next political government. We have seen them come and go for seventy five years. Instead, our survival lies in acknowledging that our state is dysfunctional and imploding. We can begin by harshly focusing on the core issues described above, learning from the rest of the world and restructuring afresh our dilapidated governance and its archaic processes.
Nov 21, 2022