Pakistan’s development landscape and leadership compulsions
In informal conversation across different segments of our population — young, middle aged and old — one is confronted with three questions: How to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity? What should be the focus of our development policy agenda? And what kind of leadership will help achieve this agenda?
Even though some good news are pouring in like improved foreign exchange reserve, favourable rating regarding the performance of our economy and some respite in acts of terrorism, general perception about the country’s future remains negative. Popular responses border around cost of living, institutional inability to deliver services in high demand and poor leadership. These perceptions might not be underpinned by hard empirical evidence, but reflect the hard reality of daily life human experiences.
Though claims from policy circles show that the incidence of poverty is on the decline, popular surveys don’t substantiate such claims. The gap between the poor and the rich, if anything, is widening at all fronts, be it economic opportunities, social mobility, educational opportunities or health care system. Sadly enough, this situation persists inspite of our democratic political dispensation, natural resource base and growth trends. The all-pervasive elitist mindset worsens this situation.
The development of people-centric development policy agenda must catalogue the challenges to be tackled to contain poverty and boost shared prosperity. As priority number one it was high time that our political leadership realised that the present poor human resource base and low skilled labour force would not give us an edge. Our current educational system is not producing the quality human resources that will enhance our competitive advantage. These graduates are only swelling the inventory of the unemployed labour force. Second, pressures on urban services due to ever rising urban population are choking these services. The recent rains that inundated all areas where poor reside bear testimony to the preceding view. Third, life insecurity, load shedding and water scarcity in our major cities add to the ordinary citizens miseries. Fourth, the corruption stories which decorate our national press don’t exude confidence in the leadership either.
The above situation calls for developing a development policy agenda to, at least, take steps in the right direction. What should be the salient features of this policy agenda? First, while it is important to improve our public schooling system, greater attention needs to be paid to the state of our public higher education system. For producing quality human capital, education, health and social protection of the vulnerable (children, women and older people) should get the highest share of the GDP.
Second, agriculture productivity, competitive and innovative manufacturing should be the focus for job creation. Increased private investment will demand macroeconomic stability. Promises being made must now be translated into reality by reducing the load shedding by fast tracking energy sector projects. Easy access to finance must be provided to encourage women entrepreneurs and for development of microenterprises. Immediate steps are needed for improving and creating accountable public service delivery system. Though we hear noises in the media about Rangers’ excesses in unearthing corruption, national leadership ought to converge on one page to strengthen all anti-corruption efforts regardless of how to achieve this objective.
Implementation of the above agenda will require robust and innovative institutional mechanisms since typical government departments lack the wherewithal for effective and efficient execution. One major fault line in these government departments is the stark absence of quality human capital. Regardless of the modern available technology to enhance institutional efficiency, it will not be possible without fewer but quality human resources.
While a lot of work is under execution or is at the planning stage and this augurs well for containing the menace of load shedding, speed is what is needed in the implementation of these projects. People who suffer during the 40+ Celsius temperature have run out of patience. They need results rather than more empty promises.
Given the on ground perceptions and the negative image being portrayed over the electronic media every moment, what type of leadership does Pakistan need today? The literature on leadership theories and institutional values are not in short supply. For instance many leaders preach pragmatism. But who are pragmatic leaders? Such leaders, according to some, are driven by expediency and are bereft of principles. Do we need such leaders? Certainly not.
In contrast to pragmatic leaders who may do anything to stay in power, and we can find many such leaders in our institutional domain, there are transformational leaders who champion change. Such leaders spring from an ideal to do what is right. Extreme examples of such leaders could be Socrates drinking hemlock or Columbus telling his questioners that he was sailing by faith. Merely talking about ‘Naya’ Pakistan doesn’t qualify a leader to be placed in this category.
In plain and simple words Pakistan needs leaders of character and integrity and not those who are blinded and intoxicated by power. There is an Urdu couplet which says something like this: intoxication of liquor leaves you but intoxication of power continues to grow, takes hold of you and finally drowns you. So, watch out, leaders.
The question of leaders’ character and integrity isn’t an ethical question. Instead it is a question of leaders’ attitude towards people. If a leader’s passion is power, and in Pakistan most of our leaders, sadly, fall in this category, he will use people merely as pawns to be manipulated. On the other hand, if the leader’s passion is to serve the people, to turn the economy from an elitist one to pro-poor, he will use his power to give people the quality of life that is due to them. And, he will govern with compassion and deep concern about the conditions in which people live and survive. This is how one can decide about the character and integrity of leaders. Such leaders will go the extra mile to carve out a development policy agenda that is pro-poor and non-elitist. For this such leaders will create an innovative institutional frame that will help them implement their development agendas and not continue to rely on empty slogans of ‘Naya’ Pakistan.