Olympics facts: (Reportedly) 24 officials 8 athletes, no medals, only one weightlifter shone, but without government support. Javelin shows promise. Meanwhile, even Qatar, the size of a minor city in Pakistan, wins 2 golds. The ratio of ’24/8′ tells us a lot about why Pakistan is
where it is. Pakistan is 74 years old.
That is three and a half working generations (average working life about 30 years). Without going into well-known details, there is an agreement in society on available evidence that Pakistan has been overtaken by most of our peers.
Our public policy and political dialog are all about “brick and mortar.” Without thought or research, we build away— roads, flyovers, underpasses, expensive metros for limited parts of cities instead of simple bus services, buildings without a clear purpose, housing for public sector workers, expensive whimsical projects without conducting any cost-benefit analysis.
Bad planning based on brick and mortar without thought, on the whims of leaders to the benefit of contractors, has also meant losing control over time and expense. It is not surprising that any attempt to measure the loss due to bad planning is seldom calculated. Estimates of the losses of insufficient planning by institutions such as the PIDE are ignored rather conveniently.
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Tradition of policy failures
Whatever development has taken place has taken place, it has been despite the government. The policy is of little interest to us as it takes time, effort, and research to make it, and what is described as the policy is often donor-pushed agendas quickly signed without review.
Without public discussion or scrutiny by our universities and academia, cabinets, ministers, and secretaries sign what the donors want. Donors often sell foreign trips for selling policies. With millennia of servitude to poor policy and projects (e.g., Taj Mahal), our people have sought much like our own Talib (the weightlifter) to work hard and push themselves out of poverty.
Hard work and dedication helped people escape poverty. Sometimes it was by escaping the government and setting up an enterprise outside the government, which we call “informal.” Some escaped the country to work hard in another country and help their families through remittances. In short, policy and projects have both failed us.
However, there is no attempt to revise this approach. If one thinks about this, one will see ’24/8.’ Pakistan’s government is all about officialdom, privilege, and arbitrary power. Technocracy, professionalism, and in particular, problem-solving through research innovation and hard work are considered unnecessary.
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Misplaced official priorities
Officials do as they please and travel to choice destinations much like the Olympics. Process, hard work, research creativity all take a back seat, while only status and hierarchy matter. ’24/8′ prevails everywhere in Pakistan.
As the sports industry is officialdom without sports, the policy is made without thought, research, and the hard work required to understand what needs to be done and why and how it should be done.
The word merit has not made it into our lexicon. Projects, programs, and policies are not based on merit and innovative thought. Trillions of Rupees have been spent providing facilities for fast cars in cities through signal-free corridors and flyovers only to find out what is well known fact that speed in cities is impossible.
When it comes to energy, officialdom thinks of importing coal-powered plants on long-term power purchase agreements even though most knowledgeable professionals give contrary advice. Officialdom relying on donor advice and money builds up social protection rather than growth and opportunity.
Officialdom wanted to run PIA, railways, and several SOEs on their whims, serving on the board of directors of these companies and even in executive positions. The losses are there for all to see. Meanwhile, Nobel Prizes have been won on the theme of how progress happens.
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The consensus that has emerged through several large-scale studies looking at all manner of experience and data is that economic and societal development happens through building a state with institutions that support creativity and innovation.
In other words, a state that nurtures creativity and ideas, which often are produced by professionals and not officialdom, leads to development. Is it any wonder that countries that produced Newton, Darwin, Keynes, and many others are leading the world?
Why do advanced countries spend on research and draw upon the best people to serve in policy, judicial and regulatory positions? Why don’t the US, UK, Japan, and other advanced countries outsource their policy to donors and international consultants?
Innovators: Champions of the modern era
Questions like these have inspired the need to prioritize idea development. Champions and technical expertise, as well as research, are needed for creative idea development. Officialdom is taking a back seat not only in games but also in policy and idea development.
Research by the best is commissioned, discussed, debated, and understood before a policy is made. The best people are sought to manage key agencies. Among the many things that the Second World War confirmed was the triumph of science and expertise.
Powerful weapons like radar, the atom bomb, and missiles were developed through organized research efforts led by mavericks like Feynman. Even the generals of the era learned to respect researchers and their individualism.
So successful was that war research effort, it laid the basis for a vast post-war effort to establish a research system in the warring countries. This research system has given birth to the space race, the mobile phone, and the internet, among other things.
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Ideas are everywhere and on everything related to humanity. Sometimes officials think that ideas are all about copying from the west. Or they conjecture that we must only develop science.
Alternatively, some say we can merely focus on exports. Behind these statements is the intent to keep the status quo while seeking to change in a limited number of areas. Experience of the countries growing rapidly and leading the world—China, Japan, Europe, the US, and others—show that change has been wholesale from culture to governance to
Ideas prevailed and created markets from movies to hard science, from fashion to space technology. Ideas made markets, goods, products, and trillion-dollar industries like Apple, Amazon, and Google. Nevertheless, in the bargain, they changed our lifestyles, our language, our culture.
As Aristotle said, “change is the only constant in life!”
When asked what needs to be done, officialdom alas has many tasks and projects, none involving creative change ideas. Rest assured, historical evidence suggests we must emphasize creative change. On disruptive change. On change to compete and progress.
This cannot happen without emphasis on ideas, creativity, and change. It means developing a culture that appreciates ideas, research, and creativity. It means giving a leading role to the competitors who are likely to win all manner of prizes.
While we rely on aid and donor policy development, the world is busy building thoughtful government and developing champions. While the world is busy building universities with Nobel laureates and champion professors, we think brick and mortar is enough. The culture of officialdom needs to change.
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The perks and the pomp of glory of the MDs, VCs, heads of agencies take up most of the organizations’ resources. Professionals are often at the bottom of the organizational structure.
A Rector once told a board meeting that the professors could not show up in the organogram of a training institute because they were mere laborers. So, forget long policy matrices, consulting reports, and policy statements that make development a long list of projects and borrowing needs.
It is essential to learn from the history of development. It can be boiled down to something as simple as changing ’24/8′ to the reverse. And then make the game players be the stars and in control of the stars.
Dr. Nadeem ul Haque is the Vice-Chancellor of PIDE, Former Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Pakistan 2010-13, and the author of “Looking Back: How Pakistan Became an Asian Tiger in 2050”. He Tweets @nadeemhaque. A slightly different version of this article appeared in the August issue (print) of Global Village Space Magazine under the title, “24/8: Pakistan’s Officialdom over Creativity”