Haider Mehdi |
At a recent seminar in Toronto, organized by OPEN (Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs of North America) I heard a talk by Dr. Naseeruddin Mahmood, Trustee of the ChildLife foundation, describing very humbly, how in a 5 year period the 90% mortality rate of children brought into the Children Emergency centers of government hospitals in Karachi became a 90% survival rate. Soon I hope to interview this remarkable man and share this wonderful story with everyone. This and many others are remarkable stories of successful and sustainable institutional reform in public sectors organizations in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s current story is no different. Currently an extremely poorly run country, where an exclusive and rapacious criminal elite, loots and plunders at will. And its future should also be no different. An extremely prosperous and well-run country, governed by honest and competent people!
Getting honest and competent people into power so we can reform our institutions to improve governance and rebuild our society and country is the core issue. It’s all or nothing!
The obvious misrule and corruption of Nawaz or Zardari and their coteries, or the perceived high handedness of the military or the Supreme Court, are symptoms of a society in which its public governance and institutional processes have degenerated into ad hoc activities, mostly, if not exclusively driven by personal loyalty and personal gain. A few that have remained relatively unscathed like the Armed forces or one or two which have regained some institutional strength, like the Supreme Court, then acquire power and influence far in excess of their roles and mandate.
Hence it is important to frame our problem and thus the objective. Pakistan’s problem is not corruption. Pakistan’s problem is the absence of good governance. While this can be a chicken and egg argument, all the current evidence of societies that have transformed or become better than before is because of the change in the “context” or the “environment” in which their citizenries live. South Africa, Rwanda, even Bangladesh.
Post-apartheid South Africa was a guaranteed bloodbath which didn’t happen. Of course, there’s crime in South Africa but the massacres that were to follow did not.
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23 years ago in Rwanda, in 1994, over a million people were killed in one of the most horrific genocides in modern times when the Hutus killed Tutsis. These killings were mostly done with machetes, knives, clubs, axes, etc. Imagine the horror; the country was completely destroyed. No institution survived. By 2000 they had a new constitution and today Rwanda is a thriving country.
Some arm twisting, some late night “meetings” some cajoling, some eyeballing, some money, anything that offers the opportunity to upend the current stench filled system and be replaced by one which gets honest and competent people into power.
Bangladesh despite its violent birth, violent past and the battle between the two “begums” is now ahead of Pakistan in human development and economic indicators.
The entire literature and research on individual and societal change also lead to one conclusion. Change the rules of the game and people and societies change behavior. For example, in the so-called West, if caught, you pay the penalty for over speeding or not paying taxes or breaking any law. If serious, you get thrown in jail for traffic and tax offenses. And that is why people don’t over speed (unless they have a “fuzz buster”) and pay taxes. Politics is a public and sacred trust. Of course, there are crooked politicians in Canada and the USA and Europe. But if caught, they pay the penalty.
This year’s Economics Nobel Prize goes to Richard Thaler, for his work on Behavioral Economics highlighting how individuals can be “nudged” to change behavior
But there’s a very dark and tragic flip side to this behavior change. A society which keeps crossing red lines, be they legal, moral or ethical, and its institutions are no longer capable to punish the detractor, adopts this new world of criminality as the “new norm”. In Pakistan, we witnessed acceptance of this new norm, in one of our most shameful acts, when our elected parliament, passed a law allowing an indicted person accused of major crimes to be re-elected a party chief.
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One can’t even picture the Labour or Conservative parties in the UK or the Democratic and Republican parties in the USA, re-electing a person, as its party head. A person indicted for money laundering, forgery, illegal assets etc. Nixon had to leave for lying and destroying evidence. Bill Clinton, nearly impeached for acts “under the table” that had nothing to do with governance!
Pakistan’s core objective, is the delivery of good governance, brilliantly articulated by Dr. Ishrat Hussain, the former State Bank Governor, who, in my opinion, and of many others, is our foremost public sector reform specialist
Misrule, corruption, crime, at any level, happens as a consequence of weak institutions, weak policies, weak processes and incompetent people at the helm. Why do we have a better run Army vs a terrible police force? Why is the NICVD (National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases) I run with better efficiency and effectiveness vs the rest of the hospital”. Why is the Urology Clinic run better than other departments? Why are the IBA, LUMS, Shaukat Khanum Hospital, Aga Khan Hospital, Indus Hospital, ChildLife Foundation, better run institutions than their counterparts? Why do people wear seatbelts and drive more carefully on the Islamabad – Lahore Motorway vs the GT Road?
Why NAB was most effective under General Shoaib and not under subsequent Chairpeople even during Gen. Musharraf’s rule? Why was Gen. Musharraf so astoundingly successful in his first three years and not after? Why was the Higher Education Commission (HEC) so successful under Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman and Dr. Sohail Naqvi and now in the dog house under Dr. Mukhtar? Why was the State Bank such a feared institution under Dr. Ishrat Hussain and now Ishaq Dar’s handmaiden under that criminal Saeed? Why has the SECP fallen to such lows under that foul mouthing abusive individual, Zafar Hijazi? Why is the KPK police so much more effective vs the Punjab or Sind police?
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These are mere examples to illustrate a point. Institutional strength with a robust process and competent and honest people (relatively) delivers value. Destroying institutions requires that dishonest (not necessarily incompetent) people be brought into key roles so that policies, rules, and processes are changed and or subverted, allowing the loot and plunder to commence.
And for those who think that in this state of total anarchy the Pakistan Army can save the system, think again. No Army could save the Shah of Iran. No Army could save the tottering Soviet state.
So I humbly submit. Our problem is not Corruption which as old as humanity, ingrained in our DNA as is survival, food, sex. Our problem is good governance delivered by strong institutions. Today, our institutions are no longer able to deliver what they are tasked with. Institutions that build capacity, cannot. Institutions that deliver public service, cannot. Institutions that provide safety and security, cannot. Institutions that uphold the law can no longer keep lawbreakers in check. And the consequences of such decay are catastrophic.
While Nawaz and Zardari may yet escape their nemesis and flee to far off lands to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth and may for a time create space for their children to continue the loot and plunder, eventually it will reach a breaking point. From sporadic symbols of mass discontent, this will eventually snowball into anarchy and a free for all. Many people dismiss this notion by saying that we’ve been listening to this doomsday scenario forever and yet we are OK.
No, we’re not OK. We lost half our country. Nearly 80,000 people have been killed in the war on terror. Whole communities and families have been uprooted their lives destroyed. The Armed forces have been in a state of war with for over 14 years. Try being a Shia or a Qadiani in today’s Pakistan and you will know that all is not well. Try setting up a business and you will find out all is not well. Ask a businessman trying to make an honest living.
Try living an honest life in Pakistan. Ask the poor, the underprivileged, the weak and at the risk. Ask them if all is well in Pakistan. No sir, all is not well in the State of Pakistan.
Try criticizing the Army and you will know all is not well. Try opposing the religious right and you will know all is not well. Try living an honest life in Pakistan. Ask the poor, the underprivileged, the weak and at the risk. Ask them if all is well in Pakistan. No sir, all is not well in the State of Pakistan.
The day the elite will realize all is not well is when the mobs ransack their houses lining the pristine boulevards of our Defense Societies, the Bahria Towns, the Askaris and the Gulbergs. No General’s colony will be spared. No security guards will save you. Your Rolexes, your pretentious destination weddings, your BMW’s, your elite club memberships, your summer vacations to France and Spain, even your second Canadian residency. No not even that.
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And for those who think that in this state of total anarchy the Pakistan Army can save the system, think again. No Army could save the Shah of Iran. No Army could save the tottering Soviet state. The Rwandan Army couldn’t save anybody. Neither could the Iraqi, the Syrian, the Libyan, the Yemeni and the Afghan armies.
When anarchy overtakes, however big or well-trained your Army, we will all be swept away. The good, the bad and the ugly. Everybody.
So far that day, Mr or Mrs or Ms. Pakistani, nothing will save you, if you, unfortunately, happen to be in that house that day! Therefore do not say we are not sliding down a very slippery slope. We are and very rapidly too, and God Forbid we hit rock bottom. For rock bottom means total anarchy.
Our problem is good governance delivered by strong institutions.Today, our institutions are no longer able to deliver what they are tasked with. Institutions that build capacity, cannot. Institutions that deliver public service, cannot.
Why didn’t Zardari and Nawaz institute reform? What justifies not delivering on good governance other than a criminal, abject, unforgivable and unpardonable sin of destroying these institutions so these two and their parties and cronies could acquire unlimited power and wealth?
If they really wanted to rule for the good of the people, what better way then to deliver good governance and keep getting re-elected? But no! They raped the system and hijacked the electoral process, for their personal greed and in the process, both have consciously and deliberately delivered near-fatal blows to Pakistan
The solution is simple. The process is complex. In the Army, we learned one cardinal principle. “Selection of objective and maintenance of Aim”. It meant that once the correct objective was selected then it is to be pursued with all resources till achieved and not be sidetracked.
Pakistan’s core objective is the delivery of good governance, brilliantly articulated by Dr. Ishrat Hussain, the former State Bank Governor, who, in my opinion, and of many others, is our foremost public sector reform specialist. The details of his research and plan are a must read and implementation when the time comes.
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Good governance is our objective. This will deliver well being on all fronts. Law and order, security, education, healthcare, employment, economic development, investment, research, human development indices. In fact, everything to create a much better society then we are now!
And good governance can happen in the following sequence.
- Getting rid of the current cabal of corrupt and incompetent rulers symbolized by Nawaz and Zardari and what they represent. The powers that be who can, must and quickly consign these people to their respective locations in Adiala etc, including the untouchables like Maryam Safdar Hudood. So the message is as clear as day.
If there is even the whiff of a compromise and “arrangement” between them and others, then you will never be forgiven and the country will suffer. Do this quickly and totally. No quarter taken, no quarter given. The longer these cancerous cells are allowed to thrive the more dangerous they are for Pakistan.
And don’t bank on Shahbaz Sharif. He’s as crooked as they get and as dishonest and as evil!
- Getting honest and competent people into positions of authority. This is the biggest challenge. In this, all political forces which are anti-status quo must be fully supported. People like Imran and Tahir ul Qadri, despite their failings, real or perceived.
Fresh elections under the current parliamentary system and rules are a garbage in, garbage out exercise. It will bring back the same people in one form shape or the other. It will force good people like Imran to compromise their position by having to truck with these same wretched creatures.
Change the rules of the game and people and societies change behavior. For example, in the so-called West, if caught you pay the penalty for over speeding or not paying taxes or breaking any law.
Some arm twisting, some late night “meetings” some cajoling, some eyeballing, some money, anything that offers the opportunity to upend the current stench filled system and be replaced by one which gets honest and competent people into power. A referendum perhaps or maybe a Supreme Court petition. Anything, but Martial Law. But this system must be changed, otherwise, we are doomed!
- Once in, initiate institutional reform based on Dr. Ishrat Hussain’s priceless work and research. I would make him the head of the National Reform Commission and Finance Minister in any new government.
- Deliver good governance for a better and prosperous Pakistan.
At the risk of repeating myself. Pakistan’s major issue is poor governance caused by the institutional decay of all key public institutions. Those that plan our future, those that deliver our services and those that hold people accountable for breaking the public trust.
And Incompetence and Corruption are what causes this decay. No reforms will succeed till we don’t get competent and honest people into positions of power and authority for institutional reform and improved governance.
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Getting the dogs out of the contaminated well is not the answer. Nawaz Sharif, Zardari etc are the symbols and symptoms of dishonesty and incompetence leading to institutional decay and the core problem of poor governance. Removing them will not resolve the core issue of poor governance.
Pakistan’s current story is no different. Currently an extremely poorly run country, where an exclusive and rapacious criminal elite, loots and plunders at will. And its future should also be no different. An extremely prosperous and well-run country.
Getting honest and competent people into power so we can reform our institutions to improve governance and rebuild our society and country is the core issue. It’s all or nothing! Either go the full route and complete the job or sit back and enjoy the inevitable rape, whilst enjoying your spit and polish and perks and privileges, as long as they last!
This is the big one-two knockout punch and we must go all the way!
- Get honest and competent people into authority. What a future PM like Imran needs, or whoever is in the Chair, as long as he or she is honest, are public sector professionals with private sector expertise in their teams. These people are Unicorns and rare. I’m not one, lest people think its a plug. Dr. Ishrat Hussain is. And plenty more.
- Reform institutions for better governance.
And one last thing. No military person should ever be in public sector governance. They will make a hash of things. But they must and should play whatever role they can, to save the country and facilitate any process to get good and competent people into power through a clean, transparent and sustainable electoral process.
“Selection of Objective and Maintenance of Aim”
Haider Mehdi is the current Convenor of The Strategy Study Group, founded by the late Col. S. G. Mehdi M. C, former Group Commander of Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG). Haider is a former Pakistan Army officer, corporate leader, management consultant, business trainer, and serial entrepreneur.