Floating the term beggars cannot choosers by Shahbaz sharif received widespread condemnation across Pakistan. At the peak of Pakistan’s political fever, this suggestion is unwise, no doubt. Nevertheless, this requires a deeper exploration and an analytic review of what compelled Mr. Sharif to make such a mistake with grave political consequences writes a faculty at Brown University.
Chatter about Pakistan’s poor economic performance year on year occurs at some levels of public discourse, but no intelligent discussion has taken place to fix this.
Compared with its peers, India and Bangladesh, Pakistan has performed poorly economically the most post-partition. Moreover, this economic decline has mainly gotten worse in the last 30 years. These thirty years from the 1990 to 2022 era contained constant political chaos; a military coup took place, and multiple democratic governments ruled Pakistan.
This decline has been prevalent in most sectors of the economy
Therefore, an excellent way to measure how the country has performed is to look at its export productivity. Exports provide a snapshot of a country’s economic competitiveness or society to its global competitors. However, unfortunately, Pakistan’s data reflects poorly on ordinary Pakistanis, governments, and institutions.
This economic decline also proves that no significant structural economic change has occurred in the last 30 years despite political sloganeering by civilian and military rulers.
For example, Pakistan’s exports per capita have not increased compared to India and Bangladesh in these three decades. India’s export reached the $400 billion mark this year, while Pakistan lagged at $32 billion. The gap is frighteningly large. Pakistanis have become poorer than India and Bangladesh (World Bank Data, 2021). Pakistan is currently in the 22nd IMF program since 1950 compared to India, which has not gone IMF since 1993.
These three decades are corroded Pakistan’s economic growth and produced an entire generation with minimal productive output. That will give nightmares to any policymaker. However, such a catastrophic failure does not happen overnight. Such a failure requires incompetence of gigantic proportions.
The roots of this dismal performance stem from the bankruptcy of our educational system, which is producing brains that can not compete at the global level with its peers. The quality of such brains is evident in our bureaucratic system and particularly in our media. The level of intellectual debate on our media platforms is incredibly frightening and reflective of this intellectual decline. Brilliant brains will lead to excellent decision-making. However, unfortunately, no such brains exist across the length and breadth of our decision-making in sufficient numbers in Pakistan.
Incompetance in Pakistan
Decision-making at the highest levels in multiple public organizations has shown exceptional levels of incompetence.
A perfect example of this incompetence is our energy sector, where the highest-level government officials signed these capacity charges deals on the new power plants run on imported oil. These deals were expensive, but they also guaranteed returns in US dollars in a failing economy. A depreciating rupee, buying oil in dollars to run these, selling electricity in rupees and guaranteeing returns in dollars created a perfect vicious circle. As a result, the entire country is held hostage to such payments.
This is where sheer incompetence meets blatant corruption or bad intentions. There is no dignified way to describe this. However, even today, looking at the decision-making by heads of 200 plus public organizations in Pakistan exemplifies this toxic mix of sheer incompetence mixed with corruption.
The toxic mixture of sheer incompetence with corruption might appear as the only constant policy in the last 30 years plus or the only constant in this disastrous decline. The only way to address this is to produce excellent brains at all levels of decision-making so that the next 30 years do not turn us into one gigantic slum. Whether civilian or military, all governments are responsible for our economic decline.
Realizing such decision-making requires urgent educational reforms where our universities have an embedded research culture in their structural DNA.
At the same time, importing high-quality brains to run these public sector organizations if they do not exist domestically is required. We need to produce better brains. We need to produce better Phds, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, and people from all walks of life. Then, when such individuals reach the highest decision-making level, they will make the right choices.
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Political will is a foundational ingredient in such structural reforms. Unfortunately, decision-makers in Islamabad have not shown such will in the last 30 years. Whatever the outcome of the current political crisis, Pakistan is crying out for such fundamental structural reforms.
Therefore, Shahbaz sharif’s assertion that “beggars cannot be choosers” might be poorly timed but does describe the economic reality of Pakistan, unfortunately. Politicians, decision-makers, and society must work together to change this reality.
Time is running out!
The author is a Physician residing in the United States and a Faculty member at Brown University in Rhode Island. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.