Ever since my childhood I have heard stories of the inefficiency of governmental institutions and forms of governance related to issues of health, schooling and so on. I always seen people dissatisfied with, and disapproving of, officers and legislators working at the administrative or legislative level – partly because they had no one to look up to who could help solve their problems.
The problem in Pakistan is that we have weak politicians who are mostly ill educated or in some cases not educated at all. I still remember asking my father why if such and such a minister cannot communicate well even in our national language how come he can survive in a highly professional, technocratic and political environment where serious decision-making and policy-making is the order of the day. But unfortunately, these people do. In a similar vein, the bureaucracy is weak as political appointments not based on merit are made even at highest level. Most of the time public policy is very haphazard in nature. However, knowing these shortcomings, national and international civil society organisations have jumped in to provide a solution.
Recently, interventions by NGOs in government decision-making has increased the efficiency of the legislature and the executive. Now that I am pursuing higher studies, my knowledge and understanding of governmental organisations has broadened and I have come to understand that the major problem is the lack of good governance and public policy planning. One major reason for this is that democracy has not been stable in Pakistan as there have been four major periods of rule by dictators. For some forty years Pakistan has been ruled mostly by dictators and less by democratic regimes. This is why institutions which would listen to the voice of the people could not be established – and this is what democracy is all about.
There’s a report I read in the review published by SDPD Publications* that analyses the reasons why democracy in Pakistan couldn’t be strengthened. It argues that the major part of public policy has been carried out by unrepresentative governments (dictatorships). Another reason is that parliament is weak in terms of legislative processes which is why the executive has dominated the legislation/decision-making of the country. Thus, despite a democratic form of government, parliament has not been able to exercise its rights and parliamentarians could not play their role as they are not well-trained and are unfamiliar with the appropriate channels. Furthermore, since parliamentarians do not have an active relationship with CSOs, the media and citizens, parliament has been deaf to the public voice. Against this backdrop, democratic governments have behaved in an autocratic way. This has paved the way for the interventions of NGOs that strengthen the ability of parliamentarians to deal effectively with processes of public policy.
Two major intervention programs on the legislative side “Strengthening Democracy Through Parliamentary Development” (SDPD of UNDP) and the “Pakistan Legislative Strengthening Program” (PLSP of US-Aid)** were introduced to tackle this situation. Both interventions aimed to launch capacity-building and awareness programs for parliament as well as the broad mass of people in order to further consolidate the process of democratization. At the national level, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) is also actively focusing on legislative capability-building; quality non-partisan political research; political leadership development; the creation of avenues for a pluralistic and participatory citizen involvement in democratic decision-making; performance monitoring of democratic actors and institutions and education in democracy and political management.
UNDP-SDPD has conducted seminars, workshops, and training sessions on issues such as the role of parliaments in democratic societies, rules of procedures and conduct of business, budget presentation and debate, efficient time management skills, the art of lobbying, and pre- and post-legislative scrutiny. On the other side the PLSP set up PIPS and equipped the National Assembly and the Senate secretariats with modern office equipment. Currently, it is working on standing committees so that efficient legislative scrutiny can be undertaken for effective legislation.
Thanks to such interventions, parliament is now starting to work democratically. The first fruit of these efforts has been the presentation of the 2008 defence budget in parliament for debate before the policies were finalized. I know that India presents its budget 4-6 months ahead of its finalisation but in Pakistan it is only presented 15 days before the finalization day. Democracy in Pakistan is still in its infancy and still has a long way to go. However, the situation is now slightly improved when compared to the past and will continue to improve for the better.
To this end, the government needs to collaborate closely with national and international NGOs and civil society organisations. It has to be given the resources it needs so that learning processes can be fostered and institutions strengthened so that a properly trained leadership can come up with better public policies and foreign policies to improve Pakistan’s current situation. Better economic policies will eradicate the malaise of terrorism and will also minimize Pakistan’s economic dependence on the World Bank and other countries. Pakistan will then emerge as a strong country safeguarding not only its interests but also those of the world at large.
*SDPD. Public Policy, Democracy and Legislature: Role of Parliament in Pakistan. Tricia Media Consultants: Islamabad, 2008.
** PLSP is not functioning currently. SDPD has become the main resource now.