Governance is among the most important constraints on Pakistan’s path to a high-income status by 2047. Countries with a weak governance environment, tend to be those with weak prospects for economic development necessary to cause structural transformation. This is because the interactions among citizens, the state, and firms are mediated by institutions, and they determine how these relationships are manifested. Weak institutions undermine growth, while strong institutions support growth.
There are three pathways to stronger institutional environment to support Pakistan’s shift to a high-income economy by 2047. These include strengthening public administration, deepening devolution, and rethinking the role of the state.
Strengthening the technical competencies of the public administration is necessary for improving the quality of the bureaucracy and service delivery. While deepening devolution refers to addressing gaps such as incomplete decentralization and capacity gaps that need to be overcome to maximize the opportunities offered by devolution.Finally, redefining the role of the state is needed for better utilization of state resources, increasing citizen participation and involving the private sector in social service delivery to lessen the burden on the government. These pathways are necessary to meet Pakistan’s goal for high income status by 2047.
Pakistan faces considerable challenges to reforming its governance system. The country’s governance system is predominantly an extension of the colonial era bureaucratic structures. It has inherited an archaic mindset where compliance of state policies was preferred over public participation. Overtime, these tendencies have shaped the whole spectrum of bureaucratic structures and systems, and are evident in its recruitment processes, pre-service training, mobility systems and – more importantly – the role of the bureaucracy in higher level policy formulation and implementation systems.
Moreover, it has created a culture where civil servants are driven by greed for power and authority and show a general lack of interest in service delivery. The system is compromised by weak performance management and the lack of transparent and accountable governance systems, which make it vulnerable to corrupt and inefficient organizational culture at all levels.
Pakistan’s civil service also suffers major capacity gaps that undermine its effectiveness and prospects for transformation. While the civil service has sufficient talent at higher positions, lower grade positions that are central to key execution activities possess limited managerial and technical competency. Political interference has also repeatedly undermined the ability of the civil service to be transformative, and has given rise to thriving patronage mechanisms which perpetuate persistent cycles of inequality in government organizations. A capable civil service is not only necessary to be able to enforce government rules and regulations, but also execute the government’s development agenda with the right kind of expertise. The capability of Pakistan’s civil services is compromised by the number of systemic challenges it faces.
The first aspect towards transforming Pakistan’s governance system includes strengthening public administration and enhancing public service delivery, Pakistan must catch up quickly with the advancements in Information and Communication Technologies. ICT adoption promises several quick wins especially in terms of reducing response times, enhancing coordination and improving access, inclusion and transparency for the citizens.
Going forward, a strategic approach must be adopted towards policy formulation and implementation. This means the government decision makers must be prepared to invest considerable amount of time in chalking out national priorities and then strategically mapping short term and long-term policy objectives to those priorities. These strategic maps should then serve as the backbone for policy implementation as opposed to the reactionary decision-making approach currently in vogue.
Secondly, the capacity of the executive arm of the government should be developed to improve coordination between various levels of government and to adopt citizen centric service delivery approaches. Such capacity can only be built through the adoption of strategic human resource management systems in the public sector. Once the policy maps are created as discussed above, the government organizations must be restructured in order to align with the results they have been tasked to achieve. Redundant structures that are in place only to conform with bureaucratic norms must be done away with.
At the same time, specific organizational goals and objectives should serve as the basis of performance measurement, management and reporting systems. These performance management systems should be coupled with a talent management approach towards postings, transfers, promotions and professional trainings. Such reforms would ensure the creation of result-oriented organizations with the right people at the right positions. Finally, mechanisms of citizen oversight such as citizens’ right to information and open government/open data initiatives should be strengthened.
The second aspect concerns rethinking the role of the state. The legislative arm of the government must be removed from executive level distractions and instead be empowered to carry out policy research. The communication between legislators and their constituents must also be enhanced. Public participation in policy processes through their elected representatives is essential not only for keeping policy choices relevant but also for ensuring commitment to long term policy outcomes. On critical matters of national interest, additional forums of citizen participation should be created, included but not limited to academic dialogues, consultative avenues with the industry and even for direct input from private citizens.
The capacity of Pakistani government institutions must also be enhanced to engage with the providers of private goods and services, especially in the areas of taxation and regulation. The taxation system in Pakistan must be simplified. Removing complexity will make it convenient for businesses to enter the tax net and will discourage corrupt practices in tax collection setups. Tax rates must be made attractive so that there is decreased incentive for evasion. At the same time, the incentives for tax compliance must be increased by strict enforcement of tax reporting and collection rules. In addition to tax reform, the industrial regulatory bodies, boards of investment and platforms for export promotion must be professionalized and made free from political interference.
The third aspect concerns reacting to the issues facing devolution. As devolution takes effect, the government institutions at sub-provincial levels will receive more autonomy and hence more responsibility. The weak capacity of these institutions to handle this responsibility has marred previous decentralization efforts in Pakistan. Moving forward, it must be understood that effective decentralization would require the strengthening of local institutions, in addition to political will and well-developed policy designs. A lot of effort must go into capacity building of legislators and policy makers especially at the provincial and sub-provincial levels of government. The most critical enhancements will need to be made in the areas of policy research, understanding of legislative processes and citizen’s ability to not only access their representatives but also to hold them accountable on policy issues.