By Ashraf M. Hayat

Governance in Pakistan has been an enduring concern. It is evident in a number of ways from precarious law and order, to serious social deficit, and poor infrastructure.Of late, it shows also in the alienation of the people. Experts are convinced that Pakistan’s stability and prosperity depend on governance improvement.

There is no agreed definition of governance. Largely, it includes participation, political stability, and absence of violence. It covers also effectiveness of the state and quality of service to the people as well as rule of law and control over corruption. In world rankings, Pakistan seems to be doing poorly in most indices.

Civil servants are the link between the state and the individual. A number of issues though affect their performance.  Political patronage has weakened state institutions and centres of power compete for influence in the country. A political economy that favours the elite leaves limited space for inclusive development. Administration is centralized, lacking participation and with minimal accountability. Political parties are weak and the media and civil society, though emerging are not yet in a position toact as a check on executive power. At present, Pakistan’s state institutions do not have the strength to become an agent of change and growth.

A number of findings are illustrative: there is a link among governance, political stability and quality of life indicators. Well-governed countries, in turn, have strong institutions that set the rules of conduct. Institutions become strong if the people in power place faith in them.Countries with inclusive economic policies have a high ratio of public spending to GDP, and enjoy a high quality of life.

A major portion of public spending takes place at sub-national levels. Most countries that rank high in one governance indicator do well in others. These reinforce each other, but also have the same drivers: strong institutions and concern for public welfare. Analysis of the causes of weak governance shows that though civil servants are the face of the state, the responsibility for poor performance is widespread. It includes the political leadership and touches a number of other parts of the society.

Pakistan has one of the lowest ratios of public spending to GDP in line with its equally low tax to GDP ratio and even more paltry contribution from direct taxes. Contrary to popular belief, number of federal workers per capita is also very low. Pakistan has 2 civil servants per thousand people. India and USA, both federations, have 2.6 and 8.5 workers respectively. Transparency though must accompany increase in public spending.

In the last decade, HDI improved under a military government, which has plateaued since an elected government came to power. Similarly, participation in government has declined. In 2006, the country had 85,260 elected officials in 6628 assemblies and councils compared to the present 1207 in 7 elected bodies. Growing concentration of political and fiscal power is a source of alienation.

People in power are best placed to bring reforms. However, reforms would hurt their interest most. Each country must come up with its own solution. This is a slow process and does not lend itself to a list of ‘things to do’. In addition, reforms must come from within and not from outside experts.

The people judge state performance from the way government offices function. Governance improvement becomes a function of the working of state organizations although many factors impinge on it behind the scene. Pakistan has a history of civil service and governance reforms, but with little improvement. Reforms have not worked because they have focused on process and structure rather than on achieving results. In some cases, they may have had the opposite effect.

Governance improvement is critical for stability of the country. It is particularly important in these unsettled times faced by Pakistan. The people of Pakistan want results in the shape of improved law and order, and essential services. Reform of government systems, increase in capacity of officials, a culture of responsiveness, and rules that limit patronage are key to improved governance. These are first and important steps to achieving results and building state effectiveness.