Good governance sans social structure change is a distant dream (Daily Times)

‘Good Governance’ is the buzz-phrase in the political lexicon these days. Why? Is it that we have been suddenly woken up one fine morning with a rude shock that ‘good governance’ has been robbed away while we were sleeping for the last 63 years? Or, is it that the political debate in the country has come to a stage where the citizens are becoming more conscious about their rights? Perhaps the latter is right as the urge for ‘good governance’ in the people is stronger now than it was in the past – thanks to the awareness created by the information boom.

So what is ‘good governance’? Is it just reducing the rampant corruption in the society as generally perceived and discussed in the media? (I have used the word “reducing” because realistically speaking it cannot be completely eradicated in any society). Leading intellectual I. A. Rehman laid down the requisites of good governance succinctly in his paper at the SAFMA conference in Islamabad. “The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) offers a somewhat more comprehensive definition of good governance that includes: participation, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus-oriented functioning, equity, inclusiveness, effectiveness and efficiency, and accountability.”

Now that is a tall order for a multi-structural country like Pakistan. If we put the country to the test against the ESCAP’s list of ‘good governance’ values, we would naturally be depressed.  The ‘watchdog’ media is doing an excellent job in demanding the good governance values and being critical of the present government. The main focus is on the corruption and transparency from the long list given in the definition. And many other values that make the good governance are touched upon rarely. That’s where we go wrong. The values of a society are based on its whole social structure and a particular value cannot be seen in isolation. No analysis of any society gives the complete picture if the political, social and economic perspective is not kept in sight. Otherwise an impression is created that the governance has turned bad overnight and only because of a particular set of politicians.

Firstly, we should keep in mind that at its inception Pakistan was predominantly a feudal and tribal society with heavy reliance on the agrarian economy. Muslim League local leadership came from the feudal and tribal elite. The other major players in governance were the immigrants, who dominated the bureaucracy and formed the new mercantile class of the country.  These ruling classes of early Pakistan were not capable of providing the good governance values in the modern sense. The same feudal and tribal values with little variation prevail today in sharp contrast to the values of the capitalist democratic system.

Secondly, the feudal and tribal system is non-participatory; it has no transparency because decisions are made on the whims of the feudal lords and tribal chiefs, so there is no question of consensus. And merit is undermined by the primary quality ‘loyalty’. Equity has no place in this system as it is based on hereditary position in a society. Even today almost 65 percent population lives in rural areas where the value system is an over-hang of feudal values. This is brought to the cities when the chosen representatives of the rural areas come to power. For instance for a voter it is not wrong to demand that his son is given a job breaking all the transparency and meritocracy values. Tribal chiefs can sit and decide the fate of a young girl to settle a murder case and feel that this would end the feud between the two groups. The urban democratic value system which is based on individual rights finds the action of these feudals and tribal chiefs appalling. But do not pause to think that it is not possible to change the governance values without first changing the feudal and tribal relations. Even the urban capitalist society cannot provide all the answers as it cannot provide equity and corruption exists in all developed economies the difference is of ratio and sophistication.

Thirdly, the urban set of early ruling bureaucracy and mercantile class, as stated above, were from the immigrants. No matter where they come from, globally immigrants have there own common go-getter culture. As they migrate their first preference is to settle themselves economically as quickly as possible. In this pursuit many good governance values are trampled. In their new land they are also free from the social pressure of local society which keeps a mutual check on each other in a settled society. In the case of Pakistan the classic example is that of many exaggerated claims of the refugees. In the early fifties my father Shahzada Ayaz wrote in his book: “loot is so rampant, I fear it will become a character of my nation.” Alas!  It did.

Fourthly, good governance values of participation and consensus have not flourished in Pakistan because of over 30 years of military dictatorship. Most elected governments, also, spent much of their energies in claiming their space from the establishment. Their rule has always been disturbed by the intelligence agencies. Hence the argument given by some analysts that the military intervenes because of the bad governance by the political parties is also not the whole truth.

And finally, I. A. Rehman’s argument: “So long as Pakistan insists on preserving its status as a religious state it will never be able to guarantee equity and inclusive governance, for neither women nor minority communities will ever have full entitlement to their basic human rights.”

In spite of these major road-blocks in the way of good governance, the media and the people should continue to keep the pressure on the ruling elite for this value system, as a citizen of the 21st century has a right to it. But while striving for it one should not forget that the good governance we desire is not possible without changing the basic social and economic structure of the country. Otherwise we are asking for apples from the orange tree. (


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