Jun 21, 2017 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Solutions please
Dr. Niaz Murtaza
Readers often complain that writers focus on problems and not solutions. This may be true to some extent but it is also true that some readers look for easy solutions for complex social problems, e.g., how Pakistan can achieve good governance and rapid progress. Unfortunately, such issues are not amenable to the blue-print, closed-ended solutions that many readers desire.
In closed-ended solutions, cause and effect relationships between the problem and solution are clear. The time duration between the solution being applied and the problem being solved is short. The chance of the solution ending the problem is high. The solution lies in the hands of a small number of clearly identifiable entities known for their skills in solving the given problem. So, the problem of a broken water pump is clearly amenable to a closed-ended solution. Usually, people know a good electrician in their locality who can resolve the issue in a couple of hours through well-tried electrical repair techniques. Similarly, if traffic congestion at an intersection is a problem, then in well-governed states at least, the relevant government department can widen the intersection within a few months. So, closed-ended solutions usually work well for technical issues.
They may even work for simple social problems. But as one enters the domain of complex social and political problems, e.g., how Pakistan can achieve good governance, closed-ended solutions become less relevant than open-ended solutions. Unlike closed-ended solutions, the relationship between cause and effect in open-ended solutions is not clear-cut. The probability of the solution eradicating the problem is not high. The time duration is long and the solution involves a large number of unknown entities.
So, in my analysis the problem of bad governance in Pakistan stems from its patronage-driven, low-end economy. In such an economy, the vast percentage of producers, urban or rural, do not need “good governance” but governance which serves their immediate and narrow economic interests. Thus, low-end economics produces low-end politics. For this problem of bad governance, I can only propose an open-ended “solution” which includes two strands. Firstly, the economy has to upgrade despite poor governance so that stronger demand for good governance comes from the core of our economy. This upgrading in a stagnant economy must necessarily involve a large component of eternal opportunities, either remittance or investment related. The government obviously has a key role in creating and utilizing such opportunities. But since we are starting from a situation of bad governance, the government may be as much part of the problem as the solution. Even otherwise, the role of a large number of private sector players will be crucial. The second strand consists of people participating in and supporting civil society efforts for good governance. With both strands, the results will take years and decades to emerge.
Both strands clearly represent open-ended solutions. The probability of success is unclear. The time horizons are long and both involve a large number of unknown entities, which are individually weak and collectively not very well organized. But such open-ended solutions leave some readers dissatisfied and feeling cheated given their penchant for closed-ended solutions. Surely, there must be other solutions with greater certitude and shorter time horizons, they think. Thus, they invariably turn to charlatans peddling fake closed-ended solutions for bad governance. They say the introduction of 3-5 years of technocratic or military government which undertakes ruthless accountability of corrupt politicians and then holds credible elections can quickly make Pakistan an Asian Tiger. This solution clearly has the appearance of a closed-ended solution. The time horizons being mentioned are short. The solutions will lie in the hands of a small group of technocrats or military people and the probability of success is presented as very high.
But in reality, the claims about short time durations, competence and high probability of success are all spurious. No country like Pakistan has progressed rapidly through such an approach. But the craving for closed-ended solution blinds many people to this reality. This craving emerges from the prevalent education and indoctrination system which teaches simplification of complexity, insufficient belief in rationality, technicalization of political issues and subservience to authority. This system helps elites control the masses. It thrives on outdated modes of teaching physical sciences and religion and little focus on the social sciences which can introduce young minds to notions of uncertainty, complexity and diversity. So, for this problem at least, I can suggest a very robust solution: more emphasis on quality teaching of humanities and social sciences at all levels. But doing so would undermine the key interests of power elites. So there is little chance of this happening any time soon.
The writer is a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit. www.inspiring.pk. email@example.com.
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