NationalVolume 14 Issue # 09

Civil society: a means to an end

It is generally believed that good governance is the result of viable policies and efficient enforcement mechanism by incumbent ruling parties and leadership. The present Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government at the centre and the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in Sindh and the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) government in Balochistan also know that astute policymaking and governance improve the overall administration and ensure the well-being and development of the people and their respective domains.

However, this is only part of the reality. Good governance is equally the result of the participation of civil society institutions and activists in public life. Without an informed, active and vibrant civil society attaining the criteria of good governance is well-nigh impossible.

History has taught us that in the observance of good governance in the developed, politically stable and increasingly democratizing countries the role of civil society has been central in the prevalence of good governance practices. Good governance generally means such actions and arrangements on the part of the ruling leadership, government institutions and functionaries which by having certain indicators ensure the improvement of overall environment, betterment of people’s lives in all respects and guaranteeing sustainable development and welfare of the society and its members. The role of civil society, which is an agglomeration of informed, concerned and proactive citizens, their associations and institutions, in good governance become self-explanatory. Because without a proactive civil society the betterment of the overall environment, improving the life standards of people and sustainable development cannot be envisioned.

Sociological experts describe civil society as a social and public space and sphere that is above the domain of family and below the state. Nearly all private-owned media, out-of-government political parties, various non-profit social, political and economic associations of people, institutions and organizations form the civil society of a country. A viable and vibrant civil society plays its role in having good governance that is again having the composite of certain features like transparency, accountability, rule of law, participation and predictability and so on, in certain key respects. The most important role of civil society in good governance is to apprise the people of their fundamental rights and responsibilities. Often the core constitutional frameworks of states include fundamental rights of the citizens. However, most often than not general masses are not aware of these rights and more importantly how to go about realizing them. An active civil society educates and sensitizes the general public about their constitutional and political rights and in this manner build their capacity to participate in the political, judicial and policymaking processes. This put a strong check on the rulers from the masses to ensure good governance.

Then civil society is instrumental in making people aware about the role of the government, state institutions as well as the responsibilities of the state functionaries. Mostly people are least informed about the functions of government, various state institutions and the responsibilities of officials. Because the masses look to the government only in terms of providing them basic services and utilities and, more importantly, ensuring their security and development. However, they are not informed as to how the government could ensure these services and security and it is because of a vibrant civil society that they come to know about the role and responsibilities of different government institutions and functionaries. Save for that knowledge, most people are unaware of governance, public issues and the administrative structures and functions especially how they respond to the issues and needs of the people.

Additionally, civil society provides the forums to people to debate and discuss their issues and communicate them to the rulers and administrators. Thus, the role of civil society is three-pronged. In addition to that, civil society provides the platforms to people to maximally participate in the process of governance. The participation of people in public affairs is a key feature of good governance.

Another important characteristic of good governance is transparency. if the people are aware of their rights, thanks to a proactive civil society, they would unclearstand the exigency of transparency in the process of governance. Furthermore, informed citizenry is a sine qua non for accountability in any governance system and structure. Because without an informed citizenry, the required public pressures on the system, specifically on the state functionaries, cannot be exerted so as for the latter to be accountable for whatever they do in the name of the public. Civil society is also critically important for making people aware of the need and the value of the rule of law and, on the other hand, apprising government institutions and functionaries of the state of the importance and their respective role(s) in ensuring the rule of law. Observably, state institutions and functionaries often act, and react as if they are not subject to the law of the land.

It is a proactive civil society and under its influence an informed citizenry which constantly reminds state institutions and the government servants that they are very much subject to the law of the land and all their actions are conditioned by official rules, procedures and codes of conduct. In other words, civil society unceasingly tells the government institutions and officials that they shall not do anything that is in violation of law or that may infringe upon the fundamental rights of the people.

An active civil society and an informed citizenry play a critical role in sound, sustainable and effective public policies. Because the forums, institutions, organizations and the members of civil society build and increase the informational capacity of the people about different stages of public policy; how public policies are formulated, implemented, evaluated, analyzed and reformulated and how people can participate at different levels of public policymaking.

In contemporary Pakistan, we are faced with the crisis of governance and this has not even been pointed at by PM Khan. However, even his PTI government cannot make any lasting impact on governance in the first 100 days in office. This is because of the fact that the political leadership does not understand the real problem of improving governance. There should be a realization on the government’s part that unless civil society is motivated to maximally participate in public life, good governance is not possible because, after all, the ultimate support behind any democratic or elected government is that of the people.