As the opposition political parties have decided to launch an anti-government movement, its outcome may be anything but the PTI government has so far largely failed to cleanse the Augean Stables to improve governance and put the economy back on track.
However, the PTI government has faced numerous challenges to address the key issues of governance and the economy. If the PTI government of Prime Minister Imran Khan still wants to keep its political fortunes afloat, it has to take drastic steps to improve the economy and governance. However, in order to address issues of the economy and governance there is a need to identify them first. Unfortunately, the rank and file of the PTI has least understanding of the dynamics of a bad economy and bad governance or for that matter, a good economy and good governance.
The major issues which PM Imran Khan has been faced with include pervasive corruption in the political administrative culture and system, economic meltdown, institutional collapse, improper natural resource management, among others. Obviously, these are huge and lurking challenges to the country and its system, however, there are many obstacles to address them. The fact of the matter is that most of these challenges are interlinked.
While assuming power, PM Imran Khan had claimed that he would take the bull of corruption by the horns as there was no option for his government and the country because either the country would exist or corruption. However, controlling corruption or financial misappropriation through misuse of power and abuse of authority, let alone eliminating it, is a gargantuan task in the political administrative culture of Pakistan. There are various reasons for successive governments’ inability to root out corruption. Firstly, important personalities of successive governments have themselves been involved in financial misappropriation by abusing authority and misusing power. It is important to note that three elected governments between 1988 and 1999, two each of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and one of disgraced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, were dismissed by the then Presidents on the charges of financial corruption. Third-time elected former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified in 2017 for his involvement in the Panama corruption scandal. Financial corruption started pervading into the political culture of Pakistan in the late 1970s and it exacerbated after the 1985 party-less elections, followed by the so-called democratic decade (1988-1999). To this date, financial corruption has been pervasive in Pakistani politics and it has become a thriving business while most of other businesses have nosedived. While there was a profound commitment on part of the PTI government to end corruption, unfortunately it could not demonstrate the will. The performance of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which is independent of the government, has also been poor.
Another noteworthy reason for unending financial corruption in the political administrative culture of Pakistan has been the weakness and incapacity of institutions, whose primary mandate has been to control corruption. The institutions include the Anti-Corruption Department at the federal and provincial levels, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Intelligence Bureau (IB) etc. The main cause of weakness and lack of capacity of the institutions and departments to control financial corruption and abuse of authority in Pakistan has been their subservience to political governments. In other words, how come government departments could be expected to probe and bring to light financial corruption of political leaders and public officials when the functionaries of the departments have been appointed by political governments? Resultantly, anti-corruption or accountability departments firstly did not initiate probes into cases of corruption and secondly, if they registered cases, they could not actively and effectively investigate them. The PTI government also could not change the institutional culture to address the issue of financial corruption, claims notwithstanding.
It is important to note that the PTI has been in the saddle for more than two years now and Imran Khan as the Chief Executive of the country, does not have any single financial corruption case pending against him in any court of law of the country and with his most important aim to end corruption in the country, why financial corruption could not be curtailed let alone eliminating it? The main reason has been the systemic constraints and PM Khan’s inexperience of the system. One would be in a better position to evaluate the performance of the PTI government once it completes its five-year tenure by which time Khan would have a lot of experience and time to govern and would have no pretext to conceal his bad performance. Nevertheless, the present rulers must understand that controlling corruption through the existing top civilian bureaucracy of the country is impossible, because most bureaucrats have been part of one regime or the other, which were tainted with charges of financial corruption and many among them were personally involved in financial misappropriation. However, the PTI government, due to systemic constraints, has to implement policies through bureaucrats and there is little room for experimentation.
Fixing the country’s economy suffering from stagflation, with dwindling foreign exchange reserves, a yawning trade deficit and a far bigger current account deficit and foreign debt of more than $100 billion, has indeed been a huge challenge. In the situation, going towards the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) for a bailout package has been the only way out of the economic morass. The government has so far done a wonderful job to keep as minimum as possible the financial package from the IFIs but it could not explore other sources of funding.
Austerity measures by PM Khan and his government have made some impact but they are not substantial enough to improve the economic conditions of the country. Lavish spending and financial misappropriation in public procurement regulations has been a key reason for the country’s economic woes, but the economic situation has worsened to a level that even large-scale austerity measures could not reverse the wheel of economic underdevelopment. By nature, PM Khan is a simple person but adoption of austerity measures by him unfortunately could not set an example for his chief ministers, cabinet ministers and even civilian officials.
Reforms in government departments are important to meet the huge challenges faced by the country and its people. It is encouraging that PM Khan has included in his cabinet former Governor of State Bank of Pakistan, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, as adviser on institutional reforms. Dr. Hussain was given a task by the previous government to come up with a report on institutional reforms which he authored with a lot of effort. However, as the recommendations of the report required large-scale changes and bold decisions, they could not be implemented due to lack of the political will of the government. Unfortunately, PM Khan has not been able to implement his recommendations due to systemic constraints. Now either the system has to stay or performance and good governance would remain a pipe-dream. This is the lesson the PTI government must learn after more than two years in the government.