NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 25

Technocratic regime or expertise of technocrats

As the situation in Pakistan has reached a serious political deadlock, the state of affairs is nearly out of control of the government. In the meanwhile, there have been voices from the corridors of powers of the formation of a regime comprising technocrats as political governments of the past and the present setup failed to produce the desired results and the issues of the country and society are multiplying with each passing day.

It is important to understand that while the key issues of Pakistan, including political instability, poor economy and societal consternation and anomie, among others, have deep roots that go back into history. However, the immediate cause of the prevailing unmanageable political-economic-social crisis in the country is that the 13-party ruling alliance is flouting the Supreme Court orders and the Constitution to hold elections in the critically important Punjab and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces and instead has come up with measures to curtail the powers of the Supreme Court, which itself is trying to stick to the Constitution. This situation has created a serious threat to democracy in Pakistan.

The powers-that-be seeing the ruling alliance neither delivering nor stabilizing the country and also not letting the most popular leader former PM Imran Khan and his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to return to power through elections, are mulling over bringing a so-called technocrat government in the country. Insofar as the idea of a technocratic regime is concerned, the basic philosophy of the arrangement is to have experts which could come up with policies for their respective area of expertise and provide for good governance in their departments, based on best practices in developed countries or lessons learnt from other advanced or developing countries. Thus, the idea of a technocrat setup is indeed very genuine and fantastic. However, the problems of Pakistan are of such nature and extensiveness that they cannot be addressed through the normal processes of policy making, governance and administration.

In fact, Pakistan’s governance and administrative system is not only old but has become so corrupt to be of any consequence. The corridors of powers have no interest in replacing the system firstly because of their vested interest and secondly their incompetence to come up with new ideas of governance. For their part, the people at large do not understand the root causes of the problems and crises surrounding them and thus are at the mercy of corrupt elements.

In this situation, the idea of a technocratic regime is quite attractive. However, the issue with the proposal is that it is based on mala-fide intentions. The basic purpose of such a regime is to stop genuine political forces from coming to power in the country. Now we could only call those political forces as genuine which have popular support. The criteria for gauging the popular support of a political party or for that matter a political leader are free and fair elections. The ruling alliance is ostensibly and according to all surveys is profoundly unpopular and cannot win elections if they even fight together against the only opposition group, the PTI or Mr. Khan. Therefore, the ruling junta and their supporters in the state structure are not ready to hold elections despite it being a constitutional requirement. So the panacea is considered to be a technocratic government. In other words, the technocratic setup is not being proposed due to its inherent value and vitality but to stop the PTI and Mr. Khan from returning to power. It is important to understand that one does not advocate Mr. Khan and the PTI return to power per se because one thinks that both do not have the capacity in its present form to address the key issues of the state and society. Nevertheless, the party and Mr. Khan are extensively popular in the country and, therefore, the principle of democracy demands that they should have every opportunity within the Constitution to stage a comeback in the power corridors. But again, their return to the saddle would not result in an automatic resolution of key issues of the country and society.

In this situation what is the way forward? Currently, the prime minister and all ministers are technocrats themselves. They are known administrators, economists, businesspeople, engineers, doctors, educationists and media professionals. Had it been so successful, very developed countries, like the US, the UK and Germany, should have technocrat set-ups but none of the countries has such arrangements. In all these developed countries, the government comprises popularly elected politicians. Yes, there may be expert technical advisers of their field but their ratio is very small as compared to elected cabinet members and secondly they work in subordination to elected representatives. The fundamental reason is that the elected representatives are accountable directly to the people or the electorates while the technocrats are not.

Against this backdrop, technocrats could be used within the system for its betterment. In this regard, the civil service needs to be completely overhauled. The present members of the Civil Services of Pakistan, based on the Central Superior Services (CSS) and Provincial Management Services (PMS) cadres, could best be described as jack of all trades but master of none. The members of the powerful civil services of Pakistan come to the government service by passing general CSS and PMS exams and they are given technical and administrative charge of different ministries and departments and they do all the homework and put drafts and documents for final approval of ministers, who are elected representatives but have little or no experience of public administration. So if both civil servants and elected representatives are not technocrats, then obviously the result is bad governance and rampant corruption. So if technocrats are really to be given any role in the system so that their expertise could be availed, then the best way is to overhaul the existing civil service structure and base it entirely on technocrats. For instance, for running the affairs of finance ministries economists and financial experts have to be inducted through a specialized test and recruitment process in which prior expertise must be given priority. Likewise, for health and communication & works departments, doctors and engineers ought to be respectively inducted.

Above all, if technocrat expertise is really to be availed in the governance structure and system, then the parliamentary political system ought to be replaced with a presidential political system because in the extant parliamentary system technocrats do not have any role at all.