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Deficit of Governance In Pakistan Has Eroded State-Citizen Trust

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Fauzia Yazdani and Shirin Gul analyze the PTI government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Ehsaas funds are inaccessible for people who lack digital access and hospitals lack medical care, while government officials blame the citizens of Pakistan for not taking enough precautions.

While the Pakistani social media is blitzing with #BlacklivesMatter, so many of us are concerned if the Pakistani lives matter too. Let’s face it: Pakistani lives are facing a blitzkrieg of incompetence in the face of COVID-19 pandemic. If change is chaos, then change is here because it could not have been more chaotic.

At the moment, Pakistan ranks at number 6 at being worst hit by COVID-19. The government, unfortunately, was found floundering on policy, strategy and action from the day one, and the practice continues. Meanwhile, a new NAB case or inquiry is fed through media to distract the public from the crisis at hand. 

Political corruption has forever been the easiest distraction. We have grown-up to mistrust any/all sitting governments for corruption. If we run a nationwide survey today for a simple Yes/No to the statement “government is Chor (corrupt)” or ‘politicians are Chor;’ the overwhelming answer will be a yes. This is reflective that the people of Pakistan have not only internalized but accepted institutionalized misgovernance as part and parcel of democracy.

Incidentally, all martial laws had substantial globally supported economic bubbles that gave rise to the perception that civil government and politicians are corrupt.

The narrative on performance of any government, to date, has been that Pakistan is plagued with ‘corrupt governments and deficit of governance’ and its always the fault of preceding government. We have been indicating, through our writings, that a 180-degree change on the narrative of this social contract is being paved. Current government while drilling its political narratives of catch-the-corrupt has expanded the ambit of corruption in Pakistan to include common people and society at large as well. This is a first and needs to stop as no government can be allowed to place the responsibility of its mis-governance on the public by labelling them as irresponsible. 

The flotsam of leadership that has surfaced in the high tide of the COVID-19 crisis in Pakistan is unparalleled. A common way of administrative being in Pakistan has been where individualism is expected and allowed to impact institutional edifice. But the current chaos that has cost 5300+ lives and 160K+ and increasing affected COVID-19 patients is also being blamed on irresponsible behaviour of the citizens rather than blatant negligence and non-performance of the incumbents. 

PTI, after 22 years of political existence, was put to test in 2018. It rode on sloganeering to rid Pakistan and therefore, the government of corruption. Their idea of the State-citizen construct was based on Madina ki Riyasat. State-citizen construct in Madiana ki riyasat was based on Mawakhat which meant people support each other in Islam. Across the global and religious boundaries, people primarily trust each other. The prime example is an individualistic charity and philanthropic work. In communities, you will always find a social worker who is trusted and is able to generate funds for the welfare of people. People would contribute to his/her cause more as compare to the government cause for the sole reason of trust and accountability. Be it the 2005 earthquake, the 2010 floods or now since the half-baked lockdowns, Pakistanis have led the way of being charitable. 

Charity does not come without trust; and who would it understand it better than our Prime Minister who has to his credit to a charitable cancer hospital. Crowdsourcing, by the way, is also his sole claim to arrange for and manage funds as people of Pakistan trust him. His pre-election argument was that as he ‘the honest’ cometh to power people will pay taxes more than required; overseas Pakistani’s on his one call will shower forex, and all will be well. Unfortunately, institutions and that too of government do not work like that. It hinges on strategy and policies than calls for crowdsourcing which cannot become a daily event. People did trust him with charity, believed his honesty and gave him the power to rule but what they have not given him is the option to call them Chor when his government can’t deliver. 

The PTI government delivers on its ‘change’ (Tabdeeli) mantra as for the first time citizens are being blamed by the government for mis-governance. It’s’ for the first time that citizens have become the ones to be blamed for the woes of the country, as the PM said: citizens don’t listen, citizens don’t abide by instructions, citizens don’t want to change, etc. The social media suddenly get the toxic crop from the troll farms that ‘what can government do when people don’t listen, people are to blame’. Slowly but surely, a narrative on citizens being at fault has been surfacing since the start of COVID-19 in Pakistan. What PTI conveniently chooses to forget is that it’s the same citizens that supported the PM with their life’s savings for a charitable hospital of international standard, of which we are all proud of. Today the same PM can not prioritize health during a global pandemic be it strategy or administrative decisions or allocation of an increased budget. 

The massive citizen-led food and ration drives during lockdown is an iterative indicator that people trust people. PM has also launched Corona Relief fund where funds are not even trickling. The Government launched Ehsaas programme, under BISP, which was redirected to cater to emergency cash transfer and food-ration provision to the people affected by the lockdown. The need for Ehsaas programme was elaborated by the Special Advisor to the PM at national media. The core of her argument was that BISP is being cheated by the people hence Ehsaas is a cleaner version. The need for institutional transparency was to ensure that there are no inclusion errors, i.e. those who are not poor but are on the beneficiary list. We did see a few hundreds of government servants being taken off from the list as well. There was a reassurance that data analytics would be used to ensure that the system is not abused. 

Yes, we do believe that analytical data will have ‘systemic abuse protection’ feature. But how does the Ehsaas programme comply with the need for ‘transparency’ by ensuring a focus on exclusion errors? i.e. poor who did not make it to the beneficiary list. What do we do with a marginalized group of people, more women of-course, who are being discriminated for not being literate, digitally literate and not having digital access i.e. smartphone and internet to access Ehsaas? How could we let people queue up for hours – during COVID-19- to be enrolled?  From a social protection lens, it failed to answer what happens if a citizen has gone through the Ehsaas/BISP assessment and fails to make it as a beneficiary list? Cans/he appeal and how would they do that? Is there an option to find the marginalized through analytics?  

It remains a fact that no government, country or leader in the world was either prepared or positioned to handle the pandemic. Yet we have loads of success stories having a common denominator of leadership – unity of command and clarity of messaging. For Pakistan, it has to start with the government getting its act together and stop the knee jerk reactions which have created confusion and chaos.  

If the government really believes the Pakistani lives matter, then, it should prioritise the following: having a short, medium- and long-term strategy to handle COVID-19, inclusive politics on the issue, acknowledging the professional efforts of the medical care workers and doctors and recognize them as role models, clear and consistent media engagement for consistent precaution and protection messaging i.e. dispelling rumours by advice on the virus from health professionals, abide by lockdowns and that it’s a long haul to the recovery process, cooperate with the police in lockdown and implementation of SOPs to be taken as mandatory.

No country can be self-respecting or just if the government starts labelling its own citizen as Chor or play the blame game in a deficit of responsibility while facing an existential governance crisis. What Pakistan needs is a leader who can strengthen institutional response by putting aside individualistic glory. What we need is the PM that promised millions around the country, a Pakistan that is built on self-respect, has the welfare of citizen at heart and delivers on justice for all.

Can we get him/her, please?

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Naya Daur