A hundred and fifty dollars. That is what the per capita income of Pakistan and South Korea was 50 years ago. And 184 is the number of times South Korea has been able to grow it as of today. For Pakistan, things so bright; with only an 11 times increase in PCI. The world is moving at an immensely fast pace in terms of both reform and economic growth, but Pakistan has lost way too much time tackling with various problems that keep bogging it down and hence has not made any real progress any way you look at things.

So if we are to succeed, experience long-term sustained economic growth, increase government efficiency and capitalise on the overemphasised ‘potential’ that we have, we must first get serious about reforming the ‘corrupt’ political system.

For a country to truly move forward, money must not be part of politics. However, the Pakistani political system is just the opposite. Money has become so deep-rooted in politics that even the truly well-off cannot think of participating in the electoral process. In major urban centers, it is routine for parliamentary candidates to ‘invest’ up to Rs 1 billion in the election campaign. And before even that, some candidates have been quoted as saying that they invested as much as Rs250 million just to get a party ticket to contest the National Assembly election. At the provincial level, the investment routinely touches the Rs 100 million mark for a party ticket.

Power Play

But the rewards start pouring once you make it to the assembly, for the real trade begins then onwards. The highest bidders throw in attractions like ministries, chairmanship of parliamentary committees, hard cash, brand new SUVs, free air trip to the capital, vacations at lavish resorts and even reimbursement of all expenses incurred in the respective election campaigns. Things get more heated in Senate, when MPAs and MNAs run from pillar to post to maximize the gains in an exchange for votes.

The end goal? Secure the backing for electing a prime minister or gaining two thirds majority. The story is quite similar in the wheeling and dealings that go on at the provincial academy.

The parties vying for highest offices in the country also have to deal with the arm twisting of smaller parties, who usually want to punch above their weight by amassing any and every favour that they can.

Despite losing the mandate at large by winning only a few seats, these smaller parties still manage to get hold of key ministries and positions by exploiting their presence in parliament and helping larger shareholders reach majority, which technically, is a violation of the mandate of the people. Moreover, coalition governments are also synonymous with instability and threats and plagued by continuous arm twisting and manipulation at the hands of coalition partners.

Keeping Control

Once a prime minister has settled in, begins the endless struggle to keep party parliamentarians as well as coalition partners happy and by his/her side. This sometimes even entails handing out crucial ministries to people who may not do justice to the portfolio, often leading to losses worth billions of rupees to the national exchequer through unsuitable policies and thoughtless decision making.

I once met a minister for Science and Technology who confessed to not knowing how to save a phone number in his cell phone. Perhaps, it was too scientific a procedure for the science minister. How can such people come up with a comprehensive policy on harnessing artificial intelligence for economic growth or oversee the formulation of the national IT policy?

We need to separate governance from lawmakers and make them concentrate on advocating for the rights of the people who got them elected and legislate for the people’s wellbeing.

The running of the affair of the government must be left to people who are truly qualified for the highly specialized jobs. Raising the right man for the job will ensure that the country is run keeping progress and national interest in sight, not self-interest of parties and their members. We need experts and professionals to run the country and help it deal with its numerous problems. The government should be run by teams of qualified and efficient managers, administrators, non-partisan experts, technocrats and leaders appointed on merit to ensure that public service delivery and governance is at a level where it ought to be.

Switch

To get rid of the manipulation and exploitation that come flying towards the executive from various quarters and in various shapes, I propose Pakistan must shift to a presidential form of government. Once the executive is constitutionally independent from the legislative body, the endless exploitation from MNAs and MPAs will cease to matter. Also, the system would also benefit from the independent checks on both the legislature and the executive by each other. Currently, there is no independent forum to approve or disapprove legislation done by the parliament.

On the other hand, Local government bodies must be strengthened and development funds equally divided between’ legislative assemblies and local bodies. These two measures could truly really make governance more appropriately balanced and representative.

The presidential system could also ensure an elected leader is directly answerable to people who get him to the highest office. In a parliamentary system, the executive is often at the mercy of legislators and there are plenty of examples of prime ministers being sent packing under the guise of “in-house change”, a number of which are based on horse-trading. No wonder then that none of the Pakistani prime ministers have completed the mandated five-year term, despite the people trusting him with the job. With a presidential system in place, the executive would be relieved from the pressure of such malafide moves, and be able to concentrate more on things that truly matter. This notion alone has the potential to create an environment of political stability that could lead to greater investor confidence, better culture, better rule of law, stronger and more stable institutions run by competent resources. All of these combined could create a truly enabling environment for sustained economic growth.

In most international rankings, Pakistan ranks worse than Zimbabwe, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal and Sri Lanka, countries with far less bountiful land and much less human resource at their disposal.

A powerful president — with the freedom to choose a team of ministers that is competent and fit for a job based on their expertise, not on their political influence — might have a chance to concentrate on Pakistan’s resources and realize the overemphasized “potential”.

The debate about Pakistan at 100 must consider the switch to the presidential system. Otherwise, we ought to remain spinning in circles that we have been for the past 70 years.