Rolling out the Red Carpet

I welcome you to my blog and hope that you will like the tour. Please leave your footmarks with comments and feedback. This will through and through enhance my knowledge and profundity of thought. Enjoy! Asif J. Mir

Monday, July 28, 2008

Poverty, Development and Democracy

In my last column I discussed about the anti-poor development in Pakistan. I have the reason to believe that my dissertation shall be falling short if I failed to explicate the parameters for pro-poor policy framework, hence this subject matter.

It is widely recognized that development is about much more than growth of GDP. Equally, everyone appreciates that democracy is more than simply a matter of universal suffrage and the holding of regular multiparty elections, essential though these are. So we need to understand exactly what is meant by development and democracy today, in the twenty-first century.

There is a need to recognize the links between democracy and good governance on the one hand, and poverty, development and conflict on the other.

A strong, effective, accountable state is the first pillar of democracy and development. International institutions alone cannot and should not take responsibility for eradicating poverty, authoritarianism and conflict. Pakistan’s government should take the initiative by ensuring that its own core institutions of democracy are fully accountable, and by adopting pro-poor development strategies and promoting democratic reforms and human rights at all levels.

The foundations of a democratic state are worth recalling: a freely and fairly elected parliament that is broadly representative of the people; an executive (government) that is answerable to parliament; an independent judiciary; a police force that responds to the law for its operations and the government for its administration; and armed forces that are answerable to government and parliament.

The financial affairs of any democratic government should be monitored by parliament through a public accounts committee, and by an auditor-general answerable to parliament.

Civil society is the third pillar of pro-poor development and democratization. Building the capacity of citizens’ organizations and a free and well-informed media are critical for promoting citizen participation, holding government to account and empowering poor communities. Poor people and poor communities, for example, are in the best position to understand and articulate their own needs, and their voices should be heard directly within government. But they are not and here political rights and opportunities can be bolstered through community action.

The media plays an important role both in giving voice to citizens and in holding government and the private sector to account on their behalf.

Where international economic organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO set down conditionalities or constraints on policy, it must be in the pursuit of pro-poor development, and must work in ways that do not erode democratic institutions and human rights at the national and sub-national levels.

There is a need for responsibility, partnership and concrete actions – from the government, private sector, civil society and international community. Without responsibility on all these levels, development and democracy will remain rhetoric rather than become reality.

The principal aim of development no longer focuses on maximizing marketable production of goods. The emphasis now is on expanding opportunities and strengthening human capacities to lead long, healthy, creative and fulfilling lives. Development is about enabling people to have the ‘capabilities’ to do and be the things that they have reason to value. Poverty is the deprivation of basic capabilities and development as the process of ensuring that the most basic capabilities are achieved by all.

Basic capabilities include: being adequately nourished, avoiding preventable morbidity and premature mortality, being effectively sheltered, having a basic education, being able to ensure security of the person, having equitable access to justice, being able to appear in public without shame, being able to earn a livelihood and being able to take part in the life of a community.

Pakistan has a weak administrative capacity. Public officials are poorly trained or lack experience in public expenditure management. State institutions, such as ministries and judiciaries lack sufficient resources or are plagued by entrenched systems of corruption. Inadequate numbers of women at decision-making levels in the civil service and judiciary means that women’s interests are not represented in policy formulation and implementation.

Ill-health is also a cause of poverty. A single experience of sickness in a family can divert energy and resources, leaving the household in deep poverty. Diseases such as malaria, and tuberculosis are not only personal tragedies; a high prevalence of such diseases is associated with significant reductions in economic growth.

Many anti-poverty plans are no more than vaguely formulated strategies. Pakistan needs a genuine action plans - with explicit targets, adequate budgets and effective organizations. Pakistan does not have explicit poverty plans but incorporates poverty into national planning. And many of these then appear to forget the topic.

The government has difficulty in reporting how much funding goes to poverty reduction - unable to distinguish between activities that are related to poverty and those that are not. It confuses social spending with poverty-related spending. But much government spending could be considered pro-poor if it disproportionately benefits the poor. Under these conditions it is probably best to set up a special poverty reduction fund - to give a better financial accounting and to allow government departments and ministries to apply to the fund for financing for their poverty-focused programs.

The scope of development policy has become broader, making ‘pro-poor development’ a vital additional analytical category that orients attention towards those people most in need. Recognizing that ‘development’ is still used loosely in the policy world to refer to development strategies for Pakistan, rather than particularly for poor people, it is important to distinguish and promote ‘pro-poor development’. Development policies aimed at the general population may have a more limited positive impact on particularly disadvantaged groups. Pro-poor development concerns those policies that are specifically
designed to enhance the quality of the lives of the poor.

Pakistan must start out inventing pro-poor developmental policies. This can be a hat in the ring for Yousaf Raza Gillani government. Quite the other way, the climbing poverty will snuff out all his claims for transforming economy for emancipation of the poor lot. (