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

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Pounding Head of Poverty

Future trends show that the world poverty is decreasing and we are nearing the era when the poor of today will live the standard of the average rich of today. Contrary to this trend, in Pakistan poverty levels are going further up. Although many Pakistanis have greatly improved their standard of living since 1947, yet over 30 percent of them—around 42 million people—still live below the poverty line. The gap between the rich and poor has widened with some gaining financial comfort while others are finding it impossible to permanently escape from destitution.

Poverty is hunger. Poverty is lack of shelter. Poverty is being sick and not being able to see a doctor. Poverty is not being able to go to school and not knowing how to read. Poverty is fearing the future, living one day at a time. Poverty is losing a child to illness brought about by unclean water. Poverty is powerlessness, lack of representation, and freedom.

Poverty has many faces, changing from place to place and across time, and has been described in many ways. Most often, poverty is a situation people want to escape. So poverty is a call to action—for the poor and the wealthy alike—a call to change the world so that many more may have enough to eat, adequate shelter, access to education and health, protection from violence, and a voice in what happens in their lives.

For many, lack of access to income-generating activities, coupled with lack of basic services in education and health, is the determining factors behind acute poverty. In Pakistan, lack of access to credit, training in income-generating activities, basic social services, and infrastructure are critical factors behind the persistence of substantial poverty, especially in underserved rural and urban areas. Poverty levels also differ depending on where people live. The metropolitan poverty rate differs greatly between suburbs and the central city.

At the Millennium Summit in 2002, major development organizations looked at development goals, which had been agreed at international conferences and world summits during the 1990s, and distilled them into eight goals with eradication of extreme poverty and hunger at top. The Goals were formed in response to what was seen as uneven development progress, where globalization benefits millions, but poverty and suffering still exist.

This is scarcely surprising considering that those who live below the poverty line and that any supplementary income from working children becomes unavoidable for their families to make ends meet. We have to understand as why children go to work. If parents don't send their children to work I am sure factories will not be able to consume them. No mother likes her child to go for work. It is financial crisis, which forces. Our understanding should be little more practical as no parents want their children work at the age when children are to study and play.

The stress on a gradual approach towards eliminating child labor is the correct one. At the same time, poverty alleviation efforts must be stepped up, so that the loss of an earning member of the family is not felt, so actually and over an indefinite period of time.

Poverty is no longer just a matter of calories or of pricing a consumption bundle. It has to do with the poor defining and achieving their well being themselves and living a life in a participative society where the State is an enabling rather than a hindering institution. It is not that income or consumption level is unimportant. It remains at the core of any definition of poverty. But we must view it as an input as much as an outcome. It is an input which contributes towards well being. But just as important are public goods – health care, clean water, literacy, and healthy environment.

Pakistan's rural sector accounts for more than 70 percent of employment, and roughly two thirds of rural employment is in agriculture. Less than a third of rural households get loans, only 10 percent of which are from institutional sources. Pakistan's credit institutions are not helping the country accelerate agricultural growth and reduce poverty.

To improve performance in the rural economy and efficiency in financial institutions, rural credit markets must be liberalized.

Produce and price controls must be replaced by prudent regulation and supervision, combined with policies to stabilize the economy. Commercial banks must operate in a competitive environment. They must be allowed to set interest rates for rural lending that cover their transaction costs. Credit must be made available to support productivity growth for agricultural smallholders and small producers of the rural non farm sector, where Pakistan's growth potential lies. Credit must be made available to women and to the rural poor for consumption smoothing and for sustainable income generating activities.

Policy should be directed at developing a market based financial system for rural finance, but because of market failures to support disadvantaged groups, a special priority program may be needed to get credit to women, smallholders, and the rural non-farm sector.

Subsidizing interest rates is not the way to help marginal borrowers. Instead, they can be helped through fixed cost subsidies and self-selected targeting. NGOs should be encouraged to help, keeping in mind such success stories as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Badan Kredit Kecaratan (BKK) in Indonesia.

Pakistan needs to make the policy choices to help it translate economic gains into real poverty alleviation for its citizens. It needs social protection, human development, and a well-coordinated rural strategy. Issues of governance are at the heart of many of the difficulties encountered in mitigating poverty and broadening access to social services for the poor. Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation

Reengineering the Politics

Pakistan is a country that runs politics without politicians. And this has remained a major, if not the sole, obstacle against political stability in the country. The conviction of the people suffers from a serious scarcity of politicians with the capacity of perceiving, exploring and exploiting political-democratic opportunities for their necessitous citizens. This scarcity has left Pakistan with the option of practicing politics without politicians. And the result has remained the same: despair, pessimism, cynicism, and neglected pile of problems such as unemployment, poverty and a broken society.

Politics in Pakistan is a ghastly pursuit—what helps one group is thought inevitably to harm another; what benefits one must hurt the other. It is a politics of despondency. In the name of advancing the interests of one's own group, it rejects attempts to educate, pressure, or change the society as a whole, thus accepting the status quo and revealing its essentially conservative nature. It is a politics of defeat and demoralization, of pessimism and narcissism. By seizing as much as possible for one's self and group, it exposes its complete disregard for the whole from which it has separated—the rest of the society. It thus rejects the search for a just and comprehensive solution to social problems. It is fundamentally conservative, working against progressive change and supporting the status quo.

In politics of Pakistan the intent is acquisition of power, and a culture prevails where people as well as the nation have become insensitive to human values and feel no hesitation in trampling over the rights of others. The ambition for power has thus turned out to be the tumbling block for establishing peace, equality and a true sense of fellowship. Such exhortation to goodness and moral superiority will remain in a pious ideal if our political leadership failed to translate it in social and political policies.

As ill luck would have it, the name of the game in Pakistan has become winning the elections and not incessant development and prosperity for all. Consequentially, problems such as unemployment, inflation and rule of law are bumping up and no political entity in Pakistan seems concerned. The only implicit, overt and covert concern is for power.

The manifestos of all political parties are no more than points of etiquette. They lack the power to foster commitment, motivation and clarity of vision and purpose. They do not surround certain principles and processes, which are properly observed in their development and deployment. They fail to connote the manifesto of political parties forming the basis for strategic direction and daily action. They are not developed in ways that they become powerful tools. Our political parties do not adopt the new philosophy, institute leadership, and eliminate slogans and exhortations. They fall short of doing away with personal goals and putting everyone to work to accomplish transformation. This requires leadership and commitment to a common mission, which all political parties lack.

Perhaps Z. A. Bhutto was the first (and the last) to offer a program that ignited the spirits of people. Today’s political organizations, including the party he left behind, lack agenda, harmony with values, inspiration, motivation and the ability to capture the heart and soul of the people. Consequently, whatever deficient programs these parties offer are identical, monotonous and ambiguous. They only differ in phraseology and verbosity.

Manifestos of most major political organizations are substance deficient. Even during a supplementary election recently held in my vicinity, I could not determine the main thrusts of political agendas of the contestant political groups (one candidate supported by a coalition of PPP, MMA, PML-N, Tehrik-e-Insaf while the other represented PML-Q). The entire campaign pivoted around attacks and counter-attacks. I could not even grasp the vision of PML-Q. Different leaders had different interpretations. Regrettably, no political party in Pakistan has a stated vision.

For all our political groups are without the vision people are locked in their past and present and incapable of imagining a future that will be better, they’ve lost hope. Politics has thus become mere “business,” horse-trading, squabbling about power with little sense of the ends to which power is the means. Gaining and holding on to power has become the purpose. For vision is what generates purpose for a society, without vision public life in Pakistan has become a battle of interests, unconstrained by a larger horizon of meaning. By and large, the losers are the powerless and the vulnerable—the luckless people.

By having a manifesto with people’s soul in it, a political party can have continuity. This is one of the major benefits of managing and leading by a manifesto developed by a participative process. It provides a long-term continuity and help leadership to maintain a long-term competitive advantage because it has direction and purpose. And when individual values are harmonized with those of the political enterprise, people work together for common purpose that is deeply felt. They contribute more as a team than individually. Thus the productivity not just gets better it gets dramatically excellent.

Today Pakistan is in dire need of people-service engineers, political-democratic entrepreneurs, and change agents who can dedicate their careers to the job of serving their people in solving their micro and macro-societal needs.

Pakistan needs those political leaders who can yield their personal interests to national interests and have the need of maintaining public accountability; who can keep the political machinery going for the future growth of their political career which is needed by the society; and who can discern that the military is right there seeking and watching out to grab power and impose dictatorship.

The new challenge lays ahead—the challenge to enable society to operate in dynamic balance with the threatening external environment. The nation yearns for leadership capable of providing direction and inspiration needed to survive and prosper into the 21st century. Pakistan desperately needs political re-engineering for driving the nation toward survival and prosperous future.Asif J. Mir, Organizational Transformation