Transparency in governance -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Transparency in governance

Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

All the anti-democratic forces and conspiracy theorists that are seen active these days are only calling for the Dark Age of dictatorship to come back. Past experiences have shown us that dictatorships in any form are not only harmful for a country’s survival and development, but also deprive its people of the basic rights that are ensured in democracies.

The Right to Information legislation or the famous Article 19-A of the constitution sets the framework for public participation and inclusion in important decision making processes. This article is an important part of the constitutions of most democratic governments and provides citizens with the right to know the details of all the decisions and interventions made by the government that are directly or indirectly related to their interests. Pakistan, being a democracy, also has this legislation as an integral part of its constitution. However, its implementation is problematic.

Corruption is a cancer that is rampant in our system. A recent survey by Transparency International ranks Pakistan as number 34 for being the most corrupt nation in the world. Realising the importance of this survey and to bring this menace under control, our government has made a number of interventions at all levels. A common view is that this problem is only limited to the government level, but the reality is somewhat different. The survey discussed above takes into account all the necessary factors that make a country corrupt and this includes all the sectors.

Transparency not only helps governments in improving their status in the eyes of the people, but also promotes merit and fair play. However, the weapon that enables people to hold their government accountable is their right to information. This right not only enables them to monitor the working of their elected government but also acts as a reminder for the government that they have to fulfil the promises made during election campaigns.

Transparency in governance not only improves the goodwill of the government but also that of all its functionaries. Governance is not just limited to politics. Economic governance is of great importance as well. Presently, our economy is going through the worst recession of all times. Consider the price of sugar, which is soaring to Rs 120 per kilogramme. New taxes are being imposed that are making it difficult for the poor to survive. But a nation that has evaded tax for decades will not get used to this in a year or two; it will take another decade or so.

The opposition also ensures good governance because its criticism keeps the government on the right track. However, an opposition that understands its limits and criticises in a positive manner is hard to find. Unfortunately, the opposition benches in the present parliament are only criticising for the sake of criticism, which is creating more problems for the government.

After the floods, the government has taken a number of steps to ensure transparency because the international community and donors had bitter experiences in dealing with Pakistan in the past, especially during the rehabilitation phase after the earthquake of 2005. A Development Assistance Database has been formed by the government to increase transparency in disbursements and other dealings with different donors. Watan Cards are being issued to the flood affectees and NDMA and NADRA are the organisations that are in the forefront in this regard.

The media is also an important part of the whole cycle for ensuring transparency. Being a watchdog for society, it can help in the identification of culprits and the areas that have been ignored in regards to transparency and good governance. It is evident from a few examples in the past that after identification by the media, the nation was saved from big frauds like the privatisation of Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM). Being a liberal myself, I am not against privatisation but the way PSM was being handed over was unjustified.

The present government has also taken a number of other steps to ensure transparency, which is appreciable. A new accountability bill yet to be approved by parliament that might replace the existing National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with the National Accountability Commission is also an important intervention in this regard.

Accountability courts have been formed that are solely designated with the task of dealing with the cases of corruption in the present and previous governments. NAB is already working to ensure transparency in public departments. However, its mode of work is different from that of the accountability courts.

The Right to Information legislation, if implemented in its entirety, will help the population in the pursuance of their goals. It will ensure transparency and will make governance easy and efficient for the government. Democracy has a self-regulating mechanism, so we can expect good in the coming times. All the anti-democratic forces and conspiracy theorists that are seen active these days are only calling for the Dark Age of dictatorship to come back. Past experiences have shown us that dictatorships in any form are not only harmful for a country’s survival and development, but also deprive its people of the basic rights that are ensured in democracies.

The Right to Information legislation has empowered the common man and has enabled him to discuss his rights and demand them in case of a violation. We must continue with our struggle to support a democratic Pakistan, where the rights of every individual are given due importance. Good governance will only be ensured if the government is willing to ensure it. The opposition and the media must keep on playing their respective roles, but in a positive manner so that the transition towards a democratic Pakistan is not impeded.
Source: Daily Times
Date:11/12/2010