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FM Shah Mehmood Qureshi holds Telephonic Conversation with Singaporean Counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan

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Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi held a telephone conversation with the Foreign Minister of Singapore, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan today, to discuss the situation arising out of the Covid-19 Pandemic and ways to address the situation. Commending Singapore’s deft handling of the public health crisis.

Foreign Minister of Pakistan Shah Mehmood Qureshi : File Photo

Foreign Minister Qureshi stated that timely measures had helped in containing the spread of the virus, and that Pakistan looked forward to learning from Singapore’s experience in the field of epidemiology. While briefing his Singaporean counterpart of the steps taken by Pakistan to combat the disease, the Foreign Minister also evinced interest in the Application, ‘Trace Together’, in Pakistan to break the chain of transmission.

The Foreign Minister thanked the Singapore government for facilitating the return of Pakistani nationals from Singapore. The Singapore Foreign Minister also appreciated Pakistan’s support in the repatriation of Singaporean nationals from Pakistan. Foreign Minister Qureshi highlighted Prime Minister Imran Khan’s call for debt relief and restructuring to help developing countries create the fiscal space needed to combat the disease, save precious human lives and shore up economies.

The Foreign Minister thanked Dr. Balakrishnan for his standing invitation, and stated that he looked forward to visiting Singapore, at a mutually convenient time, once the crisis was resolved. The two Foreign Ministers agreed to stay engaged on Covid-19 and other matters of mutual interest.

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Democracy

LGs and welfare

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WITH a renewed focus on conducting local government elections, the issue of grassroots governance has bounced back into the news and policy cycles. This is reflected in the various aspects of LGs being dissected by political and civil society stakeholders, and activities — including protests by political parties — to find better and lasting ways to improve local governance.

Historically, the local bodies, first introduced during Gen Ayub’s military regime, have waxed and waned in line with the wider political schemes of state managers. It is an open secret that LGs are strategically renewed by military governments for undermining the established local political elite and manufacturing into existence a new layer of more pliable grassroots leadership. Meanwhile, elected governments and political parties too have neither looked kindly on the prospect of LGs taking root for similar fears that their locally established leadership might be challenged by new political actors.

However, irrespective of the intention behind the strategic diminishment and resurrection of LGs, the consensus across the political and academic spectrum is that local bodies are the linchpin of service delivery and the chain of political representation. Moreover, their role as connectors of higher-tier government structures and grassroots also remains unchallenged. In this respect, while many aspects of LG service delivery roles are being pored over, the role as a deliverer and administrator of social protection programmes has not been given the attention it deserves.

In Western democracies, the political governance landscape is based on local parish and councils. It is unimaginable to see them knocked out of the political representation and service delivery chain. In the UK, without local councils administrating education, social welfare systems etc, the whole edifice of a unitary state would come crumbling down. In Pakistan, however, LGs have been turned off and on like tap water, discouraging the exercise of people’s right to local representation.

With LGs, Ehsaas can have a greater reach.

The role of LGs in the administration of social welfare programmes is by now also well established in the developing world. Brazil is both associated with introducing participatory budgeting at the municipal level and the use of LGs in the administration of its famed cash transfer programme Bolsa Familia. This model has been copied in the rest of Latin and South America with municipal offices playing an ever-greater role in the roll-out and administration of similar cash transfer programmes. Brazil’s municipalities are at the front and centre in managing its social registry, carrying out a broad set of functions including identification of low-income areas, registration of beneficiaries, data collection and verification, training and outreach etc.

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In Colombia, LGs are responsible for processing new applications and updating existing beneficiaries’ data on a rolling basis. Each municipality signs an agreement with the national cash transfer programme, committing to specific obligations and responsibilities. Committees are also established at the municipal level to handle complaints and allegations of ineligible beneficiaries.

In Pakistan, however, the role of LGs in the roll-out and administration of cash transfer programmes has been not systemically thought through. One of the key reasons for this is the evolving and expanding nature of the Ehsaas or Benazir Income Support Programme and the uncertainty about the continuance and longevity of LGs.

However, now that LGs seem to be back in fashion, steps should be taken to make them a permanent feature of political representation and service delivery chains. Only when the LG system is allowed to put down roots and firm up its uninterrupted presence can we begin to think about ways to shoehorn social protection programmes into LG structures for ease and confidence of its beneficiaries.

As the Ehsaas programme expands, LGs can provide it with a firm foothold, acceptability and greater reach among the public. Pakistan should definitely learn from the pragmatic fusion of local bodies and social protection programmes for better service delivery and generating wider public involvement (and hence support) at local levels. Political parties also need to change course and see LGs as the permanent enhancer of representative and service delivery aspects of democratic governance rather than as competitors of established local elites. In the longer term, there is also a long-overdue requirement for conducting research into how the absence of LGs has contributed immensely to the crisis of democratic governance and falling standards of centralised service delivery that we see today.

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Democracy

Parliamentary System vs Presidential System: What’s Better for Pakistan?

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Introduction

The failure of the parliamentary system in the country has raised concerns regarding its effectiveness. The populace is divided between the pros and cons of transitioning to a presidential form of governance yet again after the pathetic display of the politicians in the Parliament over the budget proposals. The overarching concern, in either case, is for the delivery of democracy and good governance to the grassroots level.

Bad governance has been construed as a seminal issue in Pakistan. So much so that the country’s populace has been deliberating over Pakistan’s parliamentary system vs a possible presidential system. The country, through history, has experienced different kinds of governments; from democracy to military dictatorship, to civilian martial law by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Pakistan inherited its current government system, the parliamentary form of government, from its former colonial rulers, the British. Ironically, while the parliamentary system has been successful for governance in the latter, the case for Pakistan is on the contrary.

The failure of the parliamentary system in the country has raised many reservations. Does a single solution of a parliamentary form of government resolve all problems? Considering the varying demography, culture, and history of both countries, how can one size be fit for all? Recently, a debate on transitioning to the presidential system has surfaced on social media. The population is divided between the pros and cons of each form of the governing system.

However, in either case, the overarching concern is for the delivery of democracy and good governance to the grass-root level. Both schools of thought are, hence, unanimous regarding their concern for a strong government. The question, however, remains as to which of the governing systems can deliver upon these values effectively.  

Pakistan has experienced both forms of governments, yet a large number of the population is unaware of the merits and demerits of either; an essential understanding is lacking about the deep-seated problems vested within the governmental structure of Pakistan. One of the major reasons for this downfall is the perennial tug of war for power.

Understanding the Presidential and Parliamentary Systems

Many in the country believe that the presidential system is synonymous with dictatorship as it is a ‘one-man’ rule. The main cause behind this perception is that some leading analysts and media persons continue to protect the parliamentary system that has bogged the nation down. To clear such fallacies, one must understand the true meanings and merits of the presidential system.

It is erroneous to tantamount the presidential system with dictatorship as those are two different notions. Moreover, the presidential system is a form of the democratic system; many countries which are perceived as the torchbearers of democracy are under this form of governance. The champions of democracy must realize that the presidential system fuels the argument for effective democracy and is not undemocratic.

In the presidential system, the president is elected by the people directly which makes the power concentrated in his office. This makes the perception of a one-man rule somehow true yet it also leads to a strong government. It preserves the head of the government from the fear of being ousted by the opposition which leads to focus on public development and service delivery.

This lack of fear also entails the depoliticization of administration; talented and skilled manpower is sought to ensure efficient service delivery as the president must maintain his/her popularity with the masses. Moreover, the coercion for compromises inflicted by opposition parties is not there. It provides irrevocable fixed terms to legislators and executives.

As far as the question of one-man rule is concerned, the president can be impeached but by the approval of both houses; the process of impeachment is quite intricate as compared to the parliamentary system. This provides the government with enough strength to deliver favourable services to the common citizens of the nation.

The presidential system engages talented people and paves the way for good governance by limiting the legislature to focus on governance and delivery. In the presidential system, unlike the parliamentary system, the budgetary allocations and spending are delegated to the people at the grass-root level in union councils with checks and rudimentary transparency. The presidential system ensures the separation of power between legislative and executive branches.

It is relevant to mention here that the presidential system ensues the peril of becoming a dictatorship in some cases if the president starts to victimize its political rivals; it becomes complicated to halt his/her activities through impeachment due to the complexity of the system. It can further augment the notion of being discriminating amongst minorities or those factions which are not averse to the president on an ethnic or lingual basis.

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On the other hand, the parliamentary system is much weaker in terms of strength as compared to the presidential system. Impeaching a prime minister is easier in the parliamentary system than doing so in the presidential system. The government thus remains perplexed about its stability as there is no irrevocable fixed term of the executive and legislatures in the parliamentary system.

This forces the governments to make inevitable compromises and compensations to the opposition parties to keep the government intact. These compromises result in a friendly opposition and can hamper a check on the government because the former often seems eager to jump on the bandwagon of the latter to protect its vested interest – which is not about the public service delivery in most of the cases.

The advocates of the parliamentary system posit that it provides equal representation and voice to all the people of the state without discrimination. A major demerit of the parliamentary system is that it does not separate the power between the executive and legislative branches of the government which leads to the politicization of the administration of the country. This politicization then stimulates the culture of patronage, corruption, and decline in the reliance upon professionalism.

Successful Presidential Systems in the World

The United States is exemplary for a successful presidential system. In the US, the presidential system has been deployed since the inception of the country. The United States is a cauldron of different cultures making it a heterogeneous society. The success of the presidential system in the US is no secret; it was its governmental structure that made it a superpower in the world despite being a former colony of Britain which is a parliamentary democracy.

One of the salient features of the United States’ governmental structure is its system of checks and balances of the legislature, judiciary, and executive which ensures the functioning of the three branches constitutionally and in favor of the public interest.

The country has made unprecedented progress in history due to its strong government which may not be the case in the parliamentary system. The system hampers the president to victimize his political rivals thus negates the notion that it can lead to dictatorship. Furthermore, the powers concentrated in the office of the president enable him/her to make crucial decisions that are in favor of the country without compromising with the opposition to secure his/her term.

The presidential form of democracy and its performance in the country amply denote that this form of government can produce exemplary impact, particularly in cases where the parliamentary system has failed – Turkey is one such example.

One cannot disagree with the sharp rise in the soft power among the Muslim countries and progress of Turkey in the recent past which was not possible erstwhile. For this purpose,  Turkey revoked its parliamentary system and adopted the presidential system. Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – the former prime minister of the country – has changed the system of the government in the country to ensure strong governance, allowing him to take prompt decisions for the good of the country.

The powers are now separate in the country. Legislative powers are vested in the Grand National Assembly while executive powers are exercised by the Council of Ministers which is directly appointed and headed by the president. The rationale behind the change in the structure of government in Turkey was to have a strong government that could make bold and efficient decisions without facing hindrances from the opposition.

The example of China and Russia would be pertinent to cite here as the governmental structure in both these countries concentrates powers in the office of the president. Some might oppose these examples as they are not democratic countries, however, these countries comprise strong and stable federal governments which along with many other factors have contributed to the rise of both these nations in the 21st century.

Parliamentary System vs Presidential System in Pakistan

Good governance has been the core issue of the country. Pakistan has experienced both forms of government in history: the presidential form under the military rules and also during the civilian martial law of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and the parliamentary system during the democratic regimes. If we look at the facts and figures of the progress and prosperity of the country, it is easily understandable that the country was doing well in terms of improving living standards, education, health, and development during the three military regimes when the presidential system was in effect.

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The local body system was also endorsed in its true spirit as stated by Ishrat Hussain, Advisor for Institutional Reforms and Austerity of Pakistan, in his book Governing the Ungovernable: Institutional Reforms for Democratic Governance in Pakistan. Although the presidential form of the government was experienced under the non-democratic military rule yet the progress made during the military rule by no means justifies the intervention of non-democratic forces in the democratic process.

Pakistan comprises of heterogeneous society and all the segments of the society must get equal representation in the government which is only possible in the parliamentary system. This argument is used by the advocates of the parliamentary system in the country but the question is that has this equal representation resolved the issues of the people that are being represented? The answer is a big no.

The plight of the people of Baluchistan, Sindh, and FATA is an utter substantiation of the bad performance of the parliamentary system. Most of the politicians in the country are averse to the debate on the change of the governmental structure arguing that the presidential system is dictatorial. In reality, the presidential system is not undemocratic instead it is one of the forms of the democratic systems imposed in many countries of the world.

The presidential system is not perilous for the democracy but, in reality, it is a threat to the vested interest of the corrupt political elite of the country. Many argue that the parliamentary system is working well in Britain, Canada, and many other countries but the reality is that the literacy level in these countries is much higher than that of Pakistan.

Most of the politicians in the latter country are feudal lords who lack the essential knowledge regarding the functioning of the democracy and parliamentary system, and also the competence to rule the country effectively. It is a common perception in the country that most of the politicians are corrupt and they participate in politics to serve their interests.

Pakistan inherited the parliamentary system from its former colonial ruler. The structure bequeathed by the British to the subcontinent was deliberately designed to centralize the monopolistic control through political mafias as the former were least concerned about their colonial subjects.

The populace of Pakistan needs service delivery to the grassroots level. For this purpose, a country needs strong, well-structured, and agile local governments which are fully accountable to the people and can also eliminate the notion that resources are not allocated equally in every region which is possible in the presidential system as has been experienced in previous such governments in the country.

The agile local governments can also be used to curb the sentiment of being dealt unfairly by the central government. If the parliamentary system was able to do so then the plight of Baluchistan would have been different which delineates the failure of the parliamentary system in Pakistan.

The wealthy elite, through the parliamentary system, succeeds to reach the apex ministries in Pakistan based on its influence while being incompetent. The history of the country is replete with such instances. Unfortunately, the country’s politicians who are seen to be the torchbearers of the democracy manifest such undemocratic attitudes.

One such example is the statement of the Minister of Railway after the recent accident when he refused to resign from his office. If a similar incident would have happened in Britain or any other parliamentary country, the situation would have been otherwise. Hence, keeping the undemocratic attitude of the people and politicians of the country in mind, it is unjust to compare the country with Western countries where the parliamentary system is performing best.

In Pakistan, a fresh debate of the parliamentary system vs the presidential system must be launched by the political scientists and leading think tanks to assess which form of government is most effective for the country’s performance. Pakistan severely needs strong governance and political stability in light of its declining condition under the parliamentary system.

This failure, by no means, advocates the military’s intervention in the country. Nevertheless, the political elite must become actualized of their corruption and incompetency which paves the way for non-democratic forces to intervene.

A change of system or at the very minimum, a healthy and lucrative debate on this subject is crucially needed for the continuity of democracy in the country, and further to remove the resentments of the minority factions and destitute of the country. The essential concern must remain the amelioration of the plight of the people and not merely an adherence to a specific governance form.

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Development

The Development of microfinance industry depends upon the resilience and risk management: SECP Chairman Amir Khan

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Islamabad : SECP Chairman, Aamir Khan emphasized that in these challenging times the development of microfinance industry depends upon the resilience and risk management, achieved through quintessential pillars of liquidity-tapped through private capital and technology embracement. Khan was addressing the Non-Bank Microfinance Companies Stakeholders Forum organized by SECP to devise a way forward and collaborate strategic response to cope the challenges posed by COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

The SECP Chairman Amir Khan, along with Commissioner Specialized Companies Division, Farrukh Sabzwari chaired the session. Representatives of Pakistan Microfinance Network (PMN), State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF), Pakistan Microfinance Investment Company Limited (PMIC), Karandaaz Pakistan and multilateral donor agencies including the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Department for International Development (DFID) attended the session.

 The Chairman SECP advised NBMFCs to go far product diversification to insurance solutions and saving products and build capacity of their workforce to attain business development and operational efficiency. He endorsed formation of a working group consisting of nominees from SECP, PMN, PMIC and NBMFCs to further analyze the situation. The working group will also take up the matters with relevant forums including ministry of finance, SBP and multilateral donor agencies for possible solutions.

Khan expressed SECP’s firm commitment to providing all possible support to industry not only during the current pandemic times but also in developing the industry on a strong footing. SECP Commissioner, Sabzwari highlighted the measures taken by SECP to provide relief and flexibility to the NBMFCs and their wholesale lender in managing funding requirements. He also talked about SECP’s advice to NBMFCs to defer and reschedule borrower loans.

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Participants acknowledged SECP’s timely intervention to provide regulatory relief to NBMFCs in managing their credit lines and funding requirements. However, industry representatives expressed their concerns on potential defaults by borrower and liquidity crunch that may lead to capital crisis in the industry.

They raised the need of new money injection into the industry through collaborative efforts of microfinance regulators and the government. Representatives of international donor agencies attending the Forum expressed their resolve to extend fullest possible support to Pakistan’s microfinance sector.    

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