BOOK REVIEW | Governing the Ungovernable: Institutional Reforms for Democratic Governance

Governing the Ungovernable: Institutional Reforms for Democratic Governance in Pakistan

ISBN: 9780199408979

Written By: Ishrat Hussain

Review By: Bukhtawer Pervaz

Dr. Ishrat Hussain is presently serving as Advisor to the Prime Minister Imran Khan for Institutional Reforms & Austerity. He was the former Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan and also a well-known Pakistan’s Economist. Governing the Ungovernable is a befitting contribution in the present system of governance as it discusses the concept of social, economic, and sustainable development as discussed in the chapters i.e., the economy, polity, society, federal, provincial and local governments, judiciary, civil services, legislature, military, religious edifice. This book is based on complete research and rejects some hypotheses that include foreign assistance syndromes, security state syndrome, and gives a new perspective that what are the main issues in Pakistan exits related to governance.

In the international arena, states require a proper governance system but unfortunately, the governance system of states works differently. The governance system has a key role in the economic and political stability of the country. Pakistan seems to be an ungovernable state that may be due to political instability, poor economic indicators, external influence, or lack of governance. Pakistan’s governance system is inherited from the British council that has deteriorated the system over time. This book Governing the Ungovernable: Institutional Reforms for Democratic Governance, clarifies the reasons behind the failure of institutions and how the working of government influences the stability in Pakistan.

Furthermore, it has covered multiple themes of public life including  economic and civil-military relations, and also suggests that it is difficult for us to suggest ways out of the various problems that bother us and connects different topics with huge differences, brings them together, and connects them to the same main topic on which the book focuses on “Governance”. Dr. Ishrat Hussain has given two phases: the first phase from 1947 to 1990 and the second phase from 1990 to 2015, in the first phase Pakistan was in developing countries, and in the second phase the situation was in boom and bust. The first chapter gives an overview of the book whereas the second chapter briefly explains the historical background of Pakistan. The country faced six  significant setbacks during its first 40 years of history. The partition  resulted in a truncated history without any infrastructure and financial resources, which served as the foundation for this economy.

Pakistan was one of the top economic performers in the world, growing by 6 percent per annum. At that time Bangladesh was struggling and Pakistan was ahead of China and Vietnam and then Pakistan had become a legit country after 1990. In the last 25 years, the country was ruled by a democratically elected government. The economic performance in the Military rule was far better than the former one. The independent and politically neutral bureaucracy till the 1980s was the main reason for the better economic performance. Bhutto’s bureaucratic reforms, most importantly, the renunciation of security of service delivery that destroyed the country’s governance due to weak civil institutions, the politicization of government service, and the promotion of mega-corruption during institutional atrophy.

The book discloses many assumptions regarding Pakistan’s military domination, defense spending as a proportion of GDP that has been reduced since the 1990s. The budget allocation for the military was low during Musharraf’s regime but currently, the combined education and health budget allocation is higher than the military. Moreover, the author also discussed the military expanding corporate influence and it has been shown that military-owned corporations accounted for only 4.5% of the total market value of the corporate sector in 2016. Ishrat Hussain also pointed out the economic decline to an average rate of 4.5 percent at the start of 1990 and during Musharraf’s tenure 2002 to 2008 the economic growth rose to 6 to 7 percent, GDP ratio increased at 23 percent and  foreign investment reached US $5 billion. The general argument is that the United States has always provided aid during the military era in the 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s which is revealed by the author that the civilian governments also received large foreign inflow from the Gulf countries as well as from the international financial organizations. Similarly, he argues that the quality of governance is the key determinant of good economic performance, not foreign assistance. The author argues that the US not only supported dictators but always supported its interest. The author also discussed the civil-military relationship in the context of a strong executive, an activist judiciary, and a weak parliament. It is the responsibility of the civilian leadership to make parliament an effective forum to exercise its oversight powers over the executive and promote civilian supremacy. The election commission can play an important role in strengthening democracy through proper screening of electoral candidates for that it needs to be independent.

 In Pakistan, the primary reason for unsustainable economic development is a lack of governance, since governance promotes the economy, and as the economy improves, all social indices improve as well. The flaws in the civil institutions were explained in the book and proposed reform agenda for the institutions that range from civil bureaucracy to the private sectors. The author explores that  when governance is  sound, economic growth rates  are high, and the growth rate was high during the military regime due to better governance. Moreover, the  present poor performance of the education and health sector is  the result of  bad governance and this is not due to less allocation of budget.

The absence of a significant, important, and determined reform circle in the country is a major obstacle in the path of reform. After the election cycle, political parties block reforms because they involve adjustment and may take longer to reap the benefits. Dr. Ishrat Hussain is more optimistic when he points out that a civic, politically conscious, and developing middle class will be the catalyst for demanding progressive governance reforms.

The author has made some recommendations and indicated the importance of electoral reforms, democracy in political parties, devolution of power, restoration of administrative machinery, and modernization of administrative methods and practices in the government. Moreover, he suggested approaches for restructuring key public institutions that refer to accountability, security, economic growth, and equity. The book is  a great contribution to the social sciences texts that helps in justifying the drawbacks in the governance system.

BOOK REVIEW | Governing the Ungovernable: Institutional Reforms for Democratic Governance

About Bukhtawer Parvaz 2 Articles
The author has an M Phil degree in Government and Public Policy from National Defense University, Islamabad. She has previously worked for National Assembly of Pakistan and Institute of Strategic Studies, Research & Analysis (ISSRA). She is currently working for Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research. Her major areas of interest include Public Policy, National Security, Water Crisis and Pak-Turkey relations.

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