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Role of 'weak' bureaucratic structure highlighted

Business Recorder
Tuesday, 16th Jul 2013

Access to services in Pakistan is undermined by a weak bureaucratic structure whereas it is further tarnished by political clientage, resource constraints and lack of well-defined accountability mechanism. This was the crux of a special lecture "Understanding the Dynamics of Access to Public Services: The Framework for Voice, Exit and Accountability" organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) here on Monday.

The lecture was an attempt to understand the dynamics of 'Access to services 'in the public sector departments of Pakistan, while keeping in view the framework of Voice, Exit and Accountability. It was explained that 'Voice' is a mechanism through which disgruntled citizens register their complaints and the 'exit' is a situation where in absence of services from state, citizens 'exit' and acquire it from other sources.

In his lecture, Dr Shehryar Toru, Research Fellow and Governance Specialist at SDPI discussed various dimensions of 'access to public service' and maintained that people resort to 'voice' to show their resentment on non-provision of services by the state. "In the absence of any response, citizens also choose to 'exit' from an existing service and acquire services such as education and health from elsewhere, if they have disposable income. But the poor are the major losers who have to continuously look for state services as they have no other choice," he added.

He explained that advanced societies have well-functioning bureaucratic systems where welfare services are provided on the basis of equity by the state through an open, fair and competent administration. He said that access to services becomes problematic in Pakistan where apart from disposable income, factors such as influence, status and entitlements also play an important part.

He was of the view that people, particularly the poor, disadvantaged and ordinary citizens, experience access problems in getting desired goods and services because of bureaucratic procedures, various forms of corruption, ineffective accountability, and un-equal distribution of resources.

He lamented that state institutions in Pakistan are highly politicised where behaviour of officials is driven by political clout and connection with politicians. As a result, they are not answerable to the people, but to the politicians and the influential. "This clientelistic accountability system diffuses formal accountability and impartiality and weakens state structures for service delivery," he added. He was of the view that the question of accountability, therefore depends upon the active involvement of citizens not only in development planning, but raising their voices for effective delivery of services from the state.

Chairing the proceedings, Naseer Memon, Chief Executive, Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) said that human development was never a priority agenda in a 'security state' paradigm of Pakistan. "Ordinary citizens expect from democracy justice and effective service delivery and if the system can't deliver these two basic requirements besides others, all theories and fancy debates about democracy become irrelevant for ordinary people," he added.

He argued in favour of devolving a state machinery and stated that without devolving the level of services, it was not possible for the state to deliver, no matter how efficient the bureaucratic services are in the country. Talking about the provision of services from actors other than state, he maintained that although markets are not perfect anywhere but in developed societies, the state through their regulatory role, ensure that markets must deliver, behave and remain answerable to citizens.

Naseer Memon lamented the process of public sector development planning in Pakistan which has deeply been undermined by patronage politics and system of clientage. He said, "The state has surrendered to influential elites where only getting a simple water connection now depends upon the behest of some 'wadera', and if one don't have a connection, all access lines for services are cut-off for the ordinary person," he added. He also lamented that the minister or his cronies decide development plans solely for political mileage and without any research, data or information.

He urged civil society to continue raising pertinent issues through 'voice' and urged the state to respond to the public, adding, "if peoples' voices are not heard, they may resort to violence which would further add to the chaos prevalent in society."
Source: http://www.brecorder.com/general-news/172/1211836/