Javid Husain The passage of the 18th Amendment Bill by the National Assembly unan-imously on April 8 was a rare occasion for celebration by this nation which too often has been cheated and betrayed by its ruling elite. The adoption of the 18th Amendment Bill by the Senate and its enactment would at least enable us to get rid of the distortions introduced into the constitution by the military dictators and contribute to the strengthening of the democratic order in the country. Admittedly the amendment bill still leaves considerable room for improvement. Yet, it is better than nothing at all. Further, the possibility of another constitutional amendment, if it attracts the required support, is always there to bring about additional improvements in the constitution. The systemic improvements brought about by the Amendment Bill will hopefully pave the way for good governance in the country. However, it remains to be seen whether the political leadership at the helm of affairs would demonstrate the necessary wisdom to make good use of the reformed constitutional framework for providing security and justice to the common man and for ensuring his economic well-being. Unfortunately, the past two-year record of the governments, at the federal and provincial levels, does not inspire a lot of optimism regarding their future performance. Wherever one looks at, one is struck by gross incompetence and rampant corruption from which these governments suffer. The case of the federal government, which carries more responsibility than anybody else in overcoming the challenges confronting the country, is particularly pathetic. Many of its leading lights, as well as its army of ministers and advisers, have earned a well-deserved notoriety for both incompetence and corruption. Its ministers and advisers, who have been charged with corruption and deception, apparently have no qualms in carrying on with their official duties without clearing their names. Further, there are daily stories in the media of hidden and not so hidden attempts by government representatives to frustrate the accountability process through one stratagem or the other. It may be true that some or all of the charges against the government leaders, ministers and senior officials have been politically motivated. But what prevents them from disclosing publicly the full truth about their assets and financial dealings both within the country and abroad to debunk those charges instead of hiding behind legal niceties or political slogans? While the cases against them in various courts must be brought to a speedy conclusion, they must realise that the responsibility of men and women holding public offices is far greater than that of a common man in the street. Their reputation and their integrity must be totally unblemished. If they are not prepared to come up to this high standard of integrity, they are not fit to hold public offices. The problem of corruption in the government has been compounded by the blatant disregard of the principle of merit and cronyism which have become the hallmark of our governments at the federal and provincial levels. The resultant incompetence of the government to come to grips with the serious challenges facing the nation has aggravated the economic and social problems of the common man. The impression one gets is as if the government has simply abdicated its essential responsibilities or has lost the capacity to deal with these problems. Consequently, the people are overwhelmed by the problems of widespread and grinding poverty, runaway inflation, lack of quality education and health facilities, deteriorating infrastructure, aggravating energy crisis and growing water shortage. The industry has come to a virtual standstill due largely to the energy crisis. The rate of economic growth has slowed down to about 2.5 percent per annum during the current financial year which is just enough to keep pace with the growth in population. The inability of the federal government to resolve the energy crisis during the past two years is a glaring example of its incompetence in handling vital national issues. The minister for water and power, who had assured the nation that loadsh-edding would end by December 2009, is now busy giving lame excuses for his failure. It seems that neither he nor the federal government realises the gravity of the situation or the enormous damage that the energy shortage is inflicting upon the economy. If the minister had any sense of honour, he would have accepted responsibility for his failure and resigned by now. But it seems that words like honour, responsibility and integrity do not exist in the vocabulary of the present government ministers. The cost to the national exchequer of the rampant corruption and gross incompetence is massive to say the least. It may be difficult to quantify it. But a few examples would illustrate its enormity. According to recent official statements, the annual government subsidies to public sector enterprises like PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills, WAPDA etc amount to Rs 250 billion roughly. One can safely assume that at least three-fourths of this figure, that is Rs 185 billion, is due to sheer incompetence and corruption. By the way, our total national expenditure on education covering both the public and private sectors is around Rs 180 billion or just 1.4 percent of GNP as against the required minimum international norm of 4.0 percent of GNP. We could, therefore, easily double our expenditure on education, which is the premium mobile of economic growth, if we could simply eliminate waste in our public sector enterprises. If as a rule of thumb we assume that incompetence and corruption account for about 30 percent of our federal budget, not a very unrealistic assumption considering the daily stories of corruption and cronyism that one hears from the media; the cost to the national exchequer of these two factors would be as high as Rs 772 billion. Just to put this figure in perspective, our total development expenditure during the current financial year, both at the federal and provincial levels, is likely to be less than Rs 400 billion. By increasing the efficiency of our government sector and eliminating or at least minimising corruption, we could triple our development expenditure, provide the much needed educational and health facilities and other economic necessities to the people, and also build up our physical infrastructure and accelerate our economic growth. The enactment of the 18th Amendment is likely to increase the pressure on the government for good governance. Prime Minister Gilani henceforth will have no excuses for the governments failings in this regard. If he has to come up to the peoples expectations, he must immediately reconstitute his Cabinet to get rid of the dead wood and corrupt elements and undertake a major overhaul of our creaking governmental structure to give the pride of place to the principles of merit and efficiency and to eliminate corruption in its working. Considering the angry mood of the people, he does not have too much time left for this purpose. His inability to provide good governance and resolve the serious problems confronting the nation may destabilise the country both politically and economically. The writer is a retired ambassador. E-mail: javid.husain@gmail.com