Governance is generally conceived as the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority in the public and private spheres to manage a country’s affair at all levels to improve the quality of life of its people. It has three dimensions: one, the political regime; two, the systems and procedures for exercising authority; and three, the government’s capacity.

Good governance in the South Asian and Pakistani context has to go well beyond ‘good’ politics or even the creation of a ‘decent’ society. It must enable the state, civil society and the private sector to enhance both social development and economic growth, as a means to greater human development and increased levels of human welfare.

Pakistani planners and economists agree that the best mechanism to sustain growth is to ensure effective governance. This may be realised through reforms in civil services, improving the capacity of institutions to frame coherent policies and ensure their consistent implementation over time, improving tax and fiscal administration, developing suitable measures for legal recourse, increasing the role of private sector, decentralising public effort, devolution of fiscal powers, improving resource mobilisation at all tiers of government and controlling corruption.

Pakistan is faced with numerous challenges today. America and the country’s development partners cannot be relied on to render courageous support that was forthcoming in the past. The development challenges for Pakistan include achieving high and sustained broad-based economic growth, particularly in rural areas; reducing poverty; providing essential social and economic services and infrastructure to the poor; creating job opportunities; and improving governance. There has been a lack of noticeable progress on all these fronts as the Government of President Asif Zardari is embroiled with the superior judiciary and finds no time to discuss the state of governance and steps that the Prime Minister can take to provide relief to the people. Left to him, it is doubtful if he could think of some original steps. Poverty remains a major challenge and its tackling is possible through accelerating economic growth, while maintaining macroeconomic stability improving the horrendous state of governance and tackling corruption. Economic growth can reduce poverty only if it emanates from sectors that have greater potential to generate employment. Various forms of poverty need identification and targeted policy interventions.

Additional income accruing in the shape of Benazir Income Support programme would not eliminate poverty, unless its causes are addressed. Hence, the need to improve access to basic needs, such as primary education, healthcare, drinking water, access to justice, in order to win the fight against poverty.  Improvement in public service delivery and governance and increase in resources is needed. Involvement of the poor in the formulation of these policies and management of their affairs is critical in attaining the objectives of the strategy, and there is need to forge a broad-based alliance with the civil society and the private sector in this regard.

There is very limited documentation on the gender dimensions of poverty; however, it is clear that the gender discriminatory practices prevalent in Pakistani society shape men's and women's choices and life opportunities differently. Women suffer from poverty of opportunities throughout their life cycle. In particular, women's access in the labour market in Pakistan is determined by rigid gender role ideologies, social and cultural restriction on women's mobility and integration in the work place, segmented labour market and employers gender biases that attach a lower value to female labour due to their family responsibilities. Female labour force participation rates in Pakistan are exceptionally low at just 13.7 percent, compared to 70.4 percent for men.

In addition, the majority of women in the formal sector of the economy are concentrated in the secondary sector of the segmented labour market, where jobs are low paid and there are limited opportunities for upward mobility. The government believes that it carries the primary responsibility for improving the standard of living of its people. It also recognises that external assistance is a supplement to domestic resources, not a substitute, and that it must endeavour to increase the latter. The government has been unable to make any progress in raising resources by taxing the untaxed. The magnitude of the resources needed to achieve the desired levels of affluence is such that the support of development partners is essential. The Ministry of Finance and Planning Commission both recognise that economic growth has to be the centre of our attention, as the most effective and sustainable means of reducing poverty. However, sustainable growth itself is largely a function of investing in programmes that are truly homegrown based on the country’s own capacity and priorities. Ownership is the key and our political leadership has to ensure that a truly functioning democracy has to develop its own capacity and priorities.

n    The writer is a retired secretary of the Government of Pakistan.