A Talk on HRDN Congress – Keynote Address

From the programme it is clear that the Congress will be dealing with a number of subjects related to human security ranging from a globalised economy to issues of governance, social protection, civic action and the building of human capital. There is considerable tension between some of these themes. Much of this tension is related to the fact that we live in a changing world, not yet clearly defined, and which is increasingly being dominated by the institutions of globalisation. These institutions determine not only relations between states (as they to used to previously), but also national policies, governance systems, lifestyles and relations between different sections of society. The nature of tensions would be different if these institutions of global governance were democratic in nature, which they are not. Let us take the three most important ones which are the UN, World Bank and IMF and WTO. The UN is controlled by five members of the Security Council who won the Second World War. The World Bank and IMF function on the principle of one dollar one vote to amend the way they operate requires an 85 per cent majority. And the principal decisions of the WTO were born out of the green room negotiations convened and controlled by the EU, USA and Japan. If these institutions were democratic, the nature of our dialogue today would be very different and the less developed countries of the world would not be as marginalized as they are today and their citizens far more secure. It is for this reason that I for one, have considerable sympathy for the anti-globalisation movements, and view the attempts by the institutions of global governance for internal reform more as a result of pressure from outside rather than a genuine desire for change. I feel that it is important that this pressure should be increased by all possible means.

Different interest groups view the changes that are taking place in our world differently and they are all represented in the Congress programme. Development economists, who to a great extent determine our development policies, and think in terms of GDP, GNP, income per capita and economic growth percentages, have reasons to be satisfied. Economic growth is high, there has never been more liquidity in banks and leasing companies, investment climate and profit margins, aided by suitable reforms, have never been better. However, a simple reading of newspapers, academic research and NGO reports tells us that civil society is deeply concerned. It feels, with considerable justification that the state does not listen to it. The gap between the rich and the poor has increased substantially and so have human rights violation. Subsidies on health and education have been curtailed and the quality of these sectors in the public realm has declined. The demand-supply gap in housing has increased phenomenally (and so have evictions) and commercial development is creating enormous environmental and social problems for all sections of society. Community organisations are also agitated and protest regularly since the market, supported by state institutions, is pushing them out of their homes and taking over their resources of production. All these concerns point to the fragmentation of society, but the fact that they are voiced increasingly, and with statistics and alternatives, provides hope for the future.

It was hoped (and still is) that decentralised systems of governance would overcome the negative aspects of the free market economy. As a matter of fact this was one of the reasons given in support of them by the organisations that promoted the devolution agenda. Decentralisation has been carried out in most developing countries. However, two important questions arise as a result of this reform process. One, does decentralisation give local governments more power and resources and thus capacity to act? And two, if local government does get more capacity to act does this actually bring benefits to the poorer sections of society who form the majority of our population? In my experience of working in a number of Asian cities, decentralisation in the de-jure sense has given local governments more power and resources but the de-facto situation is that their capacity to act is still curtailed by the larger political and fiscal systems in their countries which have not undergone a corresponding reform process. Pakistan’s case is no different. Also once selected local government representatives feel that they no longer need to consult with civil society and community organisations since they have the legitimacy to decide on their behalf. This is also true of Pakistan. The emergence of institutions of participatory democracy is necessary to overcome this.

My experience is predominantly related to the urban sector and so I will talk about it briefly in the context of the Congress themes. The greater power and resources that city governments have acquired as a result of decentralisation has been accompanied by the imperatives of globalisation which seek to attract foreign investment (from whatever source) as a priority and for that the political decision makers have developed an image for their cities and are in an immense hurry. They want their cities to be “world class”. They want them to have “investment friendly infrastructure”. In search for investment and quick results they have abandoned the modernist paradigm. As a result, they prefer high rise apartment blocks as opposed to upgraded settlements, flyovers and elevated expressways as opposed to the difficult and time consuming task of preparing and implementing traffic management plans, malls as opposed to traditional markets, removing poverty from the city centre and dumping it to the periphery (so as to hide it) rather than “alleviating” it; catering to tourism rather than supporting local commerce; planning for the period for which they are in power rather than for the long term. This is an expensive agenda and it does not serve the interests of the environment and of the lower and the lower-middle income groups in our cities. It is also mostly about projects rather than planning and for these projects loans from the IFIs are easily available. Past experience tells us that these loans and the technical assistance that comes with them does not deliver and increases our debt burden. Similar concerns could be expressed for other sectors as well and civil society organisations and communities are voicing them continuously.

The important question therefore is how does one reconcile the vision of the elected representatives and the investors on the one hand and of civil society and community concerns on the other. This can only be done if investment and development are made subservient to rules, regulations and procedures that protect the interests of the vast majority of Pakistanis and the physical environment in which they live. For the urban sector my colleagues and me at the Urban Resource Centre, Orangi Pilot Project, a number of academic institutions and other NGOs in Pakistan are quiet clear. We are of the opinion that planning must respect the ecology and natural environment of the area in which urban centres are located. Landuse must be determined on the basis of social and environmental considerations and not on the basis of land value alone. Planning must give priority to the needs of the majority population which in the case Pakistan belongs to the lower income or lower middle income classes, 60 percent of whose population is below the age of 25. Planning must respect the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of human settlements and of the communities living in them. Local resources and expertise must be mobilised for development.

However, to implement the above criteria effective planning institutions which are free from constant political interference and are manned by well trained and well paid professionals are required. We do not produce such professionals and nor do we have the institutions to produce them or even the support technicians to these professionals. We also require implementation agencies which are competent and accountable to formalised citizens and interest group committees. Civil society in Pakistan has a long way to go before it can play this role. Also, political decision making needs to be informed and aware and in the interests of the people of Pakistan. How can we create the climate for these changes to take place is an important question?

Judging from the list of speakers and the chairs I am sure that the issue of constitution and political legitimacy will surface along with the need for a legal system that can provide justice and equity to all irrespective of class, creed or ethnicity. The need for the establishment of liberal values will also surface, which can only be achieved in the long run by a system of education that teaches the child to observe, express what he observes, respect diversity and think in terms of cause and effect (where will be get the teachers for this?). These are all issues that cannot be resolved without the active participation of interest groups, communities and civil society organisations. Therefore it is necessary that a space for interaction and dialogue between politician, planners and people is established at all levels. This space needs to be nurtured and subsequently institutionalised. Do we wish to move in this direction? And if yes, then how?

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