Sunday, May 09, 2010

Money Isn't Everything Mr. Hamid

I couldn't agree more with Ahsan's preceding post, Mohsin Hamid is dead wrong when he assumes that an increase in taxes would rid us of our ills. As Ahsan points out, the problem lies in how the taxes are spent not in how much money is available - this is actually exemplified by how our are collected, we pay very little into our provincial and local government and I'm pretty sure that any increase in the tax revenue is likely to flow into the federal government.

Over the past 10 days I've run around the United States meeting people from each pillar of the government, and the thing that's really struck me is just how complicated the American system of government really is. There is a three tier system of governance: federal, state and local, governed by federal, state and local laws and funded by federal, state and local laws. "This is a state that is designed to create eternal internal tension" says an American federal judge, a contender for the spot on the Supreme Court.

If the American system creates tension, the Pakistani system creates acquiescence. In Pakistan we have this one giant Military-Executive pillar, that rules over us, governs us through its laws and rules and is funded through our money. And to claim that the Pakistani judiciary is strong after the lawyers movement is to not really understand the rule of law and justice. A powerful Chief Justice doesn't mean you have a strong judiciary, it means you have a powerful chief justice willing to exercise his constitutional authority, nothing more.

I am awe struck by the strength of the American judicial system. The true power of the American judicial system results from it being separate from the other branches of government in a manner that is unheard of in almost any other country. Over 90% of the litigation occurring in the United States takes place in state courts, and many of these judges (varies from state to state) are elected. Imagine that, an elected judge.

In Pakistan, our judiciary is still born and weak beyond compare. And its not just a matter of resources, the Asian Development Bank recently gave a huge grant to Pakistan to help the country improve its judicial system. The money was spent in raising the salaries of judges and court staff, sprucing up buildings and buying computers (most of which lie idle). Our government officials / administrators / judges weren't insincere, nor did they misappropriate the money, they didn't know what to do with the money. This ties into what Ahsan termed as "State Capacity." Pakistan is so ill formed as a state that its pillars of government do not really understand what they are supposed to do even when they have the resources.

I've always been quick to pass judgment on our government officials but that's not fair, there are severe institutional constraints placed on our officials. Almost everyday a lawyer at our firm will criticize a judge of the High Court for being incompetent - and many of these judges may well be incompetent. But we fail to realize how little help our judges have. In the United States judges have an extensive staff of professionals including court clerks (comprising of law graduates from the top American universities), they can rely on organizations such as the National Center for State Courts, this is a system of justice not just a lineup of judges.

We can raise our taxes and we can pump in money into the government but until the Pakistani state straightens out its priorities and begins to understand what a government, what a state, is supposed to do we won't have a brighter future.


Wise Bass said...

. Imagine that, an elected judge.

I don't think a lot of Americans consider elected judges a good thing. I mean, if you're before a judge, you want the judge to consider your case on the merits, and not be constantly worried about whether or not a certain result will affect his re-election.

Almas said...

Dear Ahsan, AKS is useless! please please bring back BUBS.

takhalus said...

It goes without saying in economic terms Pakistan's state lacks the capacity to spend the money it receives. the provinces and local governments are the worst in this regard..why is teh rehabilitation of swat so stalled? The local and provincial government lacks the bility to spend the money it's received..obviously corruption is a factor but it's not the only factor.

Separate to this is a more fundamental truth that Mohsin Hamid misses..throwing money at things is not the way to bring about's been tried in country's which have capacity and done little ..

What changes things are a synergy of political stabilitty and the right set of priorities. Once you have that ..the rest follows.

I'd make an observation about the American political system which Fareed zakaria once made..the political system is very cumbersome and inefficient..but it's success is inspite of its shortcomings and not because of..

Not Today said...

What I want to know is why you guys don't coordinate publishing posts in a more equally distributed time-frame?

It's either feast of famine here. A lot of good stuff misses reflective read and gets lost in an avalanche like today.

Do consider that unlike your fanboys who mostly treat your posts to engage in mass mutual intel-mast/fondle contests with each other, there are silent readers who may actually read the real post [ and stimulate in private ;) ].

Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said...

I don't think the American Judiciary is a good example for a model for Pakistan.
The American Judiciary is actually pretty subservient to the political wind and political interests. I think judiciaries in countries like Israel, and South Africa are probably better models.

Ahsan said...

I agree with Not Today. AKS, did you really have to write a post on the same day on the same topic as me? That too after not blogging for about 6 months? You're an idiot.

Anonymous said...

The movie version of "AKS goes to America" won't even make it to DVD

Riveting stuff

Anonymous said...

Jeez was Mohsin Hamid talkin smack about yo mamas'?

AKS said...

Sorry guys, my bad. Should've posted this as a comment on Ahsan's post.

Anon 813 I fear you may be right, I'm hoping that years later it becomes a "so bad that its good" cult hit.

Smci said...

I think it's helpful to think of things in terms such as this:

If tommorrow, miraculously, the tax collection issue in Pakistan was to be fixed to the point that we could tangibly know the exact amount of rupees that are making it into State coffers, would you support a tax hike?

If so, your main contention isn't libertarian, it's structural.

If you still wouldn't support a tax hike, then you're obviously a libertarian. Which includes a mistrust not just in a central government's abilities to function as the most efficient provider of services, but also a mistrust in th agents of said government, its politicians.

Another thought would be, particularly because AKS mentioned comparative analysis with the United States, to look at where the United States was when it was a relatively young republic. And even still, we should remember that the US, or for that matter any other nation, including India, was't dealt the same historic hand of challenges that Pakistan was dealt (which in no way excuses the gross ineptitude, selfishness, or corruption of its politicians or Army staff).

Smci said...

Also, how on Earth has no one yet commented on this!?

Nabeel said...

We talk about improving state capacity and the 'state' straightening out its priorities...I think a large and probably under appreciated part of the problem is that there aren't enough qualified people working in the govt to begin with. that may well be primarily because of the politics...but it's tough to find a university graduate who'd want to work in the public service. yet it's that capacity that seriously needs to be addressed - the reason that our state doesn't know what do with resources may well be that the best educated finance graduates and accountants in the country are working for P&G, not PIDC

Smci,on the intikhab alam link, I suspect Ahsan is too disgusted...most of the other bloggers are probably both disgusted and depressed.