Monday, 29 March 2010

“Not in this century!”

Listed below are all the questions that I can think of that can easily be answered by the title of this article---“not in this century!”

Sports and achievement

When will Pakistan host the Olympic games?

When will we be the seventh largest winner of Olympic medals given that we are the seventh largest country population-wise?

When will we win major tournaments like Wimbledon?

When will be counted in the world of sport commensurate to our size?

When will have professionalism? In the army? In the civil service? In business? In academia? Anywhere?

Learning and innovating!

When will we win the Nobel Prize?

When will we become innovators? When will Pakistanis start participating in the race for patents? When will we engage in serious research?

When will we count in education?

When will our universities be a destination of choice for foreign students?

When will professors and professionals desire to come to our country?

When will Nobel Laureate Abdus Salam be accepted and major landmarks and a university be named after him?

Cities and urban development

When will we have cosmopolitan cities that will be considered destinations of choice? When will we have dense and interesting city centers?

When will we host some world event like a serious convention or a trade show?

When will we have the tallest building in the world? Or will we ever a have a building that lists in the top hundred in the world in any terms, height, beauty innovation etc?

When will we contribute the world of architecture and design?

When will Pakistan be a tourist destination?

When will we have cities that are not dominated by cantonments?

When will land development be free of the army and done on professional lines?

Corporate sector

When will we have a world-class corporate sector?

When will our companies be listed in the Forbes or fortune list of the best companies in the world?

When will we have serious multinationals like Tatas, Reliance, Taj?

When will we have entrepreneurship as opposed to rentseeking?

When will businessman spend more time running their business without running after government for subsidies and payoffs?

When will markets work well in Pakistan?

Society

When will we have a vibrant equal opportunity society?

When will we have public libraries in every neighborhood like most civilized countries?

When will our children know community centers where they can engage in social, learning and community activities?

When will we have classy parties and weddings rather than political and networking extravaganzas? Where we fete friends and brides and grooms rather than presidents and the spoilt powerful?

When will women and minorities be emancipated?

Governance and leadership

When will we have statesmen and learned men in leadership positions? People who are more interested in policy, reform and change than pure protocol.

When will our leaders value their tryst with history over merely running around the world collecting banquets and useless photos?

When will our leaders stop using inane and childish remarks like “I am not scared of anybody!”?

When will policy be made by our technocrats in positions of power? As opposed to merely aping what donors tell us? Or relying on ad hoc committees comprised of businessmen who benefit from the policies they design?

When will we have a serious professional civil service?

When will educated accomplished people get elected into parliament?

When will appointments be made on the basis of merit and not on your relationship with political bosses?

When will dynasties end?

* * *

Do you have any more questions that can be answered “Not in this Century!”?

Please note that there are still 90 more years in this century. That means 3 more generations without dreams! How SAD!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Eminent domain

“Eminent domain” is a legal term referring to the ‘power governments have to confiscate, or take, private property.’

Over the years civilization has come to agree that such ‘taking’ of property happen only for legitimate “public use” and property owners receive “just compensation.”

Much case law, legal thinking and commentary is available on this subject. It is perhaps a cornerstone concept defining state/citizen relationships and the limits of state power. Kings and rulers have always attempted to usurp all resources for personal use and citizenry has had to fight to establish checks on this greed. One cornerstone of the famous Magna Carta was to check the King’s ability to take over private property.

Over the years, the concept has evolved and remains a subject of considerable debate. Unfortunately in Pakistan it receives no attention. We have the famous Land Acquisition Act which has been used to build housing colonies, public sector projects, leisure clubs, and for any purpose that the government of the time deems fit. Is that appropriate?

To begin with let us clarify concepts

  • · All property is considered to be owned by the public not the public sector or the government or the state. The government is merely the manager of public property.
  • · An evolving society needs public goods such as roads, railways, utilities, etc. In many cases the state may have to step in to provide these for the public good.
  • · “Eminent domain” is exercised to take over private property for any project that is clearly demonstrable to be for the good of the public.
  • · Compensation must be transparently on market terms (it should be financial compensation only).

A good legal mind could keep us awake for nights reflecting on the many difficult interpretations of the 4 concepts outlined above. For example,

  • · Who determines what “public good” is. Most civilized places have evolved a process of consultation and court involvement before eminent domain can be exercised.
  • · Can Eminent Domain (Land Acquisition act) be used for providing land to a housing cooperative such as DHA? Legal commentators would balk at this abuse of eminent domain. Housing is always a private good and must remain in the private sector. The state has nothing to do with it.
  • · How should we view “building and zoning regulations” which restrict the use of a property and hence determine its value? Commentators have argued that this too is in the domain of eminent domain and must be carefully analyzed. Indeed zoning and building regulations are required for the public good—environment, health etc—but they can and have been frequently abused and impose a huge tax on the public. For example, buildings that look into the Coup Commander’s house or the Governor’s House are not permitted. This is clearly a tax on the owners but also on society as it prevents development. Clearly building and zoning laws need to be carefully evaluated to ensure that the public good component is operating at a limited tax on property.
  • · Can the state change the character of public usage without going through consultation? The conversion of the Naval War College on Mall Road, Lahore –recently the subject of an attack--was converted of a residential property with no due process. Can the state convert civil service academy to State Guest House without clearly showing public purpose and due process? Can the state even take over an abandoned property (FreeMason Hall) and use it as it wishes? Can a state build an office (CM office) wherever it likes? The answer in all these cases is a clear “no”!

Eminent domain is perhaps the most abused law in most countries and Pakistan is no exception. Large developers, influential people, and government officials often conspire to use this powerful law quietly to confer benefits on each other. This is especially easy to do with evolving zoning laws and building regulations. An extremely vigilant (indeed competent and continuously well trained) court system, legal community and civil society including a powerful and keenly sensitized media are necessary to prevent abuse of eminent domain.

Even in the US a Reason Foundation study found that “An estimated 10,000 cases between 1998 and 2002 involved projects where private parties benefit substantially from government seizures of property under the banner of economic development or urban redevelopment.” I leave you to think of the myriads of cases where eminent domain is being misused every day in Pakistan.

In Pakistan what amazes me is that eminent domain abuse is received with quiet calm often even with applause. Walling off GOR for example and closing off frequented streets is a clear abuse of eminent domain in recent days. Yet it has caused no more than a gentle raising of eyebrows. Security for VIPs is not cause enough for the exercise of eminent domain. Security is supposed to secure everyone not just a segment of government employees.

History can be seen as a process of freedom from oppression from poor governance for the mass of humanity. Reining in and controlling Eminent Domain may be a large part of that history.

We in Pakistan are lagging behind in that process of history. State abuse of Eminent Domain is rampant. The media and intellectual debate must keep “Eminent Domain” under constant purview and not take state abuse and encroachment as acceptable. A free people do not accept state encroachment in any form. The state is only for their good and not to encroach into their space.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Obese Government

Most donor advice to us, which most Pakistani economists slavishly accept is that revenues must increase. To this objective a number of new tax measures have been suggested and implemented without moving revenues as a ratio of GDP much.

For years I have argued that we need to look on the expenditure side of the equation if we are to control our deficit. There is little questioning of our expenditures by the media and by our citizens. Most discussion assumes that our expenditures are all for the public good. Consequently the constant refrain to increase development expenditures and expenditures for education.

My view is that we must focus on the waste in government and rationalize our expenditures so that they are truly used for public welfare.

Last year this discussion led to an article by Dr Farrukh Saleem perhaps the only article that documents a list of useless government agencies that still exist. He says,

“The government of Pakistan is fat, so fat that all the excess body fat has now put Pakistan’s cardiovascular health in extreme danger. All that accumulated fat has attracted diabetes, osteoarthritis and may be even cancer. So fat, that the airway is obstructed, breathing interrupted. Neither exercise nor dietary control is the solution. The Government of Pakistan cannot do without surgery, Bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery).

Imagine; the government owns and runs a Tomato Paste Plant and the Roti Corporation of Pakistan. There’s the Pakistan Stone Development Company, Pakistan Hunting and Sporting Arms Development Company, Pakistan Gems & Jewelry Development Company, Technology Commercialization Corporation of Pakistan, National Industrial Parks Development & Management Company, Technology Up-Gradation and Skill Development Company, National Productivity Organization, Implementation Tribunal for Newspaper Employees and Labor Market Information System and Analysis Unit. Our government spends millions of our tax rupees on each and every one of these but does anyone know what these high-sounding entities do?
Did you know that our government actually spends real rupees on the Center for Applied & Molecular Biology? The Center even has a webpage but the only things on the webpage are two rather meaningless emblems, nothing more nothing less. Then there’s the Council for Work and Housing Research (the webpage has 10 icons but the same page appears regardless of which icon is clicked), National Institute of Electronics, Pakistan Council for Science and Technology, Pakistan Council of Research in Water Technology, Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, Central Inspectorate of Mines, Directorate of Dock Workers Safety, Directorate of Workers Education, National Institute of Labor Administration Training, National Talent Pool, National Training Bureau and a Pakistan Manpower Institute. What do these organizations do? What is their mission and what have they achieved ever?

Has the National Institute of Electronics ever produced something even distantly related to electronics? What good has the Pakistan Council for Renewable Energy Technologies ever done? Has the Center for Applied & Molecular Biology ever produced anything even distantly related to molecules, or for that matter, biology? Pakistan National Accreditation Council what a joke! Has the Pakistan Automobile Corporation ever produced anything even distantly related to automobiles? Has the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan ever done anything even remotely related to trade?

Dr Nadeem Ul Haque, estimates that our Ministry of Commerce must have sent some five dozen commercial counsellors around the world. Each one of these counsellors, roughly, cost the government a crore rupees per year and that’s Rs60 crore a year. Dr Haque insists that all these high-sounding organizations should at least be asked to justify their existence.

How much software has the Pakistan Software Export Board exported so far and what has the Engineering Development Board developed? How much tourism has the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation developed?

That isn’t the end of the story. There is even more fat. PIA, SME Bank, First Women Bank, National Insurance Corporation, Hazara Phosphate Fertilizers, Printing Corporation of Pakistan, Machine Tool Factory, Morafco Industries, Sind Engineering, Lakhra Coal Mine, Khewra Salt Mine, Pakistan Steel Mills, Services International, National Fertilizers Corporation, State Engineering Corporation, Pakistan Steel Fabricating Company Limited, Pakistan Mineral Development Corporation, Ghee Corporation of Pakistan, Pakistan National Shipping Corporation, Pakistan Railways, State Cement Corporation of Pakistan, State Petroleum Refining & Petrochemicals Corporation, Pakistan Industries Development Corporation, Trading Corporation of Pakistan, Cotton Export Corporation of Pakistan, Rice Export Corporation of Pakistan, Pakistan Industrial and Technical Training Center and Pakistan Engineering Company.

Fat is bleeding the state of Pakistan dry. Obesity cuts down life expectancy. If each and every one of the entities mentioned in this article is shut down, Pakistan will be better-off, not worse-off.

Why can we not just eliminate these wasteful government agencies?

Saturday, 13 March 2010

GOR: Walling off Public land for private gain

Those who develop an expertise in the mess of Pakistan, must understand the abuse of power and its associated rentseeking that prevails in Pakistan. One important example of that is the GOR Estate. Let me explain. (For the perceptive there is much to be learnt about the political economy of Pakistan though this example).

Rentseeking Colonial Style

To house the officials that were shipped out of England, the colonial masters—the British Government—built a housing estate (using about a 100 acres of land) about 10 miles from what was then the City of Lahore and called it the Government Officers Residences Estate (GOR Estate). Understandably, the colonial managers built in some luxury for themselves including some clubs sporting facilities and parks for their exclusive use. And for all this the public exchequer was feely used. The homes could only be retained for the tenure of one’s position. Maintenance rules were clear and simple and could not be flaunted.

One would have thought that the independent state of Pakistan that lives in a chronic state of international beggarhood would have dispensed with this colonial luxury. Quite the contrary, Pakistan has developed and expanded this concept. The senior government officials, including, senior judges, ministers and government favorites are all given houses that would be the envy of their colonial masters. These houses have now been expanded and renovated to luxurious levels all at public expense. Utilities are all paid for extensive gardens are maintained by the taxpayer. Interestingly enough, the British houses were simple and simply made according to strict government guidelines. Our rulers cannot live like that.

Many GOR type estates have now been built in many cities and no one has any reckoning of the funds that are spend on this luxury for senior officials.

As the city developed GOR now lies in the heart of the city of Lahore. Unlike their colonial predecessors who recognized the need to stay out of the city, the new masters wish to live in the heart of town in great luxury. In each city they now have built palatial housing for themselves right in the city center. The result is the stunted downtown development in all cities in Pakistan

While the colonials had rules on maintenance and on retention of houses, there seem to be none now in Pakistan. The powerful few keep these houses for a life time. They may get transferred to another station but they do not give up their GOR house. Even when they retire they find an excuse to retain the GOR house. You can imagine the favors that are exchanged to keep possession of these prizes.

GOR Land is private land at Taxpayer Expense

The GOR land is considered to be for the private use of those who run the government without any consideration of the law. For example,

  • 1. There was some acreage in the middle of the estate preserved for a small park. It was converted to a small market some 50 years ago. About 10 years ago totally arbitrarily and with no consultation it was converted to place for holding events for the exclusive use of this elite group that controls GOR. Who paid for this conversion—the taxpayer.
  • 2. While this elite group has inherited the British clubs—the Gymkhana and the Punjab Club—they needed another one right in their midst. So 25 years ago, they converted one of the houses in GOR to ‘private” club for themselves. How were they able to do this? What was the due process? None! No one was told! Who paid for the conversion and the maintenance? You guessed it! The taxpayer.
  • 3. There is a house in the middle of this estate that is supposed to be for the chief justice. Sadly no one wants to live there. Well it is retained as a place for the judges to hold weddings of their children. Again at taxpayer expense.
  • 4. The Chief Secretary the senior-most civil servant in the Punjab has a designated house in GOR. But of late he is not content with one house, He has 2.
  • 5. The Punjab Chief Minister obviously is his boss and cannot be left behind. He has 2 large offices in the housing colony. This is apart from 2 other offices in the city.How he divides himself in 3 is hard to understand. One must feel sorry for President Obama. He only has one office.

This flagrant abuse of public funds for private gain has gone unchecked by people and the media. As a consequence officialdom has got further emboldened to totally appropriating GOR for themselves alone!

Let us appropriate it all: Walled Estate at Taxpayer Expense

Lahore is under attack by terrorists. The officials who are supposed to be administering Lahore are busy securing themselves through a violation of law. They have built a wall around GOR estate claiming that it is private property. The huge wall fortifying GOR and utilizing a large number of scarce police force resources has made the housing estate in the middle of town even more private.

The wall was built stealthily and quickly without consulting any of the neighbors. My house adjoins GOR and suddenly we found that there was a wall in the middle of the road in front of our house. One entrance to our house is within the walled compound and the other one outside. We are imperially told that we were not even owed a consultation.

GOR had several well travelled roads running through it. Those roads have now been fully closed some even converted to grassy parches. There was a school in the middle of GOR for the use of the poor population serving the rich masters of GOR. The school has now been closed.

For decades these officials have been fretting over the traffic flow increase through GOR as the estate is now in the heart of town. Instead of contemplating a move out of town center to make way for much needed commercial development these officials want to develop country estates in the middle of town at taxpayer expense.

Now they claim that GOR and its roads are private property. How does that happens with the taxpayer paying the bill. Only in Pakistan!

The Taxpayer subsidy to Officialdom

To put things in perspective, the country is getting 1.5 billion dollars a year from the Kerry-Lugar aid bill. While it is difficult to establish a market value, I will hazard a guess that if we can move away from this colonial system and stop paying our officials in terms of such wasteful housing allowing a privatization of GOR, over a billion dollars could be raised from the immediate sale and development of the land which in turn would yield a tax flow for years to come.

Taxpayer Helpless to check Privilege and Authority

Pakistanis have got used to not question privilege and abuse of authority. In my view this is one edge of the rule of law and fiscal responsibility.

  • · If we allow officials to use taxpayer’s money for private purposes we can never eradicate corruption and rentseeking leave alone have budgetary sanity.
  • · If we allow government to arbitrarily appropriate public land for private use, we show them the path of corruption.
  • · If acquiesce to the closing of roads and developing private parks out of housing estates, we can never have community and country.

Yes terrorism is a threat for all of us and we need to fight it together. Officials should not have precedence in terms of security. And definitely not through usurping public land and violating due process!

A complicit Media

The free and chattering media has been told to go after Zardari and lay off officialdom. They will never develop a story on issues such as this.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

What are public enterprises doing in Pakistan?

Most of our histroy we have had budgetry problems. Repeated Fund programs have been contracted to address our fiscal situation. The typical economist mantra is increase taxation. No one seems to look at the plethora of public enterprises that seem to hang over from our socialist planning days. Journalists find this to be an unexciting topic compared to the NRO and the usual topics.

So today let us review one public enterrpise-NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION. More to follow later.

National Book Foundation says on its website that in a 25 year period (1972-2007), it has produced 7113 books and revenues of Rs. 1308 million. At today’s xchnge rate that is $15 million. Using an approximate average exchange rate over this period of about 45 to the US dollar, they will have sold books worth about $ 45 million. Let us analyze this situation

  • 1. Bascially they have published 284 books in a year backed by state funding and a virtual state monopoly in its early years. This in a country of 180 million is a bit sad. Most serious countires are publishing well over a 1000 a year. According to UNESCO, India publishes over 11,000 a year, and both the US and UK publish over 2,00,000 books a year.
  • 2. It is indeed sad that NBF has made revenues of less than $ 1 to 2 million a year from a national franchise with public money. Presumably this number is total sales and we have no idea of costs since the budget is not posted on thir website. Compare this to the revenues of the Largest publisher in the world Pearson which were over $ 8 billion in 2008 which that of the 20th Largest publisher in the world Springer Science was over $1.2 billion.

Some of these agencies were set up in the era of national socialism when we wanted a separate education and build a national identity. We have seen the folly of that policy! Poor quality texts, outmoded syllabi and texts doctored by chauvinists (see KK Aziz books and SDPI and SAHE publications).

NBF is not the only public enterprise dealing with books. There are the textbook boards, Urdu Science Board and several literacy development boards.

What we need is a complete financial and performance audit of all these agencies including the NBF. I do hope some journalists will be inspired to look into this issue.

Perhaps the government might also be inspired to look into why we need to carry agencies like the NBF into the 21st century?

Sunday, 7 March 2010

VVIP Culture


Will the court curtail VVIP movements or take down walls that have been built to block off roads For VIP protection?

My vote is "no"! Courts too, are beneficiaries of the VVIP culture. They will not stand up for law.

The VVIP culture has destroyed the country....but not the will of the VVIPs. They like their privilege and they will not give it up without a fight.

Please vote below!

This is what Daily times wrote today

VVIP movement challenged in high court

LAHORE: Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed of the Lahore High Court (LHC) will hold preliminary hearing of a petition challenging the blocking of roads and stopping of traffic during VVIP movement, on March 8. Advocate Shafqat Mahmood Chauhan moved the petition, contending that law enforcement officials blocked roads during VVIP movement, causing traffic jams and problems for commuters and the public in general. He said that different government departments had already barricaded the service lanes in front of their offices for security purposes, “which is a violation of the fundamental rights of citizens”. He stated that a baby was recently born in a rickshaw in Quetta since the road had been blocked because of President Asif Ali Zadrari’s visit to the city. He said dignitaries could not be given preference over the masses “as all are equal under the constitution”. He asked the court to order the authorities to immediately open all service lanes and restrain them from blocking roads during VVIP movement. staff report

PM at Polo

PM cultivates his constituency--the elite! Where else should he go?

There are no poor youth activities since the two main games that are state susbsidized are polo and golf. Our cities have no land for soccer, volleyball, basket-ball or even gymnastics.

Gilani gives away prizes at National Polo Championship

E-mail

LAHORE, Mar 07 (APP): Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani Sunday gave away prizes to the winners of the Quaid-e-Azam Gold Cup Polo Tournament-2010 at the Lahore Polo Club.Earlier, the Premier opened the finals of the two-week long Bank Alfalah National Polo Championship Quaid-e-Azam Gold Cup by throwing the ball in.Colony Sugar polo team won the National Polo Championship by beating HSBC polo team by 9 goals to 8 in the finals.The 3rd position was bagged by Tag Heuer/Army polo team.

Colonu Sugar team comprised Naveed M. Sheikh, Atif Yar Tiwana, Fernando Qunito Bordieu and Saqib Khan Khakwani while the HSBC team included Sufi Muhammad Amir, Hissam Ali Hyder, Gaston Moore and Sufi Muhammad Ijaz.
Federal Minister for Defence Ahmed Mukhtar, Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Muhammad Iqbal Khan and Chairman Public Accounts Committee MPA Syed Abdul Qadir Gilani were also present on the occasion.


Friday, 5 March 2010

Where are the Libraries?

At a couple of recent conferences in the US, I raised the issue of the government’s lack of sensitivity to developing community goods.

My example was the lack of public libraries in Pakistan. I said that there are no public libraries in our cities. In fact provocatively, I often say that “Lahore has 5 polo fields (each 10 acres in size) and 3 Golf courses (an average size of a golf course is about 200 acres), yet there are only 2 public libraries one left by the colonial masters and one in Bagh-I-jinnah resident in a converted colonial building!” With population growing more than tenfold, no libraries or community spaces have been created.

I might also add that the government did provide city center land and a subsidy to develop golf and polo--2 games exceedingly important for community and societal development. More on that some other time!

When I pointed to the lack of public libraries in Pakistan, said this some very well-known Pakistani intellectuals started saying “not true! Not true!” Some even contended there are many libraries. The American audience was perplexed and rightly so.

Well let me give these people a list of libraries in the country of a 180+ million people.

My first source: The National Book Foundation this is what we get.

Libraries

      • National Library of Pakistan
      • Liaquat National Memorial Library
      • Khaliq Deena Hall
      • Iqbal Cyber Library
      • Punjab Public Library Lahore

University Libraries

Similar information can be found on

http://lists.webjunction.org/libweb/Asia_Pakistan.html

http://www.planwel.edu/pln.htm

Some notes on these lists:

1. Most of these are university or official libraries. They are private only available to members, students of officials. They are certainly not "walk-in" public libraries.

2. Public libraries are significantly not available (except for Punjab Public Library and the national library)

3. Most of the public grew up using the British Council and American Libraries.

4. Now that aid bureaucracies have grown to shun such long term and low-margin community commitments in favor of more lucrative long term consulting contracts, these libraries have contracted.

5. We have said nothing about the quality of the libraries on these lists.

Where does a poor kid read? Books are unaffordable. Maybe Madrassahs!

I wonder whether my well-known Pakistani intellectual friends who yelled “not true! not true!” will now learn about Pakistan.

Before they point to the tiny libraries of DHA and Model Town or Sindh Club and Punjab Club, let me remind them that they are libraries meant for the elite associated with these organizations. Moreover book collections and spaces allocated to housing them are more often than not less than adequate!

What is needed are public libraries to introduce youth to global knowledge.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Conflict of Interest

Mohsin Khan, a well known Pakistani economist, made an interesting observation the other day which deserves thought.

He asked me if there is an Urdu translation for the term “conflict of interest!” My Urdu being relatively limited, I called a couple of serious Urdu scholars in Pakistan. After some hesitation and much thought, they came up with multi-syllable Persian and Arabic formulations.

So Mohsin’s point is well taken: “it is not surprising that Pakistanis do not know the meaning of conflict of interest!” Consequently we find that

· Industrialists serve on policy committees advising on matters that could affect them.

· Industrialists, businessmen and agriculturists are on the board of the central bank setting exchange rate and interest rate policies from which they directly benefit.

· Businessmen as commerce ministers while running their businesses boards

· Bankers serve in many places while running banks

These are only some examples of “conflict of interest” in our government. I am sure many of you could come up with many more.

This is an issue that needs to be watched very carefully in all societies even the US. Nobel Laureate Stiglitz points to deep seated conflict of interest at the heart of the recent financial crisis in the US.

Huffington Post records {To Stiglitz, the core issue is that regional Fed banks, such as the New York Fed, have clear conflicts of interest -- a result of the banks being partly governed by a board of directors that includes officers of the very banks they're supposed to be overseeing.

The New York Fed, which was led by current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner during the time leading Wall Street firms like Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, AIG, and Goldman Sachs were given hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts, presently has on its board of directors Jamie Dimon, the head of JPMorgan Chase. He's been there for three years. He replaced former Citigroup chairman Sanford "Sandy" Weill.

"So, these are the guys who appointed the guy who bailed them out," Stiglitz said. "Is that a conflict of interest?" he asked rhetorically.

"They would say, 'no conflict of interest, we were just doing our job,'" he answered. "But you have to look at the conflicts of interest."

A message left for a New York Fed spokeswoman after regular business hours was not returned.”

"The reason you talk about governance is because in a democracy you want people to have confidence," Stiglitz said. "This is a structure that will undermine confidence in a democracy."}

Our media could learn from this and look at “conflict of interest” in all appointments.

Perhaps we should just adopt the term “conflict of interest” in Urdu.

Policy: Wisdom or Metaphors?

Crisis is in the air! You cannot switch on the TV without hearing “crisis!” Every few days there is a conference on the crisis. I attended one in Dubai recently and enjoyed the discussion but left me a little uneasy. Let me see if I can explain?

I guess what really concerned me was that the hall was in a “fix it” mode. They all felt that the crisis needed fixing and the refrain was that “we” should fix it. Of course the list of what was to be fixed was long: the financial crisis, coming water crisis, the food crisis, health issues and not to forget the environment issue (thanks Al gore).

Who is “we?” The answer ranged from the government to civil society and everything in between. The collective “we” was difficult to comprehend. How is it that the government, civil society, private sector the market and the international community are all going to work together when it has never happened (other than wartime)? But the gathering was in an engineering mode. Suggestions were flying around on this supposed collaboration building a new order, delivering welfare, cleaning the environment, educating kids and looking after the needy.

By then we were in the comfort zone of agreement and wishing! No one wished to go deeper into issues to question this collective “we!” No country works in this collective “we” sense. All countries are a collection of interests including those of the government, businesses, various parts of civil society which may not all be in agreement with each other and of course these days very importantly those of external powers and markets. More often than not it is difficult to think of these in any collective sense leave alone as an entity acting in unison as in “we!”

Can all social and economic problems be engineered through simple solutions like “building education”, “providing public amenities to all!” and “achieving food security?” Just look at post war history of development with the IFIs and many development-aid agencies throwing their might—intellectual and economic—at combating underdevelopment. The record is not so great poverty persists and a billion people remain stubbornly below the poverty line.

We should all be humbled by this experience and resist the “we” in our policy suggestions and most importantly oppose simplistic solutions. Society is a complex system that resists intervention and ill thought out interventions can have unintended and often unpalatable consequences. We thought the big dams were a solution only to learn after the event of their environmental consequences. Excessive reliance on cars led to public transport systems to decline and suburban model of city development to take root. Now with Mother Nature fighting back, we are learning to think differently. Education systems were built in denial of globalization only to lead to youth unemployment.

Solutions to society’s problems need careful study and research in each and every situation and location. The rush to a solution through a casual allusion to a passing acquaintance with what happened in the West could lead to surprisingly undesirable results. Many countries have spent decades building an outmoded car industry taxing their populations only to find mounting losses.

But then at such gatherings there are always some people (often the more influential ones) who say that the solutions are well known, we just do not have implementation capacity. All we need to do is develop management skills. Then the business school metaphor takes over. We need better managers and leaders. We need better strategizing and more project management. After all the knowledge of what needs to be done is easy and here the speaker will allude to what happened in the US, Europe or to the Asian tigers as if we all have a complete analysis of what happened there.

This refrain of “prescriptions are available: we need implementation” too would be humbled if it is confronted with evidence of how efforts at aping different country experience in many countries have failed. The debate about what how countries developed is still on. Perhaps the only lesson that strongly emerges (and Dubai is a clear example of it): everyone must follow their own path and this path is one of innovation (again Dubai is a good example).

Then there was the notion that the government can and should deliver on the various objectives. Here military metaphors were frequently used. “Those in the front line must fight the war against the crisis.” A lot of emphasis on strategy and leadership and winning with many analogies to war! The conclusion is clear we need generals, actors and doers. We can dispense with the thinking! Charge!

But charge at what?

Let us step back and reflect! Let us not forget that it was the army and business school metaphors that the pre crisis world was built on. It was those strategies that generated wanton financial warfare and it was that leadership that gave us Enron, Citibank and Lehman. The government too was at war on drugs, on poverty, on terror while the volcano was building up!

What should then be done instead? Perhaps a more thoughtful discourse somewhat more humbled and less of those military and business metaphors. A discourse that is mindful of society’s complexity, respectful of knowledge not action, sensitive to research and new ideas and always aware of the need to focus and innovate. In our rush to business school and army metaphors, maybe we are forgetting that knowledge and wisdom are the leaders of the charge. I know in this world it is unwise to talk of the classics and philosophy but I was reminded us all of Plato and his Republic that was based on “philosopher kings” dedicated to wisdom and learning. Kids used to learn of Plato before business schools took on the military metaphor.