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Published Date: Jul 15, 2013

SDPI Press Release (July 15, 2013)

Access to services in Pakistan is undermined by a weak bureaucratic structure
which is tarnished by political clientage, resource constraints and lack of accountability
mechanisms.

This was the crux of a special lecture on “Understanding
the Dynamics of Access to Public Services: The Framework for Voice, Exit and
Accountability” organised by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI)
here on Monday. Fayyaz Yasin of SDPI moderated the proceedings.

The lecture was an attempt to understand the dynamics of ‘Access to
Services ‘in public sector departments in Pakistan while keeping in view the
framework of Voice, Exit and Accountability. It was explained that ‘Voice’ is a
mechanism through which disgruntled citizens register their complaints and the ‘exit’
is a situation where in absence of services from state, citizens ‘exit’ and
acquire it from other sources.

In his lecture, Dr Shehryar
Toru, Research Fellow and Governance Specialist at SDPI discussed various
dimension of ‘access to public service’ and maintained that people resort to
‘voice’ to show their resentment on non-provision of services from state. “In absence
of any response, citizens also chose to ‘exit’ from an existing service and acquire
services such as education and health from elsewhere, if they have disposable
income. But the poor’s are major loser who have to continuously look for state
services as they have no other choice,” he added.

He explained that advanced
societies have well-functioning bureaucratic systems where welfare services are
provided on the basis of equity by the state through open, fair and competent
administration.  He said that
access to
services becomes problematic in Pakistan where apart from disposal income, factors
such as influence, status and entitlements also play an important part.

He was of the view
that p
eople, particularly the poor, disadvantaged and ordinary citizens,
experience access problems in getting desired goods and services because of
bureaucratic procedures, various forms of corruption, in-effective
accountability, and un-equal distribution of resources.

He lamented
that state institutions in Pakistan are highly politicised where behaviour of
officials is driven by political clout and connection with politicians as a
result they are not answerable to people, but to the politicians and influential. “This clientelistic accountability system diffuses formal accountability and
impartiality and weakens state structures for service delivery, he added. He
was of the view that question of accountability, therefore depends upon the active
involvement of citizens not only in development planning but raising their
voices for effective delivery of services from state.

Chairing the
proceedings, Naseer Memon, Chief Executive, Strengthening Participatory
Organization (SPO) said that human development was never a priority agenda
in a ‘security state’ paradigm of Pakistan.
“Ordinary citizen expects from democracy to provide justice
and effective service delivery and if the system can’t deliver these two basic requirements
beside other, all theories and fancy debates about democracy become irrelevant
for ordinary people,” he added.

He argued in favour of devolving state
machinery and stated that without devolving the level of services, it is not
possible for state to deliver, no matter how efficient bureaucratic services
are in the country. Talking about provision of services from actors other than
state, he maintained that although markets are not perfect anywhere but in developed
societies, state through regulatory role, ensure that markets must deliver, behave
and remain answerable to citizens.

Naseer Memon lamented the process
of public sector development planning in Pakistan which has deeply been undermined
by patronage politics and system of clientage. He said that “The state has
surrendered to influential elites where only getting a simple water connection now
depends upon behest of some ‘wadera; and if one don’t have connections, all access
lines for services are cut off for the ordinary persons,” he added. He also lamented
that minister or his cronies decide development plans solely for political mileage
and without any research, data or information.

He urged civil society to
continue the raising the issues through ‘voice’ and urged state to respond to
publics adding that, “if  peoples’ voices
are not heard, they may resort to violence which would further add into the
chaos prevalent in the society.”