Wel­fare state

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

THE con­text in which the idea has been mooted most re­cently is re­veal­ing. Prime Min­is­ter Im­ran Khan's call to es­tab­lish a wel­fare state is a laud­able enough am­bi­tion. A modern, pro­gres­sive, peo­ple-ori­ented state is surely the di­rec­tion in which the coun­try ought to be headed. Yet, Mr Khan's lat­est call for the es­tab­lish­ment of a wel­fare state came in a meet­ing with a PTI MNA, Riaz Fatyana, who has earned the ire of the PTI rank and file for ap­pear­ing to de­fend Saad Rafique, the PML-N leader en­snared in a NAB in­quiry. Seem­ingly to demon­strate his con­tin­u­ing con­fi­dence and trust in Mr Fatyana, the prime min­is­ter has or­dered him to draft a par­lia­men­tary bill that will make Pak­istan a wel­fare state. Per­haps the prime min­is­ter was hop­ing to kill two birds with one stone: ex­press con­fi­dence in a PTI par­lia­men­tar­ian un­der at­tack from within the party and kick-start the PTI's leg­isla­tive agenda with a pop­ulist bill. If so, that is the prime min­is­ter's pre­rog­a­tive - but it still leaves unan­swered the con­tours of the wel­fare state that Mr Khan wants im­ple­mented in Pak­istan.

The prime min­is­ter, as re­ported in the me­dia, has sought rep­re­sen­ta­tion of all seg­ments of so­ci­ety in par­lia­ment and im­prove­ments in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor. To the ex­tent that Mr Khan has en­vis­aged rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dis­ad­van­taged groups, for ex­am­ple, labour or agri­cul­tural work­ers, in par­lia­ment, it could help shake up the par­lia­men­tary sta­tus quo. A wel­fare state, how­ever, goes far beyond ideas for im­prov­ing the agri­cul­tural sec­tor. In­deed, most po­lit­i­cal ideas for im­prov­ing the agri­cul­tural sec­tor have in­volved in­ef­fi­cient sub­si­dies and tax breaks that do lit­tle to help the poor­est and most vul­ner­a­ble in­di­vid­u­als in the sec­tor. In a meet­ing with PTI MNAs from D.G. Khan divi­sion on Tues­day, Mr Khan re­peated his call for the cre­ation of a wel­fare state, but this time ref­er­enced the abun­dant nat­u­ral re­sources in the coun­try. Per­haps Mr Khan ought to con­sider a more struc­tured ap­proach to the cre­ation of a wel­fare state.

At a min­i­mum, a wel­fare state is about the pro­vi­sion of ba­sic health, ed­u­ca­tion and jus­tice. It can quickly be ex­panded to take into ac­count ad­e­quate hous­ing, mass trans­port net­works and in­come sup­port. Within the con­sti­tu­tional struc­ture of Pak­istan, even a bare­bones wel­fare state would cover re­spon­si­bil­i­ties by all three tiers of gov­ern­ment. And ev­ery ser­vice has a cost - the crit­i­cal other side of ba­sic ser­vice de­liv­ery be­ing the state's abil­ity to fund those ser­vices. It is wel­come that even rhetor­i­cally a prime min­is­ter is con­cerned with the plight of all Pak­ista­nis, es­pe­cially the most vul­ner­a­ble. But if Mr Khan in­tends to trans­late his rhetoric into de­liv­ery, a more pur­pose­ful ap­proach to gov­er­nance and re­forms is needed. More of­ten than not, a gov­ern­ment that seeks to do too much ends up achiev­ing lit­tle.

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