Blaming and living with the elite



The actions of UN representatives speak volumes


These days a voice and a name – Mr Marc Andre Franche – has become familiar among varied walks of life through print and electronic media, while he left the country spending almost four years in his position as (UNDP Country Director Pakistan, January, 2013 to August 2016). His farewell interview has brought to surface decades long historic truth of this country which is ever known but stays in a sleeping mode. Andre has left behind important food for thought for us celebrated these days as talk of the town.

Yes, he has aptly figured out the social and democratic flaws in the country. The term “elite” engulfs the feudal, landowners, influential gentry, politicians and wealthy according to his statement which is almost accepted in the current context of Pakistan. But his interview leaves an equally important question regarding role of UN agencies to improve governance structure and functioning through sustainable development model in Pakistan. Are they contributing in its true spirit for the development or their role is more of another form of global bureaucratic support to the same elite that Andre castigates? Aren’t their efforts directed more toward same “elite capture” and supporting the “status quo”?

If we trace back the role of UN in this country its pro development agenda is never found to be pro-people rather it is pro-government and policies of the sitting elites to ensure an acceptable space within the Ministries that match to their thematic areas. UN agencies have never even found bothered by the dictatorial regimes while supporting the agenda of democracy, rule of law and good governance. Not very far in time during the dictatorial regime of Gen Pervaiz Musharraf UN largely supported local bodies system which was strengthened to weaken the political parties. With the shift in the government and government policies UN support either defused or infused into new paradigm without any pin pointing. Now the same UN agencies are supporting Federal Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms of the incumbent elected government in order to ensure their space at a macro level within high-ups to gain political acknowledgement. This development agenda is not penetrating at the grassroots level to comfort the common people.

Moreover we can see an obvious role of the UN agencies in humanitarian interventions during disasters, floods, earthquake, displacement and refugee situations, famine or other natural and man-made upheavals. But there is a difference between humanitarian role and a sustainable development agenda to promote public policy, good governance, rule of law and strengthening democracy which is the basis for the international agencies support in any developing country like Pakistan. The country is facing from variety of issues pertaining to children, health, population, education, employment etc where UN agencies are found partnering with the for-profit organizations such as advertisement agencies that have nothing to deliver for the sustainable development at the core. One also needs to look at the aspect of hiring the staff and consultants by UN agencies which focuses more on ‘who is who’ with a degree from some prestigious institution rather than gathering a pool of experts from the local professionals. The pattern of new recruitment these days is highly biased in favour of business management graduates (and a lot of English speakers!) working on social development projects.

Whenever new country directors are appointed in Islamabad they hold introductory networking get-togethers with the same “elite” i.e. landlords, politicians, influentials, bureaucrats, etc. The elite are asked for their input on how to advance the efforts of UN at implementation level. The entire focus is on establishing strong relationship with the government and state representatives against all odds. They chose to work through the same elite. They fund the initiatives with the input of same elite. They confirm to have same elite on board who can conveniently repeat a development jargon not tested in the local fields and will not ask for evidence-based interventions being non-specialists. On the other hand the say and input of local civil society organisations fostering the pro-development agenda in this country is meagre and invisible.

The development projects that grassroots level civil society organisation partner with them are again dependent on the same elite due to the framework devised by the UN agencies. To quote an example if the project design demands to hold a seminar with 300 youth, women or children must ensure head count, few “elite” representatives on the floor to address and next morning print media visibility through press releases all this together makes a successful event. If an organisation cannot bring on board politicians, influential people, bureaucrats the UN agencies are reluctant to work with them. Ironically, a development project of 2 years or beyond allow the partner to spend money for entire two years on rent a car for the field work but cannot buy and own a vehicle with that money. The project office can continue receiving rent for the building for 10 years but cannot apply support to build the office with that money. These policies depict an ad-hoc arrangement and not sustainable development.

My purpose is not to justify gaps in the context of Pakistan’s social fabric or governance structure rather UN agencies are also an international bureaucracy that keep an eye on the direction/policies of the government to become successful partners with them regardless of the context in countries like Pakistan where dictatorship has hindered the democratic path quite obviously many a times and in many ways.

Pakistan will welcome Mr Andre in future as well to come back whenever he finds opportunity and can contribute his role to development sector and discourage the doubted whims of “the elite”.