What’s a little sovereignty worth?

Published: April 26, 2011
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Our country has failed its citizens. In a world where South Korea just spent tens of billions of dollars to ensure that each citizen has high speed broadband connections, fewer than 20 per cent of Pakistanis have access to the internet.

Think about this: more than 75 per cent of our population does not know what Google is. And yet, in 1947, South Korea was as poor as we were.

So what do we do?

The current state of affairs

One would think that, like Indonesia, we should be spending as much money on education as possible (Indonesia devotes a whopping 20 per cent of its GDP to education). But, the ones in power, bizarrely believe that a mere 1.5 per cent of the budget is adequate.

It’s not.

You know that.

You also know that our government schools are dreadful, which is why you send your children to English medium private schools and, if you can afford it, to universities abroad for higher education.

You have no faith in the system here. You believe it is rotten to the core, and even if you were to pay all your taxes, you do not think the priorities set by the rulers of this country are rational or sane.

So you refuse to be party to it. Mentally and physically, you (and I include myself here) remove yourself from the real Pakistan.

We all have our strengths

I have an idea to change things.

The idea is simple: let’s voluntarily give up our sovereignty on key aspects of the country. Let’s ‘outsource’ our education policy – everything from what is taught in schools to overall school administration and management at the primary level in villages and towns across the country.

The idea isn’t that strange when you think about it. The rich world – the West – today outsources many work functions to countries like India and China. In fact, countries in the developing world compete fiercely with each other for this back-office business. It’s a win-win for both countries. The developed countries and their companies are able to lower costs and devote their energies on focusing on more value added tasks, while the developing countries are able to increase employment and slowly move up the food chain of productivity and build a base for technology transfer and acquisition.

What I propose is the exact opposite.

Accept weaknesses and deal with issues

Let’s admit it: we are hopeless administrators. Our leadership can’t resist patronage, can’t resist taking bribes and certainly cannot run and manage complex tasks such as devising and implementing an educational policy that delivers results. And, no amount of musical chairs at the top is going to change things. Instead, why not outsource this task? To whom? Perhaps the Finns – from among all OECD countries Finland came out in the top three in math, reading and science literacy in the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment).

How much would this cost us? I haven’t done the math but I am sure that we can hold the Finns accountable in ways we simply can’t hold our own leaders. And, we can ask for progress reports and targets. How about 99 per cent literacy rate by the year 2025? That’s only thirteen years from now.

Imagine a Pakistan in which 99 per cent of the population is literate. It would be a totally different country, transformed in every sense. And the Finns could tell us how much money they would need to do all this.

Hire the best

This could just be the start. What if we outsource our tax collection to the American Internal Revenue Service (IRS)? Nothing strikes fear in the heart of any American, no matter how rich or poor, than a call from the IRS. Again, it’s not like we need to abdicate control entirely. We could set targets. How about 75 per cent tax representation by 2020? Imagine how much more money would end up in the national kitty. Recently the IRS came calling on HSBC bank demanding that they hand over lists of their Indian-American account holders who may be dodging tax by hiding funds in India.

We could outsource our economic policymaking to Singapore (this tiny island, no bigger than Karachi’s defense, has managed to create one of the richest economies in the world with zero natural resources).

And the best part: how about outsourcing our energy policy and administration to Japan? Imagine, no blackouts, no load shedding in the year 2020. Imagine the corresponding increase in productivity.

Why it’s worth it

As someone who has travelled to more than 50 countries, from China to England to Singapore to Turkey, I am convinced that the average Pakistani, if given adequate resources (a healthy diet, access to decent education etcetera) can compete with the best.

National defense, foreign policy etcetera, we can keep in-house. Let’s admit that in the interests of the vast majority of our citizens (not you and me – we can afford to use the internet – I’m talking about the 150 million Pakistanis who can only associate the word apple with a fruit and not with the world’s most valuable technology company), this outsourcing could totally alter their lives.

So then, what’s a little sovereignty worth? You know and I know that 20 years from now nothing much will change here. For us, yes. We will do fine. We could emigrate for starters. But not for them. They will still be illiterate, and they still won’t have heard of Google, won’t be on Facebook and certainly won’t be Tweeting, not to mention that other new life changing technology might have been invented by then.

yadegar.zaveri

Yadegar Zaveri

A Karachi based freelance journalist and businessman

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.