Category Archives: Development

On Shadow Cabinets

In the UK and several other countries, a ‘shadow cabinet’ is a group of opposition politicians who ‘shadow’ cabinet members, offering criticism and alternative policies, while simultaneously (presumably) learning the job.

The notion of a shadow cabinet is appealing for several reasons. First, elevating certain members to a position of responsibility must surely be one of the best ways to reduce the cacophony politics typically suffers from, since the opposition has nominated a single person whose job it is to analyse and criticise the government’s performance. Second, it means that the criticisms that government and opposition necessarily fling at each other are, to some extent, informed. This, one imagines, serves both to cut out unnecessary blather and refocus political discourse on the issues. Further, it encourages responsibility since both the government and the opposition can reasonably be held culpable for bad leadership.

One other significant advantage that cannot be understated is the role a shadow cabinet might play in developing new leaders, which has traditionally been a problem in developing countries like Pakistan, dominated as they are by oligarchs. Take Pakistani politics in the 1990s as an example: with the PPP and the PML repeatedly exchanging position, political horse-trading — always par for the course — resulted in some truly dubious characters taking up powerful positions. With no avenue to enhance their own understanding of the issues and of the basic principles of policy-making, it’s hardly surprising that they skirted the difficult issues and that their only legacy is a progression of increasingly muddled and short-sighted decisions. Given that it is questionable whether their interests were ever aligned with those of the nation, another strong argument in favour of a shadow cabinet is incentivising the development of political savvy and experience by offering access and information to ambitious politicians.

The flip side, of course, is the formation of a one-sided political mafia where the government’s cabinet and the opposition’s shadow cabinet collude to even more resolutely refuses to address issues and make hard decisions. Given the obvious failures of the last 60 years, it appears this is worth risking, if only as an interim step to overcome the establishment’s soporific inertia.

The Tipping Point of Corruption

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting book right now called ‘The Tipping Point’. It’s one of those paperbacks that management consultants take with them on flights, packed with anecdotes and research that not only backs up the book’s thesis, but zigs and zags through other topics as well. The central idea is interesting: that the transportation of a product, idea or even social movement from its niche into the mainstream hinges on just a very few things, and that tweaks to these can result in massive changes.

One of these hinges is context. The author recalls the crime epidemic New York City suffered in the 80s and the early 90s, and reveals that violent crime on the subway fell drastically when the city introduced a strict policy of removing graffiti as soon as it was spotted. Removing graffiti doesn’t have an obvious connection to violent crime on the face of it, and the suggestion is that changing the environment to communicate a refusal to permit vandalism translated into an implicit message that more serious crime would also not be tolerated — a message that was taken seriously enough that crime fell by 75 percent!

The important points here are that systemic problems don’t necessarily need revolutionary remedies, and that these problems often rest on top of other issues that are more easily resolved.

Naturally, one wonders how these principles might be applied closer to home, as perhaps with the crippling problem of corruption. In case anyone needs a reminder, Pakistan ranks 144th in the world, behind even Iraq. Obviously, there are major legal and structural changes that need to happen within the bureaucracy to encourage transparency and accountability, but might smaller, easier changes have drastic effect? The one that comes most readily to mind is to bring salaries back in line with market rates, or at least the cost of living.

Happily, this needn’t be an exercise in pure rhetoric: there are facts and policies to examine here. The Central Board of Revenue, for example, has introduced a policy (at the prodding of the World Bank) to double the salaries of officers in crucial positions. The results so far? Mixed. Apparently, the very selection process for the scheme has become political, leading to more nepotism and back-scratching. In addition, I’ve heard first-hand about at least one person whose selection has actually impacted his performance negatively.

Given the fact that this policy is both well-intentioned and sensible, it seems the fault lies in how it is implemented. Enter the other two hinges mentioned in the book: implementation, and the implementor. The CBR’s scheme, for example, does not address the problem of accountability as it does not link the increased salary to performance, but rather to position. And the problem of nepotism exists only as long as the administrators of the scheme permit unfair selection to slide.

Corruption is one of several problems facing Pakistan that appear insurmountable because they have become so ingrained in the way things are done. ‘The Tipping Point’ is interesting in providing ways to decompose problems into more manageable constituents, and lending hope that tackling them is not a hopeless task.