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Development for social justice

Huzaima Bukhari

The social justice movement of the 21st century is economic development”–Wendell Pierce

Since humans first set foot on this earth they have always been occupied by what we understand today as economics. Anything and everything comes with a price and a host of expectations. Those who can afford, buy and those who cannot, pay with shattered dreams. Unconditional love evaporates the moment the objective of love fails to fulfill economic obligations. It is all about quid pro quo! You give you take, you take you give. If one earns salary, the employer makes sure that the employee justifies every single penny received. The farmer puts in efforts and wants every sown seed to sprout. Customers and clients spend in return for quality goods and services. People pay fees through their noses, to expensive educational institutions hoping that their children would be adorned with the best knowledge and skills. Private hospitals fleece patients desirous of securing the finest health facilities while the public hospitals use other means besides government grants, to sustain and provide cheaper medical services. In short, there is no free lunch. However, the government of a struggling third world state, especially one, like our beloved country that has been hijacked by elite forces is one sector that enjoys hefty returns without putting in commensurate efforts.

It is just a matter of common sense that persons seeking shelter, even amid a thick forest, build shacks to protect themselves, then arrange steady supply of food. In other words, one has to reinforce oneself before embarking upon other worldly projects. In the past, pioneers who founded lands and states, struggled to establish countries that would provide their future generations secure environments and allow them to flourish as civilized nations. Through their farsightedness, they anticipated progress that would be made, not just within a few years but at least a couple of centuries henceforth. Rather than thinking on short-term selfishly based programmes and taking kick-backs at the expense of the public, they envisaged an infrastructure that would sustain long enough to allow the future generations to find alternate means. Personal sacrifices and selfless intentions became their motto. They knew that they might not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labour but this did not prevent them from building roads, bridges, tunnels etc. which would connect the length and breadth of their countries transporting people and goods and also providing access to public facilities like, schools, hospitals, markets etc.

A quote from Don Allen Holbrook’s ‘The Little Black Book of Economic Development’ aptly summarizes these ideas. He writes: “World class communities come in all shapes and sizes, they are not determined by geography, and/or natural resources so much as by the mindset of their local leadership.

Economic development is not just about filling people’s purses with expendable amount of money but to nurture their bodies, minds and characters. This can only be possible when all persons have equal opportunity to participate in the country’s progress. In a paper “Social Justice in an Open World” published by the United Nations, it is stated: “Social justice may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth,” thus implying that both are intertwined and interdependent. If only the government of the day could manage to comprehend the idea then instead of wasting precious revenue on useless administrative machinery that absorbs many times more than it delivers, focus should be on the uplift of the common people through regular development projects laying the ground for opening possibilities of improving living standards for those who are most in need. Austerity does not imply not spending. It is more to do with diverting available funds to sustainable development.

One of the most vital tools for economic development for social justice is devolution. Sitting in a fortified centralized room and getting filtered information of whatever is going on in the country, it is impossible to gauge the true magnitude of problems, miseries and needs of the public. In actuality, devolved administrations become the eyes and ears of the central government that enables determination of ground realities, better planning and effective execution. There are countries like Switzerland, which despite having diverse populations have successfully retained a strong confederation for many centuries.

Their study reveals that they have created ownership and increased policy coherence by injecting the principle of sustainable development in all levels of government. Their subnational authorities (cantons and communes in Switzerland) are entrusted with this important role. Historically, there has been a long tradition of conducting political processes based on stakeholder participation for the coordination of both national and international policies. Without the vertical cooperation between the confederation (in Pakistan, federation) and cantons/communes (in our case these are supposedly non-existent local governments) sustainable growth and consequently, social justice cannot be achieved.

As Robert D Lupton puts it in ‘What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results’: “It is beginning to dawn on the world of compassion that the root causes of poverty can be addressed effectively only through development, not through one-way giving.”


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE).

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