Monday, 22 June 2009

"We know all the solutions--All we need is implementation"

Opinion pages, dinner conversations and official meetings in Pakistan are all full of prescriptions. The claim is that we are in a hurry, “Research and inquiry is not necessary, we know it all. We need to act and not think.” Alternatively, “we know it all! The only problem is that no one will implement what we are suggesting.”

The elite including the politicians and bureaucrats would say “No research or thinking is necessary. We know what needs to be done. There is nothing to read or research. In any case, I have no time between my shadi/janaza/meeting/political functions.” They have no time to read or understand and they need to justify it by means of putting down thought and inquiry.

In this rush to act, we created the FCD problem, created a half chewed local government scheme, increased electricity with IPPs, protected car monopolies, created hotelling monopolies, built up housing scheme scams and so on and so forth.

Yet the advanced countries do not agree that prescriptions are easy. They have an enormous infrastructure for generating policy research and discussion. Unlike us, they have deep teams for developing policy thinking. Whatever policy initiative is taken is well researched frequently debated. Political parties, even in opposition maintain think-tanks for the development of policy initiatives to be used when they come to power.

Why is it that the policy in the industrial countries has been following academic thinking and not activism? Keynesianism prevailed for a long time and when it lost the academic debate to the market based system, policy changed. It seems that research leads policy and that policymakers do not seem to rush into the most easily available prescription.

Why should prescription and implementation be separated? Granted socio-politico-economic systems are extremely difficult to understand. Often for convenience of analysis or improved understanding we have to look at partial views of the system. But a good analysis will take into account the prescriptive and implementation aspects of the particular situation. All analysts worth their merit will examine the practical aspects of their prescriptions. To separate the two is, at the minimum, naive.

What most critics of the thinking and analysis are implicitly expressing is a frustration with the lack of political will for a change. Unfortunately, the impatience and its accompanying disdain for inquiry and informed analysis may itself be the reason for the difficulties with implementation. Perhaps they should examine the two types of inputs that the policymaker is getting:

  1. The activist input which throws up prescriptions too quickly and cavalierly at the policymaker without backing it up with a clear analysis of the costs and benefits and possible pitfalls. Why should all such quick reactions should be implemented? Who can distinguish between these?
  2. The donor promoted consultant report approach also does not inspire much confidence: hire a retired bureaucrat for a quick consulting job that presents the donor’s favorite viewpoint. That is then considered to form the basis of reform and policy. The donor’s agenda is visible, the skills of the consultant are apparent, and therefore the honesty of the inquiry is in question. The policymaker and domestic groups are divided on the issue if at all they are interested. Where is the ownership of reform?

Imagine that you are sitting there as the policymaker and are willing to follow the maxim of “prescription is easy,” would you follow all these prescriptions? How do you distinguish between the good and the bad prescriptions?

Given our current state of understanding of socio-politico-economic processes, we should be more humble and inquiring and not claim that “prescriptions are easy.” On the contrary, the hypothesis can be advanced that the reason that change is so slow may be because of our cavalier attitude towards prescriptions and the prescription-making process.

What should be done? There are no shortcuts. First, we must build up thinking and debate into policy. Unfortunately, the leaders of policy are too defensive making statements like “anybody who disagrees with us is not an economist” and protecting their turfs from other serious Pakistani professionals. Second, we must build teams in institutions. Most institutions remain one-man affairs with no coherence or depth to the team. These heads remain totally insular and are not subject to any form of peer review. Why is there no policy debate in Pakistan and why are their no teams in various institutions that will define and debate policy in their sectors? These are questions that we must all ask, perhaps even more vociferously than the perennial questions on our macropolitics?

Finally, our thinking community must write more well-researched and informed critique of policy rather than blame it all on NS or BB. What happened in the FCD crisis? Who was responsible and why? How did the IPP’s happen? Why was such a strange pro-monopoly policy on cars and hotels developed? Why are our urban development laws so archaic? What is wrong with the archaic cooperative law that it continues to plague us in the current housing scams and in the past coop society frauds? These and many other such issues need considerable research.