Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Need for Policy Continuity

My compliments to Sani Nishtar for making an important point in The News on April 3 2010. She argues strongly for continuity of policy. I find her argument very convincing. She says

Although weak governance, limited accountability, pervasive corruption, inefficiencies, lack of democracy in previous years can all be blamed for these trends, there is one determinant whose relative contribution in the prevailing mayhem is most salient, particularly with respect to economic and human security -- the lack of policy consistency and the absence of an accountability framework to monitor how policies are followed through. Nowhere is this more damaging than in areas which are of vital security interest to the country.

For developing countries, the lack of policy continuity can be most damaging. Continuity of policy direction has been the key determinant of the growth, development and prosperity that many countries in Asia now experience, weakness in their democratic credentials notwithstanding.

In Pakistan's 63 year history, except for certain elements of our foreign policy, there has been no consistency of policy direction particularly with reference to macroeconomic and social sector management. Governments have adopted polices and subsequent governments have disregarded them, have sidestepped, detracted or retracted.

Every incoming government aspires to have its 'own' policy on every issue and deems it necessary to re-pronounce or repackage an existing policy regardless of the time implications and without consideration for the value of time, intellectual input or resources lost in changing course. Technical input is often overlooked in the process, feasibilities are set aside, negotiated plans remain unhonoured, and projects funded with loans to be repaid with tax payer's money don't come to fruition in the process. The fixation to show that new polices have been enunciated and the motivation for new contractual agreements are grounded either in gaining shortsighted political mileage or opportunities for markups in new arrangements.

In such an environment, strategic decisions are held hostage to political point scoring. With a style of governance characterised by ministers focused on these objectives and with technical capacity of ministries eroded, the majority of bureaucrats politicised and the credible ones either sidelined or disempowered, there are very few custodians of state interest in the decision making hierarchy who want the pendulum of decision making to swing in the favour of national security interest, defined in holistic terms.

She also argues for domestic thinking and less reliance on “outsourcing policy-thinking!”

Pakistan's unique problems demand equally unique solutions that have to be indigenously driven and led by credible leadership. There isn't a multilateral cookie cutter approach to such changes, neither is there a comparable precedent which can be mirrored. Beyond tinkering at the margins, one of the tests of Pakistan's leadership today is to enable a consensus on a holistic national security policy and use its strategic leverage in a globalised world to secure support for its implementation.

Nicely put Sania!