I congratulate Ahsan Iqbal for adding the reform component to the Planning Commission. I wanted to do that but my good friend Hafeez Shaikh did not believe in reform. But Mr Iqbal must no go forward and reform the PC. I would like to put forward my thoughts for discussion as I believe reform without wide discussion is useless.
If we want growth we must develop a planning process along the same lines of the SBP. This would mean an independent Planning Commission enshrined in law with a technocratic leadership. There should be no minister of Planning; the FM should only be in charge of the MOF. DCPC should be a tenured technocrat with a rank equivalent to a federal minister. DCPC must be a part of all high level decision-making bodies to present the considerations of long term growth and development. The PC should report directly to the PM. Subjects of the PC that are replicated in the MOF such as Poverty, reform and PSRP should be either dissolved or merged in the PC.
Members to be professionals and handpicked by the members collectively with no review from establishment division. PC HRM and salary scales should be decided on a market basis in line with the SBP. Like the SBP there should be no secretary of the PC or right of establishment division to disrupt through unexpected transfers.
Plans should be clearly studied owned and amended by the cabinet and all the line ministries though another consultation. All projects, policies and programs, domestic and donor-delivered should be aligned with planning documents. The onus should be placed on all stakeholders to align themselves with Plans.
Any new growth plans should be made through a long and open consultation process in which agencies must wholeheartedly participate. This will happen if the government backs this discipline fully. All policies and reforms must be aligned with the Plan and should pass through the Planning process before submission to a higher forum.
Planning processes and coordination mechanisms—policy, plan and program consultations-- must be respected by all agencies at all levels. Cabinet and ECC should not allow these to be bypassed.
Cabinet must empower the PC to initiate work on the results based management system that is the centerpiece of the FEG through periodic meetings to facilitate the process.
The PC must be empowered again through a cabinet process to lead the work on economic reform on behalf of cabinet. This will involve in consultation with concerned agencies, identification of reform initiatives through the results framework. Then through detailed collaboration with concerned agencies, reform initiatives must be broken into benchmarks and measures with time lines for achieving them. MOF Would be involved on working out the financing requirements of the reform and the linkage between reform and disbursements.
Reports on these reforms, timelines and financing requirements in collaboration with MOF and other agencies to cabinets for approval of reform process. Monitoring the reform for cabinet and periodically reporting to cabinet on the reform. In this manner PC will play the role of a “reform buddy” for the agency in need of reform and a ‘reform monitor’ for cabinet.
For better donor coordination EAD must be merged with the PC. The current fragmented approach has impeded the emergence of domestic longer term development agenda. We must have a coherent and unified approach and for that EAD must be a part of the planning process.
Eventually budgetary processes should be changed to allow maintenance and smaller projects to move into regular budgets. Only very few large projects will be reviewed and monitored by special procedures that will be developed for handling and implementing them.
The dichotomy of division and commission which is seriously impeding the work of managing growth must be removed. Currently all professional staff is in a division which is managed by a Secretary, Additional Secretary and a Joint Secretary, none of which are appointed by the DCPC or with input of any member. This leads to several problems making PC very inefficient.
The turnover in these controlling positions—Secretary, Additional Secretary and a Joint Secretary—is very high. At each change, the work of the PC is thrown off balance as these appointees are from service groups that have little background in economic policy and reform thinking.
In addition, there is always a tension between the members and the Admin staff of the division—Secretary, Additional Secretary and a Joint Secretary. The technical staff too is deeply frustrated because they are beholden to non-specialists and cannot even be considered on merit to occupy serious decision-making positions in the PC.
Because the secretary controls resources and because the work of economic policy and reform is slowed down. Through the control of the administration—Secretary, Additional Secretary and a Joint Secretary—and the centralization of resources, the PSDP and the PC are subject to undue political influence. This seriously affects the way the PSDP is used. Public investment in the country is rendered seriously ineffective through this political influence.
PC must be run as a commission by its Deputy Chairman and its members. The Deputy Chairman must be a professional appointed on tenure the same as the SBP governor. He in collaboration with his members through a search process must find the best people on the country for members and they must all have tenured appointments. No agency should be allowed to appoint members over the heads of the PC. The portfolios of members must change with each new “Framework of Economic Growth”. Currently, I suggest we must have members for the following areas, Public Service delivery, Regulation, Reform, Energy and Water, Production, Social development, Education, technology and research, Chief Economist and Economic Policy, Inter Provincial Coordination, All provincial planning chiefs, 4 prominent academics or from NGOs as associate non-resident members, 2 prominent members of society.