Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Why does Pakistan Fail at Making Successful Reform?



Reform remains an elusive and little understood concept in Pakistan. The word is seldom used on TV. It is used even less in the cabinet and official forums. Even academics shy away from the subject. Donors now and again will talk of it but with the throwaway remark that “we do not have to reinvent the wheel”, “we know what is to be done”, and “all we have to do is import best practice”! So they set it up in an action matrix which is a template from some advanced country. More often than not that reform is never completely implemented and kind of gets stuck in the gullet of the country, probably doing more harm than good. As a case in point look at what happened to the electricity sector when we were merely following best practice mindlessly. For 20 years we have been paying the price of an inconclusive reform which has run into Billions of Dollars.
Yet no one really spends time trying to understand why Pakistan is such a laggard performer when it comes to reform. Donor contention is that we do not implement and that it is the lack of political will. Is that correct?

Let us set the record straight we have implemented a lot of items that the donor wanted. We privatized, opened out the economy, got rid of licensing, conducted tax reform have numerous projects for building governance, access to justice, education and many other development goals. We have built regulatory agencies like SECP, NEPRA, PEMRA. We have played with autonomy of the SBP.  Yet development has alluded us. 

On the other hand it is fairly visible to any one visiting Pakistan that the people are turning away from modernity and productivity. Society seems to be taking a turn towards fundamentalism and a cultural conservatism instead of modernity and creativity.

Surely this should be raising all kinds of flags and we should all be coming together to improve our understanding of reform and why it is unsuccessful or halfhearted. Blaming it on lack of political will is not enough. To my mind that is intellectually lazy and an easy out. Saves the people who design reforms from taking blame.   

Any ideas on the failure to make successful reform?