Reflections on Planning in Pakistan
A frequent question is why I was not able to transform the country in my job as the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission?
Those who raise this question often seem to think that making good things happen is only a matter of giving the right orders. I call this the restaurant model of development. Like food you can order development off a menu.
However, this is a complex question deserving of not just an answer but a serious discussion of how policy is made, what policy is and should be and why despite many announcements success eludes Pakistan?
I have spent a lot of time reflecting on these issues and do have some views and would certainly like to discuss them.
To begin with let us review how our government works. In all governments there is a power grab by ministers, agencies, PM and president, not to mention the vested interests who are constantly trying to capture the government. Policy decisions are arrived at through a long and convoluted process of consensus building. Even then such decisions are only implemented if there is a large buy in from all levels of society and a huge support from the leadership as well as key members of implementing agencies in government. In most governments, processes are set up for eliciting of policies, reforms and institutions that the establishment wants. Presumably where the establishment is in sync with society this system elicits policies for general welfare.
In Pakistan the governance system has been substantially distorted over the years By both democratic leadership and dictatorship to reward arbitrary power. In this distorted system vested interest, corruption and rentseeking reign supreme holding policy and reform hostage. The policy establishment jealously guards this system and resists reform and policy that will abolish or even modify the system of rentseeking, corruption and self-dealing that prevails. All implementation is in the hands of the civil service which because of the lack of modernization and the perverse incentives of perks is not an agent of reform.
I presented the Framework for Economic Growth (FEG) that was prepared through widespread consultation and is widely agreed would be a game changer bringing the system away from its rentseeking and self-dealing nexus. It is not that the system fought back hard against it but that the system has no room for entertaining ideas for change.
Power was concentrated in the hands of the Ministry of Finance, the cabinet division, the office of the president and the Prime Minister's office. This nexus unwittingly continues to rig the cabinet and the ECC for continuing business as usual and effectively sidelines all reform ideas. At no time did the Cabinet, ECC, president office or PM office discuss growth and development policy, or serious reform and policy ideas. The agendas of these August bodies do not have room for these issues; they are too busy in their transactions for projects.
Despite the fact that the FEG was approved by the NEC, EAD continued to tell donors that it was not the policy of the government. Sadly, donors accepted this line of argument and continued to finance the status quo rather than reform.
Realizing that reform was a long haul issue and that in my tenure all discussion of it will be sidelined, I attempted to build what I call the Growth Center a place where forward-looking policy and institutional reform ideas could be researched and debated. This would be an important place where growth and reform ideas could be developed, discussed and debated to allow civil society to understand policy and reform and hence develop ownership of it. Despite the fact that donor funding was available, Ministry of Finance and EAD killed the idea.
Within the Planning Commission, the management group, the secretary and his people were always for the status quo looking only to preserve their traditional role, manage funding. Reform and policy was not of any concern to them. The technical staff of the PC has been disenfranchised for far too long and are on the lowest ebb of their morale. They have been almost totally incapacitated.
How can any one bring change in this environment?
That is why I have been arguing for reform of governance and civil service as the linchpin reform.