Showing posts from January, 2014

Make Way for Cars: No Room for Khokhas

When I grew up there were small kiosks (khokhas) all over Lahore. Vendors on bicycles and on foot used to hang around our houses and schools. As kids they offered us many delights from spicy concoctions (chooran, Chaat) to wore puzzles and other toys such as tops. Craftsmanship was on offer. A spirit of entrepreneurship was displayed.
This was when the city was compact and most of us walked or biked and as a result were somewhat lean. Roads and sidewalk were lined with khokhas. The sidewalk indeed was a public space where community interaction happened. People walked, haggled and interacted.
Then came our romance with garden city suburbia. Bureaucrats, both civilian and military learnt that plotting was profitable and began a horizontal expansion of the city. To them distance did not matter since their car expense was picked up by the public sector. Besides, downtown development was theirs to stifle so that suburban values would go up. And they got those suburban plots for a song. …

Civil Service Reform—Some Principles

Let us begin by recognizing that civil service comprises the bulk of the executive and affects all aspects of society. The configuration of the civil service for a new society in a new century should be of serious interest to all. Consequently this reform should not be done in back rooms by the patient that needs healing—the bureaucracy. Nor should it be left to donors who have had opportunity in the past and failed. Reform should be developed through a process such as an independent commission comprised of (or backed up by) serious technical skills, intellectual firepower and certainly some fresh faces. The commission must do open consultation with civil society and many segments of society. Donor input if any should be subjected to local public scrutiny and not just implemented. The Key principles of reform must be clearly understood and debated in Parliament and passed into law. CSR is too important to be left to administrative change in rules alone. What then are the principle…

How Important is Trade with India?

There is a lot of noise on how the only thing that will save Pakistan is trade with India. On bended knees we should beg. The donors have spent over 10 million dollars to buy out all our leading intellectuals on worthless studies that state the obvious conclusion that they want that trade with India will be good for us. They have another 10 million+ to spend on this subject. So whatever you read by people know that it is not freely written.
But do not get me wrong! I am all for trade with not only India but with everyone. Have been for it forever. As an economist, how can I disagree with openness? That is the fundamental tenet of economics that has been established since Adam Smith and David Ricardo in the late 18th century. But openness means trade with all. Indeed Pakistan should be open to trade with all including India.
But the rhetoric is that it will be a panacea for Pakistan. Fantastic numbers are quoted with no basis because there can be no basis of a situation that has not ha…

No social or intellectual capital

It was like being in twilight zone.
I was at at local conference which is become and institution as it annually gathers a fine grouping of Pakistani social scientists to create a fine debate in policy and thought. Generally it is interesting and participating in it is fun.
As I keep saying conferences are for learning. But our intellectual for many reasons has never achieved relevance and is self consciously seeking attention but not through academic work. Combine this with ignorant and arrogant public policy which has no demand for research and provides no research funding. The result is that we have starving intellectuals whose product has no market.
Our conferences are anything but places for learning. There is no real debate. People are not even listening to each other seeking and testing hypotheses, developing models and analyses, accepting results, and keeping memory of past themes. There are no real paradigms and the approach is anything but scientific.
I cannot understand, how …

Architecture of Economic Policymaking

Architecture of economic policymaking
We are a developing country. Our topmost priority needs to be economic growth and development. Yet we have no agency looking after growth and development.
We leave all facets of economic policy in the hands of one ministry—the Ministry of Finance (MOF). Conflicted with many objectives, they naturally do a poor job.
MOF must be held to some performance standard. For the last 30 years it has been unable to hold the line on expenditures and has never been able to put in a tax reform. A poor quality budget is passed with little planning for the needs of the economy. Soon after passage of the budget, MOF succumbs to demands for reallocation and overspending for unplanned incentive schemes, subsidies, and purchases of commodities as well as providing for losses of PSEs. Hardly a proposal from on high is refused. Reallocation and over spending is all t…

Should we only blame the Politicians?

Who do we blame?
We spend all together too much time blaming politicians and our incumbent leaders for their failure to deliver. Is that fair?
I have seen even when politicians want to make reform, the system stymies them. Technocrats have been invited by all governments to make reform but all of them have been chewed out by the system and made totally ineffective.
Mahbub ul Haq came here with many ideas but the civil servant group led by GIK obstructed him in every way and finally sent him out of the country. They ganged up on him to preserve the status quo!
Many have come and gone like Dr. Haq to see if they can help develop the country. They come with new ideas. They work hard to give this country something. Even some politicians try to develop new ideas and wait around for some good results. Unfortunately all their ideas too are implemented in such slipshod fashion, that be it an education program, or a youth scheme, or a social protection program, the result is the same, no re…

Economics in Pakistan

The tragedy with economics is that everyone is an economist. At gatherings there are several people who are pontificating on how the economy would pick up if only we would make sure that everything works well. Economics to these people is just wishing—just say all that you wish should happen and expect it will. So fix the economy and all will be well is the usual prescription I hear. Our education system has not taught them tautologies!
Such speakers will say in one breath, build Bhasha, Kalabagh and several other dams and several coal based plants and then import LNG, educate all, export more, expand industry and agriculture especially horticulture, develop more infrastructure. These speakers will not stop for a minute to think that most of these are objectives or wishes of things to happen. To make these happen, we must think of processes on how to make them happen, the instruments that we have at hand if any to make them happen, financing if required, and most important of all th…

Interview with Pakistan Today

Pakistan needs Imagination and Reform
We Need to Move to a New System that Promotes Competition and merit You have long advocated better management of cities to lead growth. Why? And why did the government not heed your advice? Answer: We must recognize that the government is seriously depleted of talent to make a development agenda. Such an agenda requires serious research, thinking and debate. When we had such an agenda, there were people like Mahbub ul Haq, Burki and Parvez Hasan charged with this responsibility and they had the ear of the leadership. Today the system has no room for such people. And the leadership is distracted from development. All our think tanks universities work for donors on their consulting agendas which are always following some fads. Today it is trade with India where donors are spending millions of dollars and everyone is focused on that issue. Planning Commission needs to put up some funding for research to allow a domestic policy agenda to emerge and l…