A Mean Angel Or A Kind Devil?
“Governance is one of the biggest problems due to which the institutions in Pakistan are on the decline” expresses Dr. Ishrat Hussain who is the adviser to the Prime Minister for Reforms. He worked to create a bill for institutional change that would restructure and improve functioning of key institutions and curb outdated practices. The bill works to restructure and improve core economic governance structures. Reorganizing the federal government and restructuring the civil service is a crucial section of structural reforms.
It would not be an overstatement to say that every aspect of Pakistan’s government requires structural and functional reforms. It is equally important for us to consider not only the reforms to be undertaken but the state’s capacity of policy making leading to formulation of the said reforms, its implementation and retention of quality. The lack of management ranges throughout the country from the corporate and business sectors to public services such as the law enforcement, infrastructure and education.
One of the important phases of this reformation would be the facilitation of the public sector, both in terms of financial and technological resources to meet the pace at which the world is moving. Along with facilitating technocrats, the coordination among different levels of the government needs to be improved across all the relevant departments. The focus must be shifted to long-term outcomes rather than outputs; and the public sector needs to be enabled with a vision, along with short-term goals.
The government’s expected approach towards such changes has also remained a point of debate. The current PTI government showed a great deal of enthusiasm towards its reformative nature of governance. It was particularly enthusiastic towards fixing the economic sector focusing on its tax regime. Ever since then, it has failed to translate this intent into reality effectively. Initiation of reforms is preceded by strategy-forming which includes a great deal of brainstorming on plan-of-action. The devising of the PoA predominantly depends upon the initial conditions and the points of change while taking into consideration the availability of suitable resources using which the plan will be manifested into reality. Solely mapping of conditions of a certain sector or a geographical region does not serve the purpose. It is equally important to pre-consider who is affected, both positively and negatively, by a reform and how the leadership can compensate those involved. Moreover, an effective strategy of communication shall also be pre-determined for any reform to take place.
Matching the reformative ambition with the currently available resources and manpower has paramount importance in achieving the expected outcomes within an expected timeframe. This first step, hence, should take place solely at home without the involvement of any outside donors where donating parties are only restricted to providing the technical assistance that is unavailable locally. The government, due to the lack of availability of formal organized think-tanks of policy-making input, resorts to informal and rather part-time input from Institute of Development Economics. China can become a great example in this regard due to an array of such think-tanks available to the Chinese government. Some of these policy institutes, including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Development Research Centre operate under the State Council of China while Academy of Macroeconomic Research and China Centre for International Economic Exchanges operate under the jurisdiction of the National Development and Reform Commission. Another crucial policy centers is the Chinese Academy of Fiscal Sciences with its 12 research centers, five graduate school departments, six supporting departments and two subsidiary associations; it runs under the Chinese Ministry of Finance.
Academics and practitioners play an active part in policy making not only in China, but other countries such as the US. In early 2000s, a lateral entry system was introduced for technocrats in Pakistan but it remained unsuccessful due to the flawed nature of bureaucracy. Another problem with the country’s policy making is that a narrow band of macroeconomists with multilateral experiences is chosen as a result of which no input comes from sociologists, anthropologists, behavioral psychologists, change management specialists, systems designers and behavioral economists. It is important for our country to form a team with varying mindsets and expertise which shall be incorporated into the designated agency which in our case would be the Planning Commission.
What plays a critical part in bringing about reforms is the ‘theory of change’; PTI’s theory of change was to bring in a group of experts comprising of fresh faces, free of corruption and willing to put in the hard work. However, they ended up doing the opposite and accommodating corrupt members who had already been parts of the previously existing cabinets. This, along with the unchanged structures of the ally parties of the PTI, has caused a shift from the enthusiastic reformism we witnessed initially.
Even if this zeal of reformism is somehow brought back into the picture, it will be still difficult for the government to sustain the process of reformation without the assistance of the IMF Programme after achieving macroeconomic stability. Bringing about reforms will hence be a herculean task for the leadership since there are problems within the reform enterprise which need to be eradicated even before initiating the process of brainstorming leading to reformation. The pandemic has become an excuse to express delay in the reforms, while only about 43% of reforms suggested by Dr. Ishrat Hussain have been initiated or completed. About three years have passed and any major change/reforms are yet to be noticed.
Dr Hassnain Javed is a socio-political analyst and a Sinologist based in Nanjing, China. He is also theauthor of Economic Corridors: A Gateway to Pakistan New Strategic Fit.