The Planning Commission of Pakistan seems to be a great place for producing wonderful documents, plans and visions for the future, whether or not these are tested in the real world.

Dozens of annual plans, a series of five-year plans, perspective plans, frameworks and then strategic ‘visions’ keep on adding to the richness of its library.

Starting with 1950, Pakistan’s policymakers prepared and implemented about nine five-year plans, with varying degrees of success and failure, followed by a Medium Term Development Framework (2004-07) introduced by former prime minister Shaukat Aziz. The 10th five-year plan (2010-15) was shelved in May 2010 just ahead of its formal launch, and was replaced by the Framework for Economic Growth, which too did not take off.

The annual plans and the five-year plans like the 1965-88 Perspective Plan, the Vision 2010, the 2003-13 Perspective Plan, and the Vision 2030, generally followed broader and longer-term development goals, ostensibly to protect national priorities irrespective of political changes. Their objectives, however, remained elusive.

In a majority of the immediate, short, medium and longer-term plans and visions, seldom was any productive stock-taking done to see their level of achievement, the reasons for their failures.

In the process, however, the planning commission witnessed a steady decline in its role as a planning body, and failed to guide the political leadership about the challenges and steer the country out of low-growth cycles. It deteriorated to the extent of becoming a subordinate body of the finance ministry, approving PC-1 papers and allocating funds on the directions of the finance minister or the chief executives.

But now empowered with a full-fledged ministry and renamed as the ‘planning, development and reforms commission,’ it is reviving the tradition of five-year plans and perspective plans, albeit with fresh jargon. It has started working on the ‘Development Strategy 2013-18,’ with a focus on ‘Strong Economy - Strong Pakistan’. Simultaneously, the consultation process has just begun for formulating the ‘Vision 2025’.

Major themes of the Vision 2025 include an integrated energy plan, modernisation of infrastructure, mobilisation of indigenous resources, institutional reforms and governance, value addition in production sectors, export and private sector-led growth, and exploitation of social capital.

Some independent stakeholders, however, question if the ambitious reforms envisaged in the development strategy and the Vision 2025 are possible in an environment of devolution and bureaucratic hassle. The proposed plan was seen with some skepticism by economists and experts, who did not see a supportive (also inefficient) bureaucracy taking the process forward to the implementation stage — one of the most challenging tasks in the country’s history — as they referred to a number of past failed experiences

Reiterating a narrative of former deputy chairman planning commission Dr Nadeem ul Haque, planning minister Ahsan Iqbal argues that so far the emphasis had been ‘on building hardware by compromising the soft side of development’. The government would make policies to promote education, increase health facilities, reduce poverty, and harness the potential of the youth for making a progressive Pakistan, he added.

Former economic adviser and dean at the National University of Science and Technology Dr Ashfaq Hassain Khan wondered if all ministries and divisions of the government had been taken on board for such a vision, which envisages cross-cutting themes for the entire public sector.

He said past initiatives failed because of resistance from the bureaucracy, and hence the prime minister should have spearheaded the Vision 2025 to give a strong message to all bureaucrats that the government was serious about moving forward on the reform process.

Dr Khan also wondered how the federal government could implement such a serious plan in an environment of devolution, and whether the provinces would be ready to adopt it. He said the provincial representatives and the Council of Common Interest should also be part of the plan. There is also a serious issue of capacity at the planning commission, which has seen years of decay. It lacks quality manpower.

Former minister and industrialist Abdul Razaq Dawood suggested encouraging Pakistani corporations to invest abroad, instead of talking all the time about foreign direct investment. Investment by Pakistanis abroad would market the country’s corporate image abroad and bring back best international business practices.

Meanwhile, the five-year development strategy aims to achieve all possible wishes.

It calls for stabilising the economy through minimising the fiscal deficit, adopting self-reliance, focusing on tax reforms, increasing investments, reviving the economy for balanced and sustainable growth, promoting the private sector, and transforming productive sectors towards value addition through innovation, enhancing quality and productivity.

It also seeks to achieve energy security by addressing the energy crisis and inefficiencies, adding cheap power to the national grid, and replacing expensive dependence on fuel oil with cheaper alternatives to provide affordable energy to citizens through an integrated energy policy. It plans on building modern infrastructure for a high growth economy that would serve as a corridor and hub of regional trade through efficient transport networks, by reducing production and transaction costs for providing a stimulus to economic growth.

The strategists also wish to restore peace and security. They hope to improve security by initiating various social and entrepreneurial programmes in underdeveloped areas, and wish to achieve good governance through institutional and governance reforms.

Meanwhile, some other experts also believe that while planning for the future, the policymakers should also consider acquisition of natural resources in Africa and other possible locations by encouraging corporations both in the public and private sector to make joint ventures and take ownership of energy resources wherever possible.

The development strategy’s success would generally depend on a strong champion who could take the planning process to the implementation stage; remove bottlenecks and resistance, and give a big push to the cross-cutting reform process. The realisation of even half of the targets would not be a mean achievement after all.

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Comments (5)

Babar Suleman
August 26, 2013 3:30 pm

Three things that can lay bare the best laid out plan include lack of : political will, economic viability, and intellectual capital. Interestingly, the current situation in Pakistan seems to bring the critical mass of all three together and that is what has always taken the air out of the sales of strategic direction and decision making in echelons of power in Pakistan. We all wait with abated breath to see how well this effort fares this time....

Salman
August 26, 2013 10:16 pm

I have great respect and confidence in Mr Ahsan Iqbal ever since my university days where he was one year ahead of me and later in the last PML(N) government when he was responsible for the same role. I hope and pray his vision and plan will sustain the disruptions caused by military governments and incompetent governments as witnessed in the last 4 years. I hope he would take some advise from PTI , they have great ideas to jump start the country.....

Najeeb Durrani
August 27, 2013 2:21 am

Implementation has been a bigger challenge than preparing these strategies.

Strategies should clearly define implementation targets and the execution plans. The process should not be restricted to few subjects but should represent all the subjects of the state. E.g. it should clearly show the potential impact of our foreign policy and defense policy, education policy etc on the potential plan.

Our planning team should not only define the priorities that they wish to pursue but also those that they will not choose to pursue. It will be helpful to understand the context of their strategic choices.

The process depicts a fact that this process has no accountability.The public is expected to validate the executives performance with a lag of five years. A bit outdated for this digital world.

Suggestion: The plan should be presented to an Independent authority represented by all the key pillars of the state. The independent authority ( like a board directors ) should approve the plan and ascertain execution viability. The execution of these priorities will be the Chief Executive's responsibility but the other key pillars of the state would not be able to absolve themselves for not contributing to this strategic process. This will make the planning process more credible and with timely accountability.

T

asif
August 27, 2013 10:12 am

@Babar Suleman: although one should not lose hope, but there seems no hope with these tested industrialist businessmen cum feaudals.

Shahab Najmi
August 27, 2013 2:27 pm

Planning and creating fancy vision statements are easy but they require a wholesale approach for a successful implementation. PM needs to champion it as mentioned in the article and needs to reiterate the vision at all possible forums for it to gain some traction.

Moreover all Ministries should be asked to create their own plans to achieve the vision and annual targets should be set. Bureaucrats should be made accountable with key performance indicators defined for various job functions and assessed annually on the progress made. There should be media presentations set at regular intervals to show the progress towards the goals so people are reminded and taken on board regularly.

I feel that excitement among Pakistanis about our collective future has been missing for a while and pessimism has overtaken us. This situation needs to be remedied as soon as possible with an alternative narrative which people can believe in. I have seen this being done successfully in Malaysia Vision 2020 by then Malaysian PM Dr. Mahatir, he articulated it at all forums till people starting believing in the goals. PM Nawaz Sharif and his team needs to do the same.

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