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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.