The World Bank issues ‘policy advice’ to Pakistan, from time to time, on key reforms, structural weaknesses and the gaps in governance and systems prevailing in the country based on its in-house close monitoring of events unfolding in the country. It has recently advised Pakistan to create ‘National Council of Ministers’.
While doing so, the bank is reported to have highlighted some fault lines in the system like:
(a) Incomplete devolution and institutional weaknesses as key development and governance challenges. It is true that Pakistan did not effectively implement devolution initiated through the 18th Amendment and the Islamabad continued to deliver many devolved functions, creating overlaps in service delivery, increasing fiscal costs, and blurring accountability. Thus, prevailing fiscal arrangements weaken accountability for revenue collection and complicate tax administration.
(b) While pinning little hope on the technocrat government, the Bank has advised Pakistan to create a ‘National Council of Ministers’ – comprising of key federal and provincial representatives under the aegis of the Council of Common Interest which is a constitutionally mandated forum.
(c) The National Council of Ministers would fill the vacuum and enable simultaneous and coordinated strengthening of poorly performing federal and provincial institutions, policies and accountability systems.
“While technocrat interventions are unlikely to transform Pakistan’s institutional environment in the short term, the current contextual factors like the deteriorating economic conditions, demographic change and social media may present some windows of opportunity for positive change,” stated the World Bank. In the same breath, the World Bank advised on the necessity and benefits of administrative reforms in the administrative structure of the country and highlighted:
(a) Performance reviews are rare and incentives reward adherence to the rules rather than good operational performance and promotions are made on seniority and informal networks, rather than qualifications.
(b) In the public sector, the appointment, performance management, and tenure as implementation of public sector reforms was being impeded by the vested interests of some senior bureaucrats.
(c) The need to change the incentive structures within the public services through the introduction of a Performance Management System (PMS) across the public sector, under which public servants be assessed against the achievement of agreed performance indicators, with performance assessment feeding into career progression, salary increases, and in cases of persistent poor performance; an early retirement.
(d) The security of tenure should be strengthened for all government officers and any decision to remove a government officer from the position before the end of an appointment term should require a written justification, with the affected person provided the right to challenge this decision through an independent, formal process.
(e) The processes for the open, competitive appointment of chief executives to public sector agencies with critical economic and social functions (including PIA, Wapda, PSO, and Pakistan Railways) should be strengthened and maintained and their appointments insulated against political interference.
(f) The chief executives be provided with operational autonomy and a fixed tenure and held accountable for results against a set of clearly defined objectives and goals.
(g) In-service training of government officers should be strengthened to close important skills gap, while recruitment should be recalibrated to focus on key relevant skills and expertise, rather than strong performance against the public service exams.
(h) Digitalisation should be pursued to increase efficiency and reduce opportunities for corruption.
(i) To change the incentive structures within the public service through the introduction of a Performance Management System (PMS) across the public sector, under which public servants be assessed against the achievement of agreed performance indicators, with performance assessment feeding into career progression, salary increases, and in cases of persistent poor perform early retirement.
(j) The security of tenure should be strengthened for all government officers and any decision to remove a government officer from the position before the end of an appointment term should require a written justification, with the affected person provided the right to challenge this decision through an independent, formal process.
The above stated ‘ policy advice ‘ of the World Bank is well meaning, most desirable, doable and is in the supreme public and national interest. What stands between the World Bank’s sincerity and the good for the country are the vested interests who frustrate any change that rattles the status quo. It is the status quo under which this category of vested interests can maneuver to thrive.
What the World Bank has highlighted are the shortcomings in the devolution of finances and administrative powers to the provinces. This indeed is a known fact since years. It is clear that the devolution has not served its purpose and the benefits aimed to serve the public interest, primarily for low earning segments of society, have not taken place.
On the contrary, with more funds available to the provinces, corruption has exponentially increased – leaving little to be spent on the public sector initiatives. All of this has been extensively written about, debated in the media and among the federal government and political functionaries. But, all to no avail.
Dr Ishart Hussain, an advisor in the cabinet of the then Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, prepared and rolled out a ‘policy advice’ on the reforms in the administrative structure of the government. It was a well- meaning, well-structured and a well-researched document, which has striking similarities with the recommendations of the World Bank on the subject. Unfortunately, however, Ishrat Hussain’s advisory too was frustrated by the proponents of status quo in the government and the political elite.
In the state governance structure where the placement of a government officer is based on his loyalty to a political party in power and his independence surrendered to be subservient to their dictates and rewards based on these criteria, the merit based administrative reforms have no chance to be implemented.
The mother of all ills in country’s fiscal discipline, economy, diplomacy and politics is the failing governance discipline in the county.
World Bank’s ‘policy advice’ is only limited to advice in good faith. It has no mechanism to ensure its implementation unless it is a project funding based on defined criteria and targets. To the contrary, however, the IMF works, often ruthlessly, on agreed targets with its funding tied to meeting the set criteria.
Pakistan, in the thick of IMF control, knows this better than most.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023