The devolution stemming from the 18th Amendment transferred the responsibility of major sectors such as health, education, environment, labour, women development, population and others to the provinces. This added responsibility meant that the provinces became empowered to set their own objective, goals and targets in these key sectors. Whereas, additional resources were also provided through the 7th NFC Award, the provinces were seen to be relatively new to managing these critical sectors.
The reviews and publications that followed that 18th Amendment generously commented on the ambiguity of developed functions and on limited provincial capability to handle these new complex tasks. Both these observations were not entirely incorrect as the transition plan of the 18th Amendment was indeed not clear and the provinces were suddenly required to think strategically and in terms of policy development as area that was relatively weak.
The rain of additional responsibility and empowered mandate opened a floodgate of development partners willing to work with the provinces directly to technically support development of newly devolved sectors. Health and Education being the most favorite pick. In addition, to these vertical sectors now that the provinces had more resources the area of Public Financial Management (PFM) also took toll.
In Punjab between 2005 and 2009, the Asian Development Bank was the largest development partner with significant technical assistance provided on civil service reforms and smarter management of resources and post-2009 other players such as the World Bank, DFID and UN agencies began to provide larger shares of support to the provincial government.
Another dimension was added to the development partner engagement when Punjab started negotiating larger loans tied to development objectives and delivery.
The World Bank emerged as the main partner in this regard. Now, in 2018, Punjab has a portfolio with the development organisations of $3 billion with the World Bank at $1.6 billion (mostly soft loans), DFID, UK at $1 billion followed by UN agencies, JICA, IFAD, ADB and others.
The coverage of these donor programmes is as diverse as the Punjab province itself. The programmes cover both, horizontal areas of governance, public financial management, institutional reform, policy support and vertical programmes in health, education, population, agriculture, private sector development, culture, tourism and heritage.
As the scale of the development partner portfolio is increasing the role of their strategic management becomes even more important to avoid duplication, priority setting and achievement of results for intended impact.
The province must take a lead role in managing the agendas of its development partners to ensure tangible achievements. This is critical to avoid suffering from the opportunity cost of engaging with development partners.
Governments when dealing with a multiple number of large external assistance programmes tend to become somewhat carefree.
The government assumes that as a large programme is working in a specific area, its own resources can be diverted to other uncovered domains.
In this case, if the delivery by the external programme is not ensured the real cost is the loss of time and lag in development – a lag that may cost more to fix later.
It is therefore crucial, that the provincial managers systematically manage their external assistance programmes and work with the development partners to develop common understanding of the problems, solutions and the coordinated effective delivery of these solutions.
The government should develop an integrated development framework that is worked out in collaboration with its development partners and plots a clear map of actions, roles and responsibilities.
It should clearly state the responsibilities of the government and what is expected from the external partners and who will be monitoring the results. Doing this obviously requires a lot of homework by the government and its line departments. For a start, the line departments would require well-articulated policies specifying the overall goals and objectives and areas of strategic intervention.
These sectoral policies should then be tied up together to develop a holistic overall development agenda of the government and this will then lay down the foundations of the framework of partnership with development partners.
Realising the importance of donor engagements and to ensure full avoidance of wastage of expensive resources over the last two years, The P&D has started to reform an archaic system of dealing with the development partners. In Punjab, like other parts of the country the external development programmes historically were unidirectional, usually flowing from donors to government.
However, realising the importance the senior management initiated the process of the strategic dialogue between the government and its partners. P&D has created avenues where the development partners now sit with the public-sector counterparts and inform programmes that are in line with the development priorities.
Additionally, P&D has also taken a more serious note of departments to develop sectoral policies that are approved by the cabinet.
The P&D last year issued guidelines to be followed for policy development and this has triggered a strong response and already 10-15 sectoral policy drafts have come up.
These policies will be the building blocks of a solid platform on which the government will be able to more strongly negotiate progarmmes with its external partners.
Moreover, the P&D Department is also working on strengthening the external capital assistance wing and the Punjab Resource Management Programme is being upgraded to Punjab Reform Management Programme and together these two entities will lead the coordination, design and strategic dialogue with the development partners.
The role of line departments also needs to be enhanced and they supported by these P&D entities must play a major role in not only designing programmes but keep close monitoring of results and ensure relevance of objectives by periodic reviews of their sectoral policies.
All of this is part of the new governance and management approach that the P&D Department has effectively steered over the last two years where the focus has been on more strategic thinking, planning and ensuring maximum value for money. Going forward, the P&D Department will further develop internal capabilities and of the line departments to engage more meaningfully with our partners.
It is usually said that the quality of the product is more dependent on the client than the provider – all of Punjab’s development partners have exceptional portfolios and technical capacity, thus it is up to the province how good or bad a product they extract from them!
Writers are adviser and chief economist at the
Planning and Development Department, Government of Punjab