Friday September 29, 2023

Reduce term of National Assembly to three years: PIDE

December 26, 2022
A view of the National Assembly in session. — APP/File
A view of the National Assembly in session. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: The Planning Commission’s affiliate think tank, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), has proposed in the Charter of Economy for reducing the size of federal cabinet to only 10 ministers, reducing the term of National Assembly to three years and introducing Local Government system.

The PIDE’s Charter of Economy, Petition to All Political Leaders/Parties of Pakistan, stated that there was a need to introduce staggered elections, direct elections for Senate, consider compulsory voting, consider internet/e-voting, experts should be introduced into the cabinet, total cabinet members must not cross 25, cabinet should be assigned monitoring and evaluation tasks.

PIDE says: “Cabinet size matters; the number of top positions available affects the greater political game, with larger cabinets helping satisfy the ambitions of more politicians. The size of the cabinet also has fiscal implications. Ancient forerunners of the then cabinets were councils of trusted advisers around the ruler. These advisers could be non-specialised, with titles such as Royal Cupbearer. In contrast, modern cabinet members tend to be in charge of specific branches of administration. Their motivation is to expand the staff and expenditures, increasing their power. So, larger cabinets produce larger governments. This eventually impacts fiscal policy and may contribute to the deficit. Hence, a 10-member cabinet is proposed.”

PIDE says a police force is essential for efficient and effective crime detection, prevention, and public order maintenance. “Hence, enabling a conducive environment for economic activity, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in particular. Pakistan’s police departments are notorious for the strings attached. Patron-client relationship and politicisation are primarily responsible for the existing state of Pakistan’s police. The political elites have always used the police as a tool of subjugation and to supplement their political objectives, which has ultimately politicised the police as a whole. For this reason, equal treatment of all the subjects by the police is out of the question. Therefore, to accomplish the requirements of the rule of law, it is binding on governments and state authorities to ensure that the police are a-political, autonomous, accountable, and professional community service. In short run, Police Order 2002 must be implemented. Lastly, in the long run, Pakistan’s police should transition from the mindset of a police force to that of police service.

“An effective planning and development apparatus is essential for the economy’s overall health -- helping unlock productivity, employment generation, creating dynamic, liveable cities, optimal resource allocation without creating regional disparity, and so on. Almost the opposite has been happening in Pakistan, which calls for establishing an independent Planning Commission (IPC). It should be headed by a seasoned economist with a fixed tenure of service -- for instance, six years at the minimum. A robust, independent IPC would strengthen the planning system by minimizing the risk of corruption or undue political influence. This IPC must have public and open processes where all parties can have their say. Setting up an IPC would help build public confidence and trust in the planning system, even though individuals may disagree with specific outcomes. The IPC would also inherently ensure policy consistency in the long run – a must for a business-friendly ecosystem.

“It is proposed that overlapping ministries such as finance, commerce and textile, industries and production, planning and development, energy, maritime affairs and water resources should be fused with separate wings under the IPC. Such a step would robustly enhance coordination and result in synchronized planning, optimal resource allocation, and better outcomes.

“The budget process in Pakistan is primarily off-track and takes a detour via the bureaucracy. In contrast, some developing countries have established an independent agency, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) -- a sovereign office that looks at the budget and national economy from a perspective that is dissimilar from that of the executives and provides an honest picture to the parliamentarians. Various parliaments across the globe also have autonomous budget units; the Philippines established its Congressional Budget Office in 1990, Mexico in 1998, Uganda in 2001, Canada in 2006, and lately, Afghanistan in 2007. Such units provide an independent, non-partisan view of the budget to parliamentarians and help significantly in reviewing the budget and developing an opinion on it. In this context, the Pakistani Parliament could also establish a Parliamentary Budget Office, comprising experts who can provide impartial budget analysis. This should then lead to an autonomous Budget Unit, comprising top experts from across the country, who would be engaged in focused, comprehensive budgeting of the country the year round, without any political influence. The budget proposed by this unit and the one approved should both be posted online for public scrutiny.”

Bureaucracy is the backbone of a country. If the bureaucracy is dysfunctional, one can assess the overall picture very well. That is why reforming bureaucracy – the Civil Service of Pakistan – must not be avoided at any cost. Reforming the civil service would require concrete steps, not just optics. First, the generalist colonial exam to recruit for a lifetime should be scrapped. If desired, university performance and achievement, intelligence, and psychological testing are adequate. Second, no lifetime and career guarantees are to be given. Instead, continuous recruitments at all levels without any guarantees to specific groups should be plugged in. Third, no service hierarchies as in the current system, with guarantees to any group to be in controlling positions. Fourth, continuous training of public servants to be conducted at universities in specialised fields, so civil servants are well acquainted with global events, changing dynamics and contemporary approaches for better service delivery. Fifth, no transfers across government to allow any single group to control all activities, especially given the costs incurred. Sixth, compensation to be generous on market terms (based on private-sector competitors) but purely in cash. The colonial system of perks, plots, privileges, ex-officio appointments, and arbitrary allowances to be discontinued. The resources released will have a huge growth impact. Lastly, while past pensions are overburdening the government and have to be met, the pension should be fully funded and invested. Moreover, to allow and encourage mobility, pensions should be portable, and mobility between the private and public sectors must be encouraged.

PIDE says all agencies and levels of government are to be monitored by the HRM ministry, which would then prepare annual reports -- comparing practices, salaries, and state of public service. In parallel, all agencies, levels of government and departments to make annual performance commitments for the coming three years and prepare reports on recent performance. The individual performances within the purview of departments and agencies would be subject to review by the ministry of HRM.

“Establishment of an autonomous debt agency that would perform all functions and operation related to debt, in a technical manner, delinking it from the political narratives and influence. This agency would submit a report to parliament every quarter for review and discussion on the floor. This report would also be open for public discussion/public hearing for two days to incorporate diverse views. All the proceedings to be made public.”

PIDE says: “The Prime Minister or Chief Minister should not make top appointments by hand-picking a few people of his/her liking. This will limit his personal biases or perceptions and not compromise merit, deliberately or unintentionally. Every authority or department’s head should be appointed on merit; give them full authority, so they can function independently, to implement their vision. However, this should be complemented with checks and balances. In addition, all the heads of public sector agencies must submit biannual reports to the parliament. Short-term targets to be outlined by the heads themselves for six months. Any head of the agency failing to meet the target below 60 per cent twice in a row should be fired.”

PIDE views economic growth at the pivot, for most of Pakistan’s ills. Thus, for sustained growth, there must be an independent Growth Commission. The commission should comprise experts; no political appointments. It would perform all the functions and give informed policy advice related to promoting growth, in a technical manner, delinking it from politics. The commission would submit a report to parliament bi-annually for review and discussion on the floor. This report would also be open for public discussion/public hearing for two days to incorporate diverse views. All the proceedings to be made public.

A comprehensive long-term export policy, reinforced by a well-chalked-out industrial policy that brings all stakeholders together, under the IPC, without which Pakistan’s exports are unlikely to grow and diversify sustainably. A fifteen-year Export Policy, where mechanisms would be fixed, with other things might constantly change according to the fixed mechanisms - owned and monitored by an Export Cell at the independent Planning Commission, would give export s priority. It is pertinent to note that the policy should be targeted to enhance competitiveness rather than spoon-feeding and must alter the mindset of the bureaucracy from control to empowerment.

PIDE says Public Sector Enterprises’ losses cannot be allowed indefinitely. The best option is to privatise these entities. It also proposes to reform markets including agriculture market, real estate market, energy market including electricity, gas and fuel oil market.