Sunday April 21, 2024

The right model

By Mian Salimuddin
August 30, 2018

Immediately on assuming office, the Punjab government decided to adopt the Swedish governance model. Perhaps their enthusiasm for introducing reforms has overtaken their discretion. There is a world of difference between the socio-economic conditions of Sweden and Pakistan.

Sweden has been a kingdom since the 16th century and has not fought a war in 200 years. It reserved its armed neutrality in both world wars. With a population of 10.2 million and its ethnic uniformity, Sweden’s governance system has evolved over the last hundred years. It’s ‘from cradle to the grave’ social security system is miles ahead of the world-famous British social security system. Therefore, there is nothing common between the socio-economic conditions in Sweden and Pakistan. The decision seems to have been taken in haste and may embarrass the sponsors of the move.

If we are to at all adopt a governance model, we must look at countries with which we have something in common. Korea and Malaysia are two such countries. Both were considered developing countries until a few years ago.

Liberated from Japanese rule in 1945, Korea was immediately divided as North and South Korea. The two fought a devastating war from 1950 to 1953. Ever since then, South Korea has had a hostile neighbour – just like us. The country has an abundance of manpower (current population 52 million) with no natural resources. Help was sought from Germany in developing human resources, under the former’s ‘skill for every child’ concept. With high quality skilled manpower, South Korea is now considered a developed country.

Similarly, Malaysia (current population 32 million) won freedom from its colonial masters in September 1963, following a prolonged insurgency. Around 50 percent of the population comprises ethnic Malays, 23 percent are Chinese, and other minorities make up the rest. There have been frequent ethnic tensions and riots in the country. In 2009, the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), an in-house consulting firm, was set up by the Malaysian government for the implementation of Malaysia’s National Transformation Programme (NTP).

NTP aimed at modernising government operations in the public sector, improving livelihood and attracting private investments from both foreign and domestic investors. Under NTP, the Government Transformation Programme (GTP) was aimed at improving public-service delivery and strengthening public institutions. The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) was developed to create a much diversified and adaptable macro-economic system, able to balance volatile global economic patterns.

The structure of the programme was created in accordance with the strategic objective of ensuring transition to a ‘high-income nation’ by 2020. To achieve this, attention was focused on seven public areas of interest, named the National Key Result Areas (NKRAs), serving the purpose of creating both short and long-term initiatives in order to improve high-impact areas. These areas included reducing crime, fighting corruption, improving urban transport, raising living standards of low-income households, improving student outcomes, addressing the cost of living and improving rural development – all equally applicable to Pakistan.

For each area of interest, a minister was appointed to lead the mission of fulfilling the objectives of NKRA, through clustered Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). To ensure success and tangible outcomes for each KRA, Pemandu organised a series of ‘labs’ aimed at training public-service employees working across each target area and ensuring effective problem-solving skills.

To prioritise economic sectors, NTP classified 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) ranging from oil, gas and energy to agriculture, healthcare and tourism. Pemandu has been responsible for overseeing the implementation and assessing the progress of GTP and ETP – facilitating the achievement of NKRAs and NKEAs’ objectives under the guidance of the PM’s vision and motto: ‘people first, performance now’.

During the last seven years of implementation, Malaysia has been able to record a noticeable improvement in its performance towards achieving NTP’s goals, which were 90 percent or higher in all the key result areas. Further implementation of the plan created the right conditions that propelled Malaysia into a globally competitive country. During the first six years, fiscal deficit was reduced by 55 percent, over two million jobs were created and 6,000 kilometres of rural road network was built.

These details about the governance model in Malaysia share a lot of commonalities with our situation. Even their high-impact and economic key result areas are almost the same as ours. This model has been studied by Pakistan in the past; a Malaysian minister even visited the country and briefed officials about the functioning of NTP. But lack of political will did not allow any progress. The Malaysian model is now fairly mature and has attracted worldwide attention. Not only are India and Bangladesh trying to adopt it, some European countries are also interested.

Therefore, the Punjab government should rethink its proposed governance model. However, the issue is not only restricted to the choice of the governance model, it is about selecting the appropriate team to lead the effort.

This will involve creating an infrastructure, allocating budget and, above all, providing legal cover for sustenance of these reforms, as most countries undertaking governance reforms have done. Failure to do so will result in the entire effort appearing to be a public relations gimmick that is full of sound and fury, but signifies nothing.