This blog will help get readers an insight to 4 transitions Pakistan need at Public Policy front. Public policy is a course of action adopted by the government to tackle the arising problems or the areas of concern within a country; ensuring socio-economic growth, sustainable development and improved wellbeing of the citizens. It is said that a policy is usually reactive in nature as it is mostly formulated in response to an existing problem.
According to the constitution of Pakistan, the executive branch was responsible for the formulation of policies. Later, the 18th amendment transferred these powers to the provincial governments. For a public policy to come into action, there is a proper process which starts from the a) identification of a problem or an issue, followed by b) an agenda setting, c) policy formulation, d) policy implementation, e) policy evaluation and finally f) policy change or termination.
On an academic front things seem to be very easy and interesting, but an important question is unanswered till date; why has public policy been an issue in Pakistan since a very long time? Why do we fail to go beyond the step of policy implementation?
In this article, I’d try to shed light on certain areas to answer this mind boggling agenda. Majority of the policies formulated are flawed as they are dominated by the interests of the ruling parties and/or the stakeholders. But one must acknowledge the fact that the actual problem lies within the implementation of the formulated policies. Whenever an issue arises, sooner or later, policies regarding it are eventually formulated. It is their implementation where our country lacks.
In the following paragraphs, this article will highlight some of the reasons why, despite having a fine amount of policies, we fail at implementing them.
1- Setting an eye on the short term goals
The first and the foremost reason is the fact that whenever an agenda is being set, it is the short term goals that are taken into consideration. The response to, and the application of these policies in the long run are rarely looked upon. This is why some of the policies prove to be successful at the very start, but are not not suitable for long run development.
Rising security challenges within the country can be taken as an example here. Whenever crime rates increase within the country, the first and foremost step taken by the government is to deploy security forces and rangers in different parts of the cities. But what they must realize is that this initiative is just a short term solution to a long term problem. Along with ensuring the safety within the country, the governments should focus on the border disputes as well. Human trafficking, smuggling, on border crimes, these all are grave concerns and must be included in the top priority list of the state institutions and policy makers when dealing with security challenges. The fact that human and state security would continue to remain an issue if these areas remain unaddressed must be acknowledged before it’s too late.
Without doubt, short term solutions are of a high significance but, at the same time, there is a dire need to start addressing issues through the lens of long term planning as well. Otherwise same issues will continue to rise, new policies will be formulated, implemented in the short run and the cycle would continue like this forever.
2- Political Instability
Then comes the issue of changing governments and their varied national interests. After every five years, a new political party comes under power and brings along new policies to satisfy their areas of interests. In this process, the new policies get all the limelight, or most of it to say that least, and maximum funding is directed towards them. While the policies made by the previous governments are sidelined. For example, let’s say that the main focus of a current government is towards improving the public transportation facilities. Due to this, most of their policies would be directed towards fulfilling this goal. Budget and funds will be allocated to build an infrastructure for a smooth transportation system. Later, when a new government gains power and steps in, it would have its own areas of interest; let’s say eradicating corruption from within the government institutions. The main priority of the overtaking government would be to bring those policies into action that would ensure accountability and bring transparency within the system. The policies regarding infrastructure wouldn’t be their primary focus.
An example to this is the Islamabad Metro Bus Project (IMPB) launched by the former government of PML-N which was supposed to be completed by November 2017, as per the plan. At the time when the government’s tenure ended, according to the reports, 60 pc of the work had been completed. But once the present government stepped in, the project eventually came to a halt as PTI’s government lost interest in the project and shifted it’s priority to other areas. According to the officials of NHA, another 4 billion rupees were required to complete the project, as per the reports of November 2019. Funds were released by the present government in October 2019 but were insufficient to meet the liabilities and expenses of the project. As of today, IMPB still remains incomplete. Till date, billions of rupees and uncountable hours of hard work have been invested in this project. But due to a difference in priorities, all of it seems to go down the drain.
Therefore, it is important to ensure that the governments in power give equal importance and attention to the previously formulated policies, especially the ones with such large sums of money invested in them, and those that came into action just a while ago. I think it should be the autonomy of that particular actor/ taskforce to drive things independently with an apolitical drive. The constitution should make that policy handle authoritative enough to let project lead meet desired goals in the allocated time.
3- The Bandwagon effect
Furthermore, another very prominent and major reason for the lack of implementation of public policies is the emergence of new issues within the country. This can be explained with a very recent example. With the outbreak of Covid-19, the primary focus of the current government shifted towards curbing the spread of the virus and its effects. A number of policies and plans were formulated to counteract the effects of the pandemic. But now, with a sudden surge in the rape cases and the very recent Shia genocide, the focus of the nation has mostly shifted, from the Corona virus, towards these issues. And so, there is a high probability that the policy makers will have to divert their focus towards these in order to curb the uproar of the nation.
Firstly, here it is interesting yet painful to see Pakistan’s amature political landscape where think tanks are not specialized on problem centres. It seems to be like jack of all and master of none. Same people are held responsible for price hikes, thefts, pollution, industrial transitions and sky rocketting rape cases.
Secondly, same changing hats won’t work for long as policies should not be made under public pressure, rather a recipe should be cooked after careful consideration and keeping spillover effects in mind. The national machinery is like a human body, if you give drugs to treat one organ it is highly expected that others respond to it too but with careful consideration you can pre-workout the reactions and strategy to buffer transitions.
4- Interconnected nature of challenges
One of the very basic reasons behind the failure of our policies is the fact that the challenges faced by the country are interconnected. The implementation of a particular policy in one sector has severe consequences on the other. A very simple example to this is how steps taken in order to boost the productivity of the economic sector has devastating effects on the environment. For the purpose of construction, deforestation occurs on vast grounds. Tons of poisonous gases and particles in the form of debris are released into the environment, further deteriorating it. Similar is the case when infrastructure is built.
In order to overcome this problem, a ‘triple-win’ system must be implemented while formulating the policies. This ensures that any policy coming into action has all three; environmental, economic and social gains. This would make sure that the implementation of the policies in one sector won’t cause any hindrance in the implementation of policies in another one.
It is a known fact that policies play a very crucial role in any country. Therefore, if Pakistan needs to progress and prosper, paying attention to the policy sector is of immense importance. Failure in achieving the set goals or the inefficiency in the implementation of policies is not only a blow to the economy, but also leads to a lack of trust, of the people, in the state institutions. Considering the right person at the right time is highly significant in policy implementation, along with the right amount of authority delegated. And in order for a policy to be successful, it is important that the problem must be critically evaluated, the policies must be well planned and carefully formulated, and their implementation must be strictly ensured by the government along with proper legitimacy. Then and only, we can hope to see a desirable transition within the sector of public policy, and in the country as a whole.