Published Date: Dec 3, 2013
A listening government
Late last week, reforms advocacy was seen at full display in a policy
symposium organised by the Islamabad-based think tank Sustainable
Development Policy Institute (SDPI), focussing on taxation and energy
About a week earlier, another think tank Policy Research
Institute of Market Economy (PRIME) had organised a conference on free
market and good government that discussed Pakistan’s economic
credibility on the basis of institutional deficits underpinned by legal
system and property rights.
Conferences and symposiums like these, whether held by think
tanks, business chambers or advocacy groups are not new to this country.
The question is how effective are they in terms of the formulation of
public policy and bringing reforms.
Reforms need pressure from the civil society, and this is
exactly what such gatherings create. And to give credit to the
government it does listen to the civil society as well. The catch,
however, is that a majority of these civil society-government
interactions are too broad—and, if and when the ball does get rolling in
the policy sphere, the details, the fine nuances are ignored leading to
policy hiccups. Often the government also doesn’t listen to what the
business community has to say.
Take for instance, the Pak-Afghan bilateral and transit trade
dynamics. It’s been more than two years since the historical transit
trade agreement was signed between the two countries, but stakeholders
from the transit business community complain of long pending hurdles
that have been diverting the business of Afghan transit trade to Iran.
“The government just doesn’t listen to our issues that we face
operationally on a day-to-day basis,” one stakeholder told BR Research.
Or take, for instance, the case of Pak-China FTA: "Despite
apparent tariff concessions by China, Pakistan appears to have failed to
maximize the benefit from this FTA”, notes the recently released
“Preliminary study on Pakistan and China trade partnership post FTA,” by
Pakistan Business Council (PBC), the country’s leading business
advocacy forum. Amongst other things, the PBC attributes this failure to
the fact that Pakistani businesses by and large were not part of the
FTA negotiation process and “the negotiators were unable to benefit from
the on ground experience of Pakistani businesses".
Yet while the government’s policymakers can be blamed for not
paying attention to the ground realities highlighted by business
chambers and advocacy groups; the latter ought to share at least some of
the blames. A look at business chambers in Pakistan shows that their
research capacities are almost non-existent, sans a few exceptions.
Those who do conduct research or hire a consultant for any study are
often guilty of producing too broad and generic reports, which really
isn’t actionable intelligence.
If business chambers, advocacy groups, and other civil society
members want the government to listen to them and resolve the
nitty-gritty issues on the ground, then they ought to come with
something that’s really worth listening.