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Business Recorder

Published Date: Dec 10, 2014

Private sector in planning commission

Long gone are the days of top -down planning commissions that directed
the economy from commanding heights; the future in todays market-led
globalized world lies only in what may be called as indicative planning.
This was the starting point of one of the plenary sessions (titled:
Planning in 21st Century) at the SDPIs annual conference that kicked off
yesterday in Islamabad.

The panellists that included representatives from Indian and
Bangladeshs economic communities, along with their Pakistani
counterparts, agreed in identifying that planning in todays world has to
be a more dynamic exercise – something which this column has been
arguing time and again.

The reason for that is simple: the 21st century is on a bullet
train to evolution to the point that it is increasingly becoming
volatile. Anything and everything can happen, so try not to be off
guard; black swans that emerged rather rarely in the preceding centuries
are now emerging more rapidly and dissipating at the same pace.

In such an environment, there are some who argue that why plan
in the first place. Why hold this sense of grandeur to channel the
economy and indeed the society in any direction? they ask. But to these
voices one must quip that just because seas have become stormy it doesn
mean that the captain should stop giving directions to better manage
the ship and try to reach relatively safer waters. We all need a sense
of direction and a North Star to guide us.

One such North Star is the UNs MDGs that serve as the guiding
force in several countries. The same has been adopted by and large in
Planning Commission of Pakistans latest Vision 2025 document. But there
are two other elements that Pakistans Planning Commission should
consider looking at.

First, as has been demanded in Indian constitution – though not
entirely practised to the fullest – is the adoption of district level
planning council. These are to help focus on local variations in
development, albeit of course it would require a listening government,
an effective local government – things that remain elusive in Pakistans

The second thing that this column would like to suggest is to
have members from the private sector on the board of the planning
commission, at home and abroad. These members should come from the
academia, the media, think tanks and other representatives from the
civil society. Perhaps even representatives from business community,
just so long they do not hijack the commission to their favour alone.

The idea is not just to invite private sector input in the
planning process – as is done via external consultations – but to have
them on board in the execution and oversight process as well. This would
not only improve the feedback loop, but would also be more consultative
in a relatively real time basis, as against a one-off consultative

Having private sector members on the board of planning
commission can also help the commission be more responsive to the needs
to the ever changing economy, and the society at large, as the private
sector is arguably better placed in reading the pulse of the economy and
react to it on a timely basis.

When BR Research excitedly pitched this idea to Pradeep Mehta,
the secretary general of CUTS International – one of Indias top civil
society think tanks, to find out what he thinks about it, he responded
by saying that the same has already been proposed in India. So much for a
new idea!

Anyway, following the scrapping of Indias Planning Commission by
Narendra Modi, a policy proposal to have private sector representation
on the board of Indias soon-to-be-launched new planning body has been
put forward and given Modis tilt towards the market, it will not be
surprising if that prescription is accepted. Whether Pakistan adopts a
similar strategy depends how visionary the Vision-walas are.

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