In order to improve Pakistan’s governance indicators, the Planning Commission has estimated that Rs150 billion will be required under the new five-year economic plan for better service delivery and beating the South Asian nations.

The draft of an official plan underlined that the lack of accountability and transparency at all levels of the state apparatus, particularly in areas directly dealing with the public, was contributing to bad governance.

The draft of the new Five-Year Economic Plan 2024-29 stated that in order to accomplish the reform agenda, investments had to be made in areas relating to innovation, capacity building, performance management, service delivery, justice sector, police, research and reforms in the public sector including the regulatory framework and statistics sector. Jehanzeb Khan heads the Planning Commission.

However, the draft chapter on governance and institutional reforms admitted that during the past 10 years, the country had spent Rs92 billion on improving governance indicators but they worsened compared to the regional countries.

Pakistan had shelved long-term central planning but again started working on the five-year plan after recommendations made by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF last year provided a report on the Public Investment Management Assessment (PIMA) and Climate PIMA, advising to revive the central five-year planning.

The Central Development Working Party (CDWP) on Thursday approved a position paper about the IMF’s recommendations and decided to send it to Pakistan’s highest economic decision-making body – the National Economic Council (NEC) – for approval.

The draft plan stated that a successful implementation of new initiatives for improving governance indicators to levels better than the South Asian countries during the 13th Plan period 2024-29 would need Rs150 billion.

The Planning Commission has recommended making the third tier of governance – local governments – effective and efficient. It has also suggested implementing the 18th Constitutional Amendment in its true spirit by developing and stabilising efficient, sustainable, and decentralised governance systems at all levels to foster markets, opportunity, and community building.

The draft report stated that during the five-year plan period, the local government system would be strengthened by fostering inclusive governance, empowering communities, and ensuring efficient service delivery at the grassroots level.

The Planning Commission also recommended minimising the influence of members of national and provincial assemblies on local bodies aimed at making them more effective and answerable to the people. It also sought the institutionalisation of the Provincial Finance Commission on the same footing as the National Finance Commission aimed at transferring resources to the local bodies.

Since 2010, the federal and provincial governments have deliberately weakened local governments to keep a tight grip on the last tiers.

Under the five-year plan, it has been proposed to make the Provincial Finance Commission mechanism incentive based and encourage competition among constituencies by diverting focus from need-based resource allocation to incentive-based allocation.

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It has been proposed to give matching grants to local governments to enhance efficiency rather than dependency.

Measures have also been proposed to improve service delivery by the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR), police, judiciary, State Bank of Pakistan, National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), and Competition Commission of Pakistan to name a few.

It is recommended that the FBR should initiate measures for the creation of a central database of potential taxpayers by obtaining data from NADRA, telecom companies, banking companies, educational institutions and development authorities.

It is also suggested that for ensuring transparency, there is a need to strengthen the Integrity Management Unit of the FBR, end-to-end automation, and provision of high-quality tax facilitation services while strengthening the FBR, provincial tax departments and revenue authorities.

Efforts should be made towards public sector capacity building to develop skilled, accessible, and motivated civil service responsive to the evolving socio-economic needs. Induction of professionals into relevant cadres and groups with a review of training regime based on a comprehensive training needs assessment is proposed.

It is also proposed that in order to attract and retain top talent, remuneration of public servants should be aligned with market-based salaries, and performance management system should be strengthened at both the departmental and individual levels to foster accountability.

Training of parliamentarians has been proposed to improve their leadership skills.

The draft report has identified corruption as a major challenge to improving service delivery. The major challenge for improved governance in the public sector includes minimising systematic corruption, which has been widely institutionalised in all sectors of the economy, it added.

It is proposed that efforts should be directed towards strengthening accountability institutions such as NAB, the Auditor General Office, FIA, and other federal and provincial entities by enhancing their capacity through training and granting financial and administrative autonomy.

During the next five years, it is proposed to strengthen the rule of law by enhancing effectiveness of the legal and judicial system with timely dispensation of justice. It is also recommended that citizen participation should be encouraged by promoting transparency and accountability in governance processes.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2024.

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