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Continuation of economic policies

Dr Shujaat Mubarik

The writer is Professor and Associate Dean at Institute of Business Management (IoBM) Karachi.

We often criticise the government for its shortcomings but never present the solution to our economic problems. Developed countries have many things in common. The foremost being the continuation of policies. The economy is not something that can be fixed in a matter of months or years. It takes 15 to 20 years for a country’s economy to rise. This means that real economic growth can only be achieved by pursuing coherent and sound economic policies for around 15 years or more. Several governments change over this time, portfolios are revamped, but it is essential that the same policies are carried on.

The question arises that every new government has a political manifesto and often deviates from past policies to implement it. This is particularly true for developing countries such as Pakistan where the government changes hand every few years. How to maintain the continuity of economic policies? A change of government does not necessarily imply a change of policy. Japan has had 45 prime ministers in the last 57 years but the country has shown phenomenal growth. In Italy, prime ministers keep coming and going but it has no effect on their economic policies.

This is because economic policies are formulated by the bureaucracy, while politicians simply legislate. In simple words, the task of running the economy is given to bureaucrats and technocrats. Unfortunately in Pakistan, ministers become superheroes and attempt to revamp the department within days, or are completely disconnected from their ministry to retain their political stature.

We need a competent and independent bureaucracy that can run the country’s economy and monitors performance despite the change of government.

The second point is strengthening our national institutions which include tax collectors to customs clearances that help carry out economic activities. The role of these institutions is vital; if a clearing agency slows down its operations or becomes corrupt, it will affect imports and exports of the whole nation. In developed countries, such institutions are run not only by competent and qualified officers but also have excellent technology and infrastructure. These institutions play a key role in national development. But unfortunately, our national institutions are way behind and need to be strengthened.

Third, we need long-term planning. CPEC is a part of the Belt and Road Initiative. This project was initiated in 2012, but China started planning in the 1980s until it finally became a reality. The Japanese formulate policies considering the situation 50 years later, so do all developed countries. They are forming economic and social policies in view of the realities over the next 20, 30 or 40 years. Every developing country in the world is thinking years ahead while formulating any policy. We lack such foresightedness. Even our education policy is unable to state its play role in our society in 2030. We need to make policies for the years ahead and think for a strong future.

Fourth is human resource development. Even though two-thirds of our population is less than 30 years, we have been unable to utilise their massive resource for the nation’s development. Education certainly plays an important role in human resource development but it is only feasible in the long run. The education system determines the economic and social future of society. Developed nations design an education system keeping in mind the purpose and what it aims to achieve.

What human resources does a society need today and what it will require forty years from today? A strong education system can be developed if we can answer these questions. It is also important that teachers are given special training for such a system. The education system should meet the human resource needs of society and makes us a good citizen. This will ensure the continuity of economic policies, strong national institutions, long-term planning and an integrated education system which is vital for a country’s economic and social future.