October, 2019

Charming Trends - Pakistan L’Oreal Paris Bridal Week (PLBW) 2019
From the rise and fall of silhouettes to the mandate on materials, some of Pakistan’s most celebrated designers are back to unveil their latest festive and wedding wear collections as part of PFDC Paris L’Oreal Bridal Week (PLBW). Lahore played host to the event. The evening witnessed a mix of colours and cuts.


Path to Progress

It is intellectually lazy to blame Pakistan’s lack of development on immeasurable concepts like political will. Reform remains an elusive and little understood concept in Pakistan. The word is seldom used on TV. It is used even less in the cabinet and official forums. Even academics shy away from the subject. Donors now and again will talk of it but common remarks are, “we do not have to reinvent the wheel”, “we know what is to be done” and “all we have to do is import best practices.”

So, they set it up in an action matrix which is a template from some other country. They want all poor countries to mimic advanced countries regardless of any local differences. More often than not, such reform is never completely implemented. It kind of gets stuck in the gullet of the country, probably doing more harm than good. A case in point is the electricity sector where so-called best practices were being followed mindlessly. With independent power producers (IPPs) and the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, for long years, the country has been paying the price of a badly designed and an inconclusive reform. This has cost the country billions of rupees and no one has a solution.

Why is Pakistan such a laggard performer when it comes to reform? The donor’s contention is that the country does not implement reforms and that there is a lack of political will. This does not seem to be correct when many cases of donor policymaking are examined. Consider the donor-led tax reform on which millions of dollars have been spent and numerous consultants have come to Pakistan to give the country a tax policy that neither collects revenues nor lets business function. It has brought the growth rate down to recessionary levels. Another example is the high-profile education reform and advocacy program, funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), the efficacy of which is being questioned by many quarters.

To set the record straight, a lot of items have been implemented that the donor wanted. Privatization has opened out the economy, licencing was done away with, tax reforms were conducted and numerous projects were launched for building governance, access to justice, education, and many other development goals. Many regulatory agencies were built like NEPRA, the Securities and Exchanges Commission of Pakistan (SECP), the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), the Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP), and many more. The autonomy of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) was also worked on and improved. Yet development eluded the country.

On the other hand, it is fairly visible to any one visiting Pakistan that the people are turning away from modernity and productivity. The society seems to be taking a turn towards fundamentalism and a cultural conservatism instead of modernity and creativity. It is also very obvious that productivity has seriously been on a declining trend for the last few decades. Despite many pronouncements, education continues to decline in quality and research, especially in government and industry where it is virtually non-existent. And academic research continues to be irrelevant, at best.

Surely this should be raising all kinds of red flags and professionals should all be coming together to improve their understanding of reform and why it is unsuccessful or halfhearted. Donors and their consultants absolve themselves of responsibility by blaming poor policymaking and its shoddy results and the lack of reform of institutions and regulations or lack of implementation. Many commentators also take the plea that the system does not work, and the country suffers poor outcomes because of the lack of political will. Blaming immeasurable political will for failure is simply intellectual laziness.
Besides it is convenient to those responsible for bad design of reform and policy. It is time bad policy making and design for the failures were blamed. It is also time to seek out good policy and reform ideas and mainstream them rather than focus on merely aping the West and following the advice of Western advisors. Good research on policy and reform ideas must be cherished by society and such thinkers given respect and a seat at the policy table. That is the only path to progress.


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