Pakistan Muslim League Senior Leader and Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal said the Planning Commission (PC) would be revived within a year to its statuary form of strategizing and monitoring economic development.
“The PML-N government has decided to transform the Planning Commission (PC) into a knowledge-based think-tank to guide the country’s decision-making forum from its current nature of just a project approving and monitoring agency,” according to a report published by Dawn on June 11, 2013.
Talking to Truth Tracker, Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal said the Commission would be restructured along scientific lines in order to make it a forum capable of setting the course of economic development in the country.
“The entire commission will be restructured,” the federal minister said, talking to the Truth Trackers (TT).
According to the PML-N leader, new sections for contemporary disciplines will be created in the commission and professionals will be appointed as heads of the new sections.
As a first step towards reforming and giving priority to the Planning Commission, the PML-N leader said, his party has appointed him (Iqbal) as a full-time federal minister to head the Planning and Development Department.
The minister further told TT that all sections in the commission would produce at least two research papers every year. Cash rewards and bonuses would be introduced for the top 15 percent of performers. He said by the end of the year the organization would become paperless, with the details and status of all projects and their funding available on its website.
Later at a press conference on July 20th, Iqbal said, “The restructuring process will increase the membership of the Planning Commission by three members and add four new units for strategic planning and policy, reforms and innovation in government, development communication, and strategic and regional initiatives […]. At present, the commission has only one member on board while the contracts of other members have expired. Mr. Iqbal said the government was issuing advertisements to fill the posts of eight members through an open, merit-based competition from the country and abroad.”
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The Planning Commission was originally set up in 1958 to determine the priorities and direction of economic development of the country. It used to be called the ‘real brain’ of the country and was headed by a deputy chairman – a rank equal to that of a federal minister – the commission’s purpose was to advise the prime minister and eventually the finance department on matters of financial and public development policies.
Its basic functions include devising strategies, monitoring and steering the economic and development policies of the state.
“It had remained a disabled body in the past,” Iqbal said later at the July 20 press conference.
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The first step the PML-N has taken towards fulfillment of the promise is the appointment of one of its senior leaders – Ahsan Iqbal – as federal minister for planning and development. Iqbal – who also served as deputy chairman of the Commission during the second regime of PML-N (1998–99) and remained a federal minister for education – assumed the office of the federal planning and development minister.
The setting up of an independent ministry means that the commissions is no longer answerable to the finance department, and can instead can take on its intended advisory role for government planning.
On July 1, Iqbal revealed the 10th five-year plan in which energy security was said to be the top-most priority of the government.
To implement its strategy for revival of the Planning Commission to its original statuary status; the PML-N has enough time till June 26, 2014.
Iqbal has been hard at work since the day he assumed office on June 9, 2013. At the end of the month the minister travelled to China and Thailand, according to updates on his Facebook page. TT also confirmed this with Iqbal’s office.
On June 27, a status update “from China” announced that Iqbal had met with vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin at the Chinese foreign ministry and held a “tangible and wide-ranging discussion on reinforcing Pakistan-China’s economic, trade, commercial, energy and strategic relations”.
The update also said that Iqbal also met the chairman of EXIM Bank to request waiving an insurance premium on development loans secured by the Pakistani government. He also visited a ‘leading’ Chinese telecom company which ‘agreed to set up a research centre in Pakistan’. The update did not reveal the name of the telecom company or specify the purpose of the research centre.
According to another Facebook update on June 27, Iqbal also met “His Excellency Mr Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan, Minister-in-Charge for National Economic and Social Development Board in Bangkok, Thailand” on his way back to Pakistan.
“Both sides agreed to collaborate and organise a workshop in Pakistan and also agreed to conduct joint studies for economic and trade development,” according to the Facebook update.
“The five-year plan will be ready by December and its seven priority areas will be: energy for all; building new pillars for self-reliance and high sustainable growth through resource mobilization; investments and exports; making the private sector the driver of growth and promoting the public-private partnership mode and entrepreneurship; value addition in productive sectors for a globally competitive knowledge economy; developing modern infrastructure, including transit economy, economy, energy, information technology and a trade corridor; initiating institutional and governance reforms for high-performance government; and building social capital.”
In connection with the plan, the Planning Commission has advertised a Youth Development Fellow Programme. According to Iqbal’s office, applications would be scrutinized as they are received and a chosen few would be selected for training.
By the end of this year (2013) one expects the planning Commission to publish a few studies as envisioned and planned by the incumbent deputy chairman-cum-federal minister.
Another aspect is the limited scope of the Planning Commission’s affiliate – the Pakistan Institute of Development and Economics – which had been set up to research and harvest development professionals and economists, its acting vice chancellor Muslehuddin told TT when reached by phone.
When Iqbal – who has also served in PIDE’s syndicate – was asked why the institute wasn’t more involved in researching and devising development strategies, he said that, over a period of time, it had been reduced to a degree-awarding body with little scope for broad-based development, planning and research.
The executive director of Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development And Transparency (Pildat), Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, says that reforms may definitely be needed in the Planning Commission to make it a progressive organisation rather than a typical bureaucratic set up.
He felt that the scope of the commission had become limited to economic planning rather than sustainable social development.
“I feel there is a greater need for a strategic body which would analyse and present pragmatic solutions to issues like terrorism, which is not just a law-and-order issue,” Mehboob told TT. So far, he said, a civilian body had not been able to come up with ideas.
In the light of experts’ and stakeholders’ statements, Truth Tracker is of the view that fulfillment of the promise is underway.