Reimagining development

December 21, 2016 00:35 AM Simone Galimberti

The gap between NPC planning and implementation is rather big. So millions of Nepalis have been denied the right to participate in the shared national prosperity 
Over the past few decades, the level of global poverty has been steadily declining but according to a recent report published by the World Bank, the achievements risk being overshadowed by another global phenomenon, the rise of inequality. 

In its flagship report, Tackling Inequality published by the World Bank in October as part of The Poverty and Shared Prosperity series, the bank urges prompt action by governments around the world to bridge the increasingly big gaps between those at the bottom of the pyramid and those who have been benefiting from decades of unparallel economic growth.

According to the report, there are around 100 million fewer extremely poor people than there were in 2012 thanks to progresses achieved in the Asia Pacific region, with countries like India, China and Indonesia performing the best. 

Yet, as Jim Yong Kim, the President of the World Bank, says, “It’s remarkable that countries have continued to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity at a time when the global economy is underperforming—but still far too many people live with far too little”. He was making a case for an aggressive push to cut down the levels of inequalities and injustices still faced by millions of people around the world.

The report suggests a series of public policies to lift the most vulnerable and disadvantaged persons, helping them to climb the economical ladder and share in the national prosperity, which is actually one of the global goals set by the World Bank. Universal health coverage, universal access to quality education, cash transfer to poor families, rural infrastructures and progressive taxations are listed as key domains of action to empower and give a sense of agency to those who are left behind.

Some of the proposals are especially worthy of Nepal’s consideration. Actually, many of them are already being studied and piloted in different parts of the country. Think of the national health insurance that is being tried out in a few districts or the studies on conditional cash transfers or massive rural infrastructures that give a guaranteed number of days of employment to a large number of poor persons.

The National Planning Commission (NPC) is the leading agency to formulate and coordinate new policy actions. But the real implementation, a key problem in Nepal as well as in many other developing countries, lies with line agencies, the ministries. In this light, the decision of the Modi administration to reform India’s planning commission and turn it into the National Institution for Transforming India (or NITI Aayog), or more of a think-tank, has also spurred debates in Nepal over reforming our own National Planning Commission.

The fact that you do not read any headlines nowadays about reforming the National Planning Commission might reflect the low priority accorded to the idea. In my view, the commission could actually continue to play the role of formulating new policies and coordinating their implementation, as it currently does. But it can also, if provided with adequate resources, stimulate new conversations on national priorities, pretty much like NITI Aayog is doing by organizing national lectures in New Delhi.

We should not forget that the Commission is part of the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers and the prime minister, as NPC chairman, delegates the day to day management to the vice-chairman. This vice-chair in turn leads a group of member secretaries, each of them entrusted with sector-wise responsibilities and therefore separately dealing with the ministries that fall under their areas of expertise. 

The gap between planning carried out at the commission level and its implementation is rather big.

As a result millions of Nepalis have been denied of the right to participate in the shared national prosperity. 

One possible way to overcome NPC inaction is to strengthen its link with the Office of Prime Minister.

This will ensure a direct, day to day working relationship between the officials supporting the work of the prime minister and those in the commission. 

With greater unity and coordination, the commission can help the prime minister better implement and track the progress of key projects and initiatives. 

There is certainly room to improve the working of the National Vigilance Center (NVC), another body under the prime minister that looks at cases of corruption and malpractices in government.

Currently, a lot of what NVC does overlaps with the work of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). Perhaps what we need is a new officer who jointly oversees both the NPC and the NVC. 

Because the prime minister in this early stage of republican order will be focused on forging deals with political parties to implement the constitution and with ending the peace process, we should have a strong First Deputy Prime Minister who can effectively oversee day to day implementation of national developmental priorities. 

Tasked with coordinating a newly empowered Office of the Prime Minister—resulting from the merger of the current OPMCM with the National Planning Commission and National Vigilance Center—the appointment of a “National Development” First Deputy Prime Minister could make a real difference on how the country is governed and on how it carries out its development activities. 

Answering and reporting directly to the First Deputy Prime Minister, a senior government officer can then be given the role of the de facto Chief Operating Officer on national development. The current modality of our development planning is outdated. The only way we can equitably share our prosperity is through a more result-oriented approach, like the one outlined above. 

The author is the co-founder of ENGAGE, an NGO that works with youths living with disabilities

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