By : Zubair Faisal Abbasi.
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution brought significant change to the system of democratic governance in Pakistan. The institution of National Economic Council (NEC) also underwent some changes. The legislators were able to add three more clauses pertaining to the affairs of NEC, adding to the two existing ones in Article 156. The clauses now “enable Provinces to requisition the NEC meetings, determine the frequency of and quorum for its meetings, and to lay down the requirement to submit an annual report to the National Assembly as well as the Senate”. This is the review of the financial years 2011-12 which was presented in February 2013. “The financial year ends in June so ideally the report should be issued in the following quarter, i.e. latest by the 30th September. For 2010-11, the report was issued in April 2012 instead of September 2011. There has been some improvement, as the present report was issued on the 20th February 2013”.
Quality of the report
There are many ways to analyze the quality of a report. We tried to review the report along sixdimension which can be considered as industry standards for a good quality report. The details are given below:
1. Executive Summary: The report lacks an executive summary which is an essential feature of a report.
2. Analytics: It uses the government’s standard style of writing which lacks triangulated analytical analysis of any of the issues raised.
3. Presentation: The quality of printing and presentation of data is average, with some information in tables and other in text. There are many other methods of economic data presentation like charts which have not been used.
4. Focus and clarity: The report is focused and does not go into any other kind of details other than the presentation of facts. No visible error of inclusion or conclusion has been found.
5. Date and signatures: Month of publication and foreword by the Secretary cabinet division is mentioned.
6. Referencing: No references have been given and data is presented as if generated by the Cabinet Secretariat itself. In fact this is not the case, and data should have identifiable sources. An implication of avoiding referencing is that accuracy of data cannot be determined.
In total there are nine chapters in the report, Chapter 1 reproduces legal and constitutional provisions of NEC under constitution (4 pages), Chapter 2 present a Composition of the Executive Committee of NEC (ECNEC) (3 pages), Chapter 3 narrates the Performance of the NEC (2 pages).The chapter 4 and 5 are the main chapters of the report. Chapter 4 comprises of a review of previous plan and proposed annual plan (6 pages) while Chapter 5 presents review of Federal Public Sector Development Programmes and Proposed PSDP 2012-13 with allocations and releases. In this chapter, key decisions are also mentioned (4 pages) such as allocations and real expenditure, decisions such as approval of PSDP, change in the powers of provincial governments, directions to present identified projects for provinces, directions to the Planning Commission (PC) for implementation of projects and coordination. The Chapter 6 shared Implementation Matrix of Framework of Economic Growth (3 pages) which is primarily a narrative of the economic growth framework prepared by the Planning Commission. The Chapter 7 shares performance of ECNEC and Central Development Working Party (CDWP) (3 pages) which is primarily devoted to the status of financial approvals for different projects. Functions of the Executive Committees of ECNEC and DWP (2 and ½ pages) are given in the chapter 8 while financial sanctioning powers and procedures of approving bodies (2 pages) fall in the 9th chapter. It has three annexes which are as the following:
• Schedule A: Principals of Policy (3 pages)
• Schedule B: Rules of Business NEC (4 pages)
• Schedule C: List of approved project
It is important to mention that the word “performance” in this report has been taken as the number meetings held, not the count of instances when advice was sought or reviews were done NEC. On this account, the reports claims that only one meeting was held in May before the budget and there was no detailed review of later economic performance. Whereas the Article 156 (4) requires that “The Council shall meet at least twice a year and the quorum for a meeting of the Council shall be one-half of its total membership.”
Concerns regarding the report:
By performance, the report appears to mean the number of meetings held, names of participants, and agenda items. It should meet twice a year but met once (May 14, 2012). Is this adequate reporting? Is there no need for a meeting to undertakeperformance review after June? It must be mentioned that the 18th Amendment changed the Clause (2) of Article 156 to make it an advisory body on quality and distribution of economic growth:
“The National Economic Council shall review the overall economic condition of the country and shall, for advising the Federal Government and the Provincial Governments, formulate plans in respect of financial, commercial, social and economic policies; and in formulating such plans it shall, amongst other factors, ensure balanced development and regional equity and shall also be guided by the Principles of Policy set out in Chapter 2 of Part-II.”
Another question arises about Principles of Policy? This report is does not contain any information about the development side of economic policies, presenting only the allocation and expenditure on different public sector projects. Even a cursory look suggests that the Article 37 relating to promotion of social justice and Article 38 regarding social and economic well-being of people cover the requirements of balanced development and regional equity. These principles provide very important dimensions to monitor social development and provide relevant advice to the federal and provincial governments. The report must go beyond the input and output levels and talk about the results related to financial allocations at the national and provincial levels.
Suggestions for improvement
Following are some suggestions for improvement in the report:
1. Executive summary should be added
2. A chapter on conclusions and recommendations may be added. For example, the current report could have recommended that the Council should meet twice a year as desired by the Constitution.
3. The report may give a better provincial breakup of economic and social development which can generate healthy competition between provinces and regions
4. The report should reflect on balanced development and regional equity to identify development gaps and generate better advice for governments according to the Principles of Policy.
5. Planning Commission should be the secretariat of the NEC and charged with the preparation of the report to be presented to the Parliament.
6. The report should come out soon after the end of financial year in June, not later than the end of September.