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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Where is the discussion on policy? – Dr. Omer Javed

Dr. Omer Javed |

Does the print media matter much to the government or for that matter the media overall? Hardly anyone seems to pay much attention to what people write in these columns – what should keep these voices motivated then. Not much.

The policy simply is virtually non-inclusive of the thoughts of electorate; reflection of it seems to be hardly there, and certainly, when the policymakers do borrow from the thoughts of others in print media, these are rarely acknowledged. I have intentionally not said electronic media, because there seems to be going on a musical chair – like a charity table of people with wealth and influence can book, for the benefit of their hosts (the electronic media) and themselves – whereby a familiar few take up time mostly on the channels, talking about not much more, than the economics and politics that is either affected or gets affected by the politico-economic elites. The masses, that sea of electorate – active or in the making – and the deep issues of their lives that keeps them away from a welfare-oriented life, is just missing mostly.

No one who should care – simply because it is his responsibility being in power or position- really cares enough to leave no leaf unturned and no thought spared that is out there consulted, to make policy and to generate a media that makes positive difference in the lives of people. Where is the government’s overall agenda, which is being reflected in the form of public policy towards the uplift of polity? Apart from the Ministry of Finance, not much has been presented by the federal ministries and the provincial departments in the shape of policy that represents the vision of the government with necessary details on how to change the institutional environment, the organizational governance structures, and the incentive systems.

The masses, that sea of electorate – active or in the making – and the deep issues of their lives that keeps them away from a welfare-oriented life, is just missing mostly.

And how to align all of this policy that is sustains itself in a humane and environmentally responsible way. For that matter climate change is such a big item ticket, and so is trade and industry, and not much there is happening as such in terms of visibility, at least something, that motivates foreign direct investment, or enhances exports. While the government is at a loss of providing any such wholesome and interconnected policy that lifts the polity, economy, and environment- by fixing institutions, organizations, markets (especially the labour and commodity markets) and the welfare system overall, the opposition and the media (the shadow opposition) has also not much interest to assist, in a correctional and motivational way.

Read more: The shortcomings of IMF programme

No one is ready to get to the meat of the problems, slice them open and present solutions that can treat real issues, which are multiplying and are interconnected. Coming back, so why is there no visibility of policy on media or in meetings of cabinet – at the federal or provincial levels – whereby policy is even announced beyond some individual steps taken here and there, mostly of a fire-fighting nature. How long will it take for this to change? The argument that the previous government has left an economic mess is being wrongly stretched as an excuse for policy vacuum in ministries and departments beyond that of finance – what about from tourism to sports to labour to social sectors to planning to agriculture?

What is stopping them from coming forward and presenting their detailed policies – almost five months have passed after all! Why is the PM or the Planning Minister not presenting a well-coordinated overall policy, giving detailed insight on how the individual ministries will play their part in all of this. And where are the provincial chief executives in coming forward with this effort. Why this silence? A set of spokespersons, answering for one thing or another, is not the same as highlighting policy by CMs and their ministers.

Apart from the Ministry of Finance, not much has been presented by the federal ministries and the provincial departments in the shape of policy.

The public service reform has not come through as such- and if I am not wrong, the electorate did not have the chance to hear even one press conference by the team leader, Mr. Ishrat Hussain or by any of his other team member(s); and same is the situation with other task force leaders. Does the PM not see this? At the same time, it is not at all enough that media highlights this itself or through the similar faces it invites, that say this, because no broad-based, meaningful time is allotted on media- including the state media- where discussion is held in a systematic way that cross-cuts almost all aspects of the polity, economy and environment.

Read more: Learning from Vietnam’s economic experience -I-

At the same time, the opposition only cares as far as the personal financial matters of its respective party stalwarts. The media is just consumed- in line with the philosophy of generating quick profits, most of which too remain in the pockets of media owners and some famous anchors while the rest suffer from lack of government regulation to safeguard the rights of the labour class; like in any other commercial entity for long now in the private sector. They do not show content that goes beyond reporting and discussing the power politics and a few eye-catching dailies- or introduces a more inclusive manner of discussion by involving people- especially new faces- from other walks of life.

The government wants to follow the example of medina in both spirit and actions and the practical aspects of the workings of the Scandinavian countries policies, yet the words are not being matched with needed actions. Has the education ministry consulted the top-ranked Finish educational system? We certainly won’t know because the federal education minister never went in any sort of detail about the influences through which the new educational policy will be formulated. How many times has he devoted time on print or electronic media about the foundations of planning in this regard, and how it will evolve? The same is the story with the health ministers- federal or provincial- the sports ministers, the local government ministers.

A set of spokespersons, answering for one thing or another, is not the same as highlighting policy by CMs and their ministers.

In the early days of this government, the PM made an address on state TV that was lauded by all and sundry, that how vast is the scope of reform that is going to follow, and how deep the details that will be attended to. Sadly not much has come through yet in terms of policy from the ministries, department, and heads of task forces. The media does not play its part as well in creating the environment, and in channelizing ideas in a broad-based way, while the government here too- not learning for example from the Swedish growth model- provides little subsidy to TV channels to show less advertisements, and show more informational content.

Read more: Learning from Vietnam’s economic experience

The private sector is also just non-responsive and little concerned with the interests that build nations, but only what fills their pockets. There is no democracy in work-places, no strong regulatory penetration from the government, and the private sector is no candidate in elections, after all, to have a check on the money-mindedness of the private sector.

Yet in all this, the only ray of hope is that people, that sea of electorate, including the youth bulge in this country, grow up to the challenge and put the right pressure on all these power corners- the government, the opposition, and the media- to perform in the wider interest of the country, including properly regulating the private sector. People will all have to join together in this cause by playing their role better in their individual professions, and by pushing themselves to be part of this collective concern by forming non-profit entities to struggle for their rights; which they need to if they are to uplift themselves individually. A well-functioning democracy needs an active and involved citizenry; keep a check on all those whom they have allowed to represent.

Dr. Omer Javed holds PhD in Economics from the University of Barcelona, Spain. A former economist at International Monetary Fund, he is the author of Springer published book (2016), ‘The economic impact of International Monetary Fund programmes: institutional quality, macroeconomic stabilization, and economic growth’. This article was originally appeared in Pakistan Today and has been republished with the author’s permission. He tweets at @omerjaved7. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.