Restructuring The NPC : Dr. Lok Nath Bhusal
The true existence of any institution lies in its ability to deliver its assigned tasks effectively in an influential manner. Failure to do so calls for the termination of the particular organisation or restructuring of the same. Nepal’s oldest surviving development think tank - the National Planning Commission (NPC) - which has been carrying out similar functions for the last 60 years is going to reincarnate itself.
It was in September last year that the prime minister decided to restructure and reform the NPC. Indeed, with the emergence of complex development challenges arising from internal and external changes, the NPC needs to redefine its role for tackling them. Realising this, the NPC has itself constituted a committee to prepare a report for its own reincarnation. This can also be taken as a reform initiative from within the organisation.
The need for restructuring came from the NPC’s inability to become a true think tank on development issues. Rather, over the years, it has failed to articulate a realistic development direction for the country. It had to provide quotas to all the political parties, which changed positions in Parliament quite frequently. Although at the root of national planning lies the socialist system, parties close to the capitalist system also successfully nominated their cadres as members of the NPC. Nepal’s existing mixed economic system further necessitates the existence of the NPC in the country’s development landscape, albeit in a different form and with new responsibilities.
The NPC has already organised a series of discussions with national and regional stakeholders about its potential new face. These discussions are still going on. This article is an attempt to provide some feedback on these discussions so that the following suggestions are reflected in the restructuring committee’s report:
First and foremost, we need to be crystal clear regarding the role of the government, private sector and the community organisations in the changed global and national context. It is a hard reality that with the adoption of the economic liberalisation policy in the 1990s, the government has significantly lost its control over the economy. While new actors have emerged and proved their role in the Nepalese economy and society, facilitating these new actors still remain under the realm of the government, and precisely by the NPC under its new role. Hence, the need of the day is to redefine the role of the NPC.
Secondly, recent developments in India suggest that a developing country such as ours needs some form of planning body. However, keeping such a body with the same function is certainly irrelevant and probably a waste of resources. India restructured its planning commission and redefined its role as a reform entity for faster transformation of the Indian economy and society. Our northern neighbour’s planning commission is also known as a reform commission. Nepal’s traditional planning body should also learn from these developments and reincarnate itself as a reform entity supported by solid evidence.
hirdly, and in the above context, we need to have a planning body that better coordinates the state, markets and community efforts for faster and sustainable development of the country. The restructured planning institution should be capable of facilitating coordination at all levels – from the policy to the operational level. The persistent under-spending of capital/development budget every year is rooted in our coordination failure.
Fourthly, at the legal level, the NPC should be based on an Act, not on government orders as it stands now. It should have more power on the development landscape. Such a law should clearly identify its functions, institutional arrangements and human resources. It should be more institutionalised and remain out of direct political interference. The tenure of its members and advisors should be stated in the Act.
Fifthly, it should evolve itself as a professional think tank rather than an administrative organisation. To ensure this, its members should be both professional and experts, but this is not enough. They should be experienced and dedicated to the development of this country. While they need to be experts in their respective disciplines and international political economy, the hallmark of their expertise should be their patriotism. Merely being an advocate of free trade should not be the qualification of a member.
Sixth, the secretarial staff should be equally capable of carrying out the newly defined tasks of the NPC. Basic qualifications and experience must be determined for the secretarial staff. One clear reason behind the erosion of the credibility of the NPC has been its incapable secretarial staff. Most of the existing staff are unaware of economics, development or the political economy. Their motivation for being there is either to prepare for the promotion exams or to find some opportunity to go abroad for study and training. The Civil Service Act should constitute a development service for the staff working at the NPC and other development organisations.
Seventh, departing from its usual functions, the restructured NPC should focus on research, indicative planning, and monitoring and evaluation. It must have a strong research department equipped with updated database in various indicators of development. The department should hire competent Nepali researchers in almost all sectors of development - economic, social, political and management.
Besides focusing narrowly on conventional economic research, it should also identify larger research themes and carry out research that reflect the changing dynamics of the global, regional and national political economy and its consequences for Nepal’s sustainable and inclusive development. It should also validate research carried out about Nepal’s development by others. It should also learn from such research and feed into its own strategic planning, meaning its planning should be evidence-based.
To sum up, the restructuring must ensure that the NPC becomes a knowledge hub which carries out indicative planning, is reform and result-oriented, is accountable and finally serves as an institution for the sustainable transformation of the country. Its political, legal, institutional and managerial status should be articulated and promoted to carry out these crucial functions effectively. Its potential name could be the National Commission for Research, Policy and Planning (NCRPP).
Dr. Bhusal is a former staff of the NPC.