Public Private Dialogue has become a formidable tool in developing consensus on policy matters between the government and the private sector. This concept has transformed policymaking from a unilateral planning and implementation mechanism into a viable and practical system of ushering in a process of sensible thinking and conciliatory behavior. This has enabled the government and policymakers to formulate policies that are reasonably accepted by private sector and have the general support of the stakeholders. Public private understanding and decision making, although not all-encompassing in Pakistan, is being gradually put in motion, albeit more so when desired by government rather than any persuasive demand of the private sector.
The success of such dialogue is largely dependent on the will of the government, especially political will, and is manifested in the acceptance by government that it lacks the thorough knowledge and expertise of technicalities, capacity, and confidence to implement the policies. Hence, recourse is needed towards involving private sector in structuring and framing the doable policies that would not create implementation issues.
The government of the day must make a paradigm shift towards getting private sector on board and must ensure that a facilitation process is ensured so that the desired momentum is created to achieve the objectives. The government must also adapt a broad based posture and maintain a transparent outlook alongwith development of trust and good governance if there is to be progress in implementation.
Governments in most of the countries depend on mutual consultation and bridging the gap of mutual distrust by involving private sector into a comprehensive and well-defined consultative process. The fast moving global dynamics, the power of social media, the critical mass of the think tanks and research houses, the stronger role of private sector representative organizations, and the influence of media have impacted on the old landscape. It has become imperative for the government to reach out to the private sector and get it on the same page.
Public Private Dialogue in Pakistan is still wobbly and needs to be streamlined and made effective and practical. There is an inherent aversion to involve private sector in the true sense and it is mostly due to the fixed mindset of government hierarchy as well as bureaucracy to promote themselves as all knowing and considering their decisions and policies as the final word. Over the years, many of the policies have fallen flat or have been stubbornly opposed by private sector thus resulting in a vociferous outcry or dislike for the government or even threats of disobedience. By taking the private sector in to confidence, the government would be prominently placed to undertake reforms, develop cohesion, and inculcate widespread acceptance.
There are many vivid examples where private sector has been remiss in asserting its views forcefully and with conviction. The private sector has focused itself on a shorter menu of interaction. The prime concentration is on Federal Bureau of Revenue and on the utilities. Of course, some lobbying is undertaken with other concerned departments and agencies but this lobbying is more to do with individual needs rather than adopting an institutionalized approach. Photo opportunities, long flowering speeches, plaque presentations, and meaningless interaction have been the norm and thus the core and pressing issues are sidelined during the process. The real time engagement opportunity is lost and the audience is left hanging on a precipice.
There is also an obvious disconnect between think tanks and business organizations. Most of the Chambers and Associations do have research cells but, as is generally witnessed, most of the daily research output comprises of cut and paste news items, minimal research, and speech writing. Many businessmen do take the initiative to write on myriad economic issues and the newspapers whole-heartedly give prominence to these members of the private sector. However, it is a rare sight to see any economic position paper penned by the business leadership or the heads of business organizations.
Many respectable research houses and think tanks have the competency, the personnel, and the quality to produce the action plan for the private sector. Notwithstanding the availability of this treasure, the Chambers and Associations maintain a nonchalant attitude and bias against them and thus most of these think tanks are supported and funded by foreign organizations. In today’s volatile global environment, especially when Pakistani businessmen are at a disadvantage, there is an imperative need to muster cooperation, support and guidance of think tanks to structure policies and position papers for private sector so that there is clarity in the arguments and that there is a holistic approach to lobby and decide on the reforms and policies.
The media can become a strong ally in this cause. Business enterprises invest millions in promoting their goods and services through the media. They do get mileage for their products but there is no joint effort to get the media to promote the private sector in a forceful manner. Again, no institutionalized approach.
The FPCCI and major Chambers must have a team of retired senior bureaucrats, retired members of higher judiciary, retired diplomats, senior economists, and think tanks as an Advisory Group to assist in preparation and formulation of required policies and to dissect the policies announced by the government. This exercise should not be left just to Managing Committee members or officers of these business organizations. The examples of Confederation of Indian Industries or the US Chamber of Commerce and even the City of Milan Chamber of Commerce are noteworthy. The Milan Chamber of Commerce develops initiatives tailored to businesses in order to promote innovation, access to credit, training, and environmentally friendly practices. It contributes to the competitiveness of businesses while supporting them in internationalization processes.
The worrisome fact is that despite organizations such as SDPI, etc, deliberate, discuss, and structure various position papers emanating out of dedicated research and study, the business organizations rarely examine these studies and research and still rely on their personal experiences and limited research. Resultantly, they succumb to the viewpoints and decisions of policymakers who are adept at looking for holes and gaps in the presentation of the business representatives.
It is high time that a functional nexus is created between the business organizations and the development practitioners in the country. There is a lot going on in the economic front and keeping pace with the changing realities is advisable and imperative. Public private dialogue, commonality of views, and serious engagement would be reliable ammunition in the arsenal for all stakeholders as well as establishing good governance practices too. As Charles Darwin stated, “It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”.
(The writer is Former President Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry)
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