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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 80

Post COVID-19 and Pathfinder Report

Colombo, 29 May, (Asiantribune.com):

The conversation with Dr. Lloyd Fernando, Chairman, Gamini Corea Foundation and Senior Consultant, Postgraduate Institute of Management and former state Secretary, Ministry of Policy Planning and and Implementation revealed many interesting insights.

Last week, Pathfinder Foundation handed over a copy of its report- Pathfinder Beyond the Box: A New Economic Vision for Post-COVID-19 Sri Lanka to His Excellency the President. It covers a mix of “macroeconomic, structural, pro-poor and climate friendly economic policies to build a post-COVID-19 Sri Lanka Economy.”

The report is the outcome of an effort by an eminent group of mostly academics and business leaders, led by Dr.Indrajit Coomaraswamy, former Governor of the Central Bank.

This move focuses not only formulating results oriented strategies and actions but also ensuring its effective implementation through a special purpose vehicle said retired Secretary Mr.Velayuthan Sivagnanasothy. What is most significant about the report is the prominence it gives to follow up actions.

Dr.Lloyd Fernando said Sri Lanka never experienced a dearth of Studies, Task Force Reports, Manifestos and even Plans and Programs. But the problem has been implementation. The report suggests that a “Task Force of Officials be appointed under the President’s office mandated to assess the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and to develop these ideas into an actionable national economic strategy.”

What is unique about the recommendations is the suggestion to “establish a Committee of Secretaries of Development Ministries, chaired by the Secretary to the President, to improve consistency and predictability of policy making as well as priority-setting and coordination for implementation.” Said Dr.Lloyd Fernando

Dr.Lloyd Fernando has been always recommending the role of committee of development Secretaries in steering economic reforms programmes. Dr.Fernando was the Secretary ,Committee of Development Secretaries from 1983 to 1993, in two phases as Director General National Planning and after 1989,concurrently as State Secretary, Ministry of Policy Planning and Implementation.

He feels that the most productive period was upto 1989, when Mr.G.V.P Samarasinghe , as Cabinet Secretary, chaired the meetings, which were quite vibrant. The system of meetings continued after 1989 but there was hardly any discussion. They were meant basically for the Chairman to explain instructions from the President.

Dr.Fernando is quite nostalgic about the support he received during the early years from Dr Coomaraswamy even though he belonged to a different department in the Treasury. He helped Dr Fernando in the numerous discussions with the multilateral donor agencies and members of the Sri Lanka Aid Group. Even though Dr Coomaraswamy attended meetings of the Committee of Development Secretaries only when invited, he kept a close touch with it through his colleagues and had opportunity to follow proceedings very closely.

It is well known that Dr. Fernando wielded a lot of influence in the public service which extended to interesting encounters with powerful ministers. He dismisses the suggestion that it is due to any personal qualities he possessed but attributes it to circumstances. He enumerated three of them.

Firstly, the Structural Adjustment Program with the World Bank and IMF as well as commitments to the donor community (Sri Lanka Aid Group) to maintain economic discipline and consistency; secondly, the patronage he received from the then Minister of Finance Mr. Ronnie de Mel and the Cabinet Secretary, Mr. G.V.P. Samarasinghe , and thirdly, the professional support he received from a highly competent staff that worked under him, which was put to good use through the Public Investment Program.

he Public Investment Program (PIP) was prepared on a 5 year basis as a ‘rolling plan’ that was revised every year. No project or program by any government institution was able to get government funds without going through the approval process at the National Planning Department (NPD).

It is only on NPD clearance that the Cabinet allowed funding from the Treasury. For this reason, NPD Directors had a very close relationship with Secretaries of ministries and heads of departments. Policy related matters were discussed extensively at the Meetings of the Committee of Development Secretaries, which were held every week on Tuesdays, while Cabinet meetings were held on Wednesdays said Dr.Lloyd Fernando

The Development Secretaries meetings were quite vibrant since Secretaries who appreciated the inter-sectoral linkages, dealt with issues not only under their purview but also others. For instance, at that time the Health Secretary was alert to issues related to agriculture, food and nutrition as well as housing, sanitation and transport. He was also concerned about issues relating to trade and exchange rate policies. In short, the Secretaries were able to take a holistic view of the development process said Dr.Lloyd Fernando

He further added that the Pathfinder report suggests that, while the government sets in motion action to stabilize the economy over the next two-three months, it also deals with “items to reform the economy (beyond 3 months into the medium/long term)”. It is also “vital that such policies are properly coordinated and monitored”.

This emphasizes the dynamic role the National Planning Department, or any other institution that is charged with the responsibility of preparing these national policy documents, should play in steering the course of discussion at the Secretaries meeting. Dr Fernando was asked how this was managed ?

He said that he not only wrote the minutes and followed up action but also decided on the agenda. He had full support of the Chairman, whom he met 30 minutes before each meeting to get his concurrence. The decisions arrived at the Secretaries meetings as well as the individual concerns expressed by some of the secretaries were duly conveyed to the NPD staff. He said that in order to prepare for the Secretaries meeting on Tuesday he had a very elaborate staff meeting on Monday.

Dr. Fernando was asked why did he had to take the initiative to launch two major projects- the Institute of Policy Studies {IPS) and the Administrative Reforms Committee (ARC). He said that he would not have been able to push for the IPS if his minister was not convinced. The policy makers had to go beyond the report of the Central Bank and Department of Census and Statistics though they were of very high quality that were not adequately covered by them.

Unlike today, where we have a number of non-government institutions dealing with these issues, three decades ago the situation was different. We had to rely mostly on reports prepared by international agencies such as the World Bank, IMF, ADB, UNESCO, WHO, ILO etc,.to be sufficiently informed of the complex challenges facing the country. Yet, they were not fully reflective of what we may call national perspectives.

Dr. Fernando explained how the Finance Minister helped him to conceive a ‘think tank’ which ultimately ended up in establishing the IPS. The two of them visited KDI (Korean Development Institute), TDRI (Thai Development Research Institute),BDI (Bangladesh Development Institute) and finally the ISS in the Hague (Institute of Social Studies). In the Netherlands, Mr.de Mel was able to convince the Dutch Authorities to finance the IPS, which started as a project managed by the National Planning Department. Today the IPS, as an autonomous entity, is playing a key role in helping policy makers with vital information and policy recommendations.

The need for administrative reforms was the realization that the National Planning Department and the Ministry of Finance alone cannot deliver development results. There was a need to empower public servants, at all levels, of the administration system, with knowledge and motivation to become more productive.

The Finance Minister at that time, was able to convince the establishment the Administrative Reforms Committee which was chaired by Dr.Shelton Wanasinghe. The Committee produced a 10 volume report which was very comprehensive with recommendations which are still valid and are crucial in the context of COVID-19. It produced the embryo of what has been developed today into a system of Management for Development Results which I have the pleasure of teaching in our higher educational institutes.

Dr.Fernando has been serving in several administrative reforms committees, until recently. He said that Wanasinghe recommendations, which have been discussed ad nauseam. He said, please read the pre-amble in the Wanasinghe report. It says “do not try to implement any of these recommendations piecemeal, it is not only counterproductive but even dangerous”

Dr Fenando said that the pathfinder report covers many dimensions which are important in the context of post COVID-19 Sri Lanka Economy.

Stay Safe, Stay at Home, Stay Informed, But Don't Forget to Wash Your Hands.

- Asian Tribune -

Post COVID-19 and Pathfinder Report
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