The need for participation in the formulation of poverty reduction strategies has been explicitly acknowledged for its role in increasing country ownership and subsequent efficiency. Increasingly the donor community, including international financial institutions, have begun to realise this potential value of participation. As a result new concepts have been proposed to put participatory efforts for poverty alleviation into practice. ‘Local ownership’ and ‘sector-wide approaches’, varying arguments for ‘pro-poor growth’ and even the approach espoused by the ‘Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers’ are offshoots of this given imperative. Fifty seven developing countries, including Pakistan have adopted the PRSP approach, which is intended to become the main channel for providing aid to all developing countries.
Area of Research
Given the growing significance of the PRSP approach, my proposal will focus on the PRSP process in Pakistan, particularly the issue of participation within it, which seemed to have offered a significant opportunity for infusing a greater sense of ownership within policy making. I will focus on various aspects of participation in the formulation of an internationally prescribed development policy, including that of national policy makers, various tiers of government and the public at large
The basic objectives of my research are to improve the quality of analysis, highlight lessons learned and provide recommendations to enhance local ownership of international poverty alleviation and development initiatives by encouraging greater participation through means feasible both for the Pakistan Government and its international donors.
The PRSP approach claims to provide ownership within countries – ownership that ensures that aid is coordinated, that a country’s economic policies are under its own control, and that there is pro-poor growth in a way which is specifically useful to that country. However, real ownership requires that the poor and those working with the poor also be involved in the process of strategizing to make sure that the help from outside is coordinated accordingly. I will consult government and World Bank personnel in charge of the PRSP formulation to solicit their views concerning the formulation of the PRSP for Pakistan.
Unfortunately, many voices from across the developing world say that civil society was either consulted symbolically or not listened to at all in most countries that formulated a PRSP. This is a serious problem, which undermines the very legitimacy of the PRSP process. To see what real life issues and hurdles emerged tainting consultative processes for formulating a PRSP that was meant to be both participatory and representative, I propose to focus on the example of Pakistan and retrospectively draw lessons from this experience which may be useful in making salient international development processes like the PRSP more participatory.
Despite successive government’s efforts with due donor support, it has failed to bring relief to the issues of poverty. The current military regime initiated work on an Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Program, used as a base for the PRSP approved by the joint assessment of the IFIs. The PRSP for Pakistan is dovetailed with the process of decentralization. Yet the decentralization model is also having its own teething troubles and not yet demonstrated its ability to improve delivery mechanism or to better represent the aspirations of the masses. I will try to explore (through interviews with relevant stakeholders, through use of secondary resources or potentially based on new research) the simultaneous process of devolution and implementation of PRSP to assess if these simultaneous reforms have in fact been able to bolster each other.
Parallel to the claims of devolution of political power resulting in increased representation of grassroots aspiration in the political arena, had been the rhetoric accompanying the formulation of the PRSP, which mentioned that extensive participatory exercises through which views and opinions of a wide variety of stakeholders have been solicited. Yet vocal critics said that the only ‘participatory’ meetings that took place were those that invited government functionaries, alongside a scattering of individuals who have no formal affiliation with the government. One must concede that even the involvement of district level officials does not necessarily translate into the claim that the views of people at the district level have been solicited. The fact that political parties, the organizations from which a democratic process selects the representatives of the people, were not involved in the PRSP is also undeniable. Neither is there evidence of involvement of trade unions, people’s movements, civic, and professional bodies. Conversely, reports of NGOs and other civil society representatives staging walkouts from the PRSP consultative process were splashed all over the local press. Given this contention, it is therefore necessary to ascertain how participatory the PRSP process was in Pakistan. In addition to assessing the actual process of participation, I will obtain a diverse range of CSO inputs (through interviews with relevant stakeholders, through use of secondary resources or potentially based on new research) with reference to the PRSP to ascertain what the PRSP could potentially have looked like if more extensive consultations could have taken place.
By exploring the above issues, my research will attempt to highlight not only the real value that civil society has been able to add but also the potential value that could have added if its participation had been secured. This will in turn enable identification of a comprehensive framework for enhancing participation and gaining more recognition for future multilateral development initiatives in Muslim, and other developing countries, of the world. The findings of this research study will be circulated amongst relevant government ministries in Pakistan, the International Financial Institutions (IMF and World Bank), other interested multilateral and bilateral donors, and a range of civil society organizations across Pakistan and abroad.