There remains a big gap between the macro and micro levels when it comes to implementation of international development policies. Macroeconomic compulsions, emphasised by International Financial Institutions have compelled developing countries towards fiscal austerity in order to curb their budget deficits and to promote growth through increasing economic liberalization. Whereas poor people in developing countries have had little influence of highlighting their needs in contrast to these broader macroeconomic compulsions.
While research and experience now increasingly acknowledge that poverty reduction is deterred by use of predetermined planning, we still know much less about the specific strategies needed for pro-poor growth in particular situations. Particularly, knowing which set of policies within a country or region will alleviate or aggravate poverty are not evident enough to apply a fix it all prescription to alleviating poverty.
Therefore what is really needed is a stakeholder recipe that can ensure that the various stakeholders – including the poor themselves – are in fact involved in the formulation of poverty reduction strategies. Increasingly the donor community, including international financial institutions, have begun to realise that they need to address this issue of local ownership. 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. I will specifically focus on the PRSP, which seems to offer a significant opportunity for meaningful policy change if the rhetoric used to justify this approach could in fact be turned into reality.
The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) were introduced by the IMF and the World Bank in 1999, with the intention of becoming the basis for all foreign aid to poor countries. Both these international financial institutions have used their influence in the developed world to convince major bilateral donors to use the PRSP criteria while making grant assessments. Subsequently all highly indebted poor countries began to work on formulating individual PRSPs to qualify for concessional lending. In addition, a number of countries that receive a blend of concessional and non-concessional lending (including Pakistan), have also prepared PRSPs as a basis for their assistance programmes.
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.
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 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.
Pakistan is a poor country with an estimated population of 150 million people. The vicious cycle of poverty has been accentuated in the country the governance structures exclude the most vulnerable from the decision making process. 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 earlier this year. 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.
It is a common belief in the country that Pakistan’s relationship with international donors cannot be considered independent of geo-political considerations. Such views seem reinforced by the fact that there has been little domestic ownership of policy prescriptions in Pakistan, and there have also been serious design and implementation flaws in many structural adjustment interventions. Now many bilateral donors have focused their funding initiatives on so-called governance issues, the Decentralization Support Program funded by the Asian Development Bank is one example.
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 with a scattering of individuals who have no formal affiliation with government. One must concede that 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 splashed all over the local press.
Despite the rhetoric of participation espoused by the PRSP in Pakistan, its formulation and subsequent implementation has presented a serious challenge to legitimacy of development policymaking in the developing nation context. The stakes are particularly high for a country like Pakistan where a third of the population is poor and where the PRSP process has been intrinsically linked to the devolution of power in the country.
The objective of this study is to improve the quality of analysis, highlight lessons learned and to provide recommendations to enhance ownership of international development initiatives by encouraging greater participation through means feasible to both the Pakistan government and its donors, which is vital for ensuring greater effectiveness of international development efforts to help alleviate poverty.
To achieve the objective of making suggestions to enhance the sense of ownership and participation in international development policies, a retrospective analysis of the PRSP consultative process provides a perfect opportunity. Policy and process analysis in this regard will be based on authoritative sources including the Ministry of Finance and other relevant sources like the Multi-donor Support Unit in Islamabad. The relevance of the PRSP approach will be contextualized in comparison to the overall quantum of development aid flows coming into the country.
For examining the specific experience of participation in the PRSP process in Pakistan, viewpoints presented by various stakeholders within the country will be solicited in the form of informal and open-ended interviews. In contrast to theoretical principles, the practice of participation as interpreted by relevant stakeholders will be analyzed to see what roles different actors assumed in translating these principles into practice.
The IFI and GoP documentation of PRSP process in Pakistan and civil society perceptions will be used to ascertain how the PRSP looked in practice. A further attempt will be made to identify the implications of a participatory approach to formulating a poverty reduction strategy by focusing on specific sectors like micro-finance for example.
Collaboration with relevant OSI networks (as outlined in the OSI cooperation proposal) will facilitate realization of this broad based methodological approach. Guidance solicited from IPF Advisors should help the research remain focused and to avoid unnecessary duplication.
An attempt will be made to directly draw upon lessons learnt from elsewhere in the developing world from implementation of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. This broader linkage would also facilitate identification of economic policies that are more conducive for open society promotion.
The 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.
By studying the experience of Pakistan, lessons will be learnt for enhancing ownership and representation of international development programmes in general. The findings of this research study will be circulated amongst relevant government ministries in Pakistan, the International Financial Institutions (IMF and World Bank), International Non-Government Organizations, bilateral donors and a range of civil society organizations across Pakistan and abroad.
Pakistan is undergoing thorough several transitions at present. It is trying to implement democracy at the grassroots level under the ironic patronage of military rule. It is experiencing a thaw in tensions with India and with the Western world. After a decade of increasing poverty, Pakistan is achieving better economic indicators, providing it with the fiscal space to improve its human development indicators. In a sense, Pakistan presents an ideal opportunity to the international community to help an Islamic country transform itself economically, socially, politically and culturally. If Pakistan were able to achieve the goals of development and poverty reduction, with the assistance of the international community, it would serve as a heartening example of constructive engagement with the international community to other developing countries, particularly those in the Muslim world.