EDITORIAL: Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Ahsan Iqbal has come up with a splendid special initiative of directing the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) and the ministry of information technology (MoIT) to develop a dashboard to monitor the economy on a daily basis. In fact, it’s a surprise that nobody had thought of this idea so far.
This would, he very rightly said, promote innovative projects of national importance under the Innovation Support Fund (ISF), which “will be launched soon”. It would also build much-needed synergy between various ministries, especially finance and commerce, as they plan and implement short- and medium-term policies to address Balance of Payments (BoP) problems.
But most importantly it would enable the government, at various levels, to collect, monitor and process all sorts of data “hidden in the government’s departments but we should have a system to utilise it,” as he pointed out.
The call for a national data policy is appreciated as well. Now it’s expected that, as planning minister, he will get the ball moving on this policy at the cabinet level very quickly because he’s clearly been working on this idea for a while.
It also makes sense to begin with dashboards at two levels — one for the top leadership and the other at the secretary level of every ministry to ensure not just monitoring and evaluation, but also timely coordination and sharing of new, innovative ideas.
It is also appreciated that for once the government is not putting the cart before the horse as it goes about implementing one of its smarter ideas. The minister appreciated the role of innovation “as a tool to achieve maximum productivity and efficiency in agriculture, health, education, and other sectors”.
But first he directed officials to invite stakeholders from across academia, industry, the Higher Education Commission (HEC), chambers of commerce, etc., for what is called a ‘needs assessment survey’.
This way the government will learn from sector-specific representatives about their core problems and how they believe they can best be solved, instead of a one-size-fits-all scheme that is simply shoved down everybody’s throat. At the planning stage, too, they will be able to collect priceless data that will help the government a great deal as it puts the final touches on its innovative policies for different sectors.
The sectors mentioned first in the minister’s speech — agriculture, health and education — clearly deserve the most serious and urgent attention so it would not be a bad idea to start the process of developing innovative solutions to lingering problems with them. If we become a self-sufficient, agri-surplus country once again, with a vibrant, healthy and educated/trained workforce, we would have solved half our problems already.
Such initiatives go to show that it is possible and advisable to think correctly even in the backdrop of a collapsing economy and the desperate need to put the fire out by arranging bailout money before anything else.
For, even after we’re able to borrow enough money to meet this year’s debt servicing commitments, what are we going to do next year, and the year after? The only plausible way forward is to meet the necessary commitments but also divert money and attention enough to schemes like the dashboard and national data policy, which will draw on stakeholder input and advice to propose and implement innovative, out-of-the-box policies and monitor them in real time.
The good news is that MoIT has already been working on the proposed data policy, at least, and should finalise it in “a few months”. Meantime, it should partner with PBS and get started on the dashboard as well. Data is the new oil, they say in the 21st century, and there’s every chance that we will be able to identify and solve our problems much better by relying more on collecting and mining data.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022