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GDP is passe, Human capital takes center stage for WB, IMF

October 27, 2017 Comments off

This article appeared in Deccan Herald on 27th October, 2017 and can be seen here:

Deccan Herald Fri 27 10 17The article can also be read here –

While the Indian media and political analysts have been talking about how the slowing down Indian economy is likely to hurt the electoral prospects of the BJP and slow down the Modi-Shah juggernaut, a different scene unfolded last week in distant Washington DC. The annual meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was held then and it brought together central bankers, ministers of finance and development, parliamentarians, private sector executives, representatives from civil society organizations and academics. The core agenda was to discuss issues of global concern, including the world economic outlook, poverty eradication, economic development and aid effectiveness.

Only a few years ago, India’s growth story was being touted as the only shining patch in an otherwise depressing economic world order and experts were quick to offer differing explanations for the same. Equally quickly are the experts again explaining the dip as possible outcomes of the demonetization or the introduction of the GST and poor handling of the nation’s economy by the government. Somewhere in this narrative, human development and the fate of the ordinary citizen on the street does not find any mention. It is in this context, the meetings of the WB and IMF offer a shift in the way these global bodies are beginning to view development.

For several decades, the World Bank and its allied Institutions were seen with suspicion and as mere political instruments with very little appreciation of grassroots development and of being insensitive to local community interests. They have also been accused of turning a blind eye to citizen engagement, to environmental concerns and to mis-governance and mal-administration in the implementation of projects funded by them. They have been working over the last decade and more to shed this image and are now actively soliciting engagement with local community groups, in ensuring social accountability of the projects funded by them; and of looking internally to address inherent structural flaws in their aid and loan processes. But despite all this, their primary focus was on income growth and economic development. This year’s meetings saw a quiet and subtle shift which if sustained, could have long term consequences on how the world sees human development and progress.

While the WB President Jim Yong Kim and the IMF Chief, Christine Lagarde stressed on the relevance and effectiveness of Institutions like the WB and IMF, they also conceded that the Multilateral banking systems need to evolve and become more responsive and accepting of the changing geo-political realities of the day. The challenges of the Globalization backlash, of countries becoming fiercely nationalist and losing interest in multilateralism, technology transforming labour, and the global economic slowdown were some of the key concerns articulated. The newly announced Global Concessional Financing Facility appears to make it more strategic and flexible but one needs to see if the Bank can take it forward with the kind of lukewarm response that was shown by the member countries to a call for increased capital infusion. One also needs to appreciate the challenge that the WB will face keeping in mind the view of the United States regarding the WB funding of middle income countries, especially China. It is to be seen whether the World Bank will truly be a bank owned by the member countries and operate in a free, fair, just and democratic manner or continue to stay as extended political arms of powerful governments in the Global North?

Another major shift that was announced was the recognition of expanding human capital before any meaningful economic development can happen. The WB’s decision to publish ‘Human Capital Index’ reports annually like the ‘Ease of doing business index’ reports will push countries to now reassess how they will begin to view human development. Focus on Nutrition and the impact of stunting on the GDP of countries were highlighted in the discussions.

A call for participation of private capital in WB funded projects sounds like a monster waiting to be unleashed and paradoxical to the call for enhanced social accountability frameworks. With many countries including India already grappling with ‘Policy Capture’ by select corporates, this could result in policies being skewed to the advantage of powerful forces and drowning out the needs and voices of the common citizen. Dr Jim also raised the controversial topic of enhancing ‘sin taxes’ and presented the enormous health benefits by making tobacco products increasingly unaffordable. Though agreeing with him was politically correct for many of the finance ministers present, it needs to be seen how many will walk the talk and take on the powerful tobacco lobbies. Focus on women entrepreneurs and creating platforms to promote them is being spoken about for some time now. But it should gain more legitimacy and momentum, now that these Institutions have provided formal space. This welcome change needs to be reflected in clear and specific policies at the country level and presents a unique opportunity for India as untapped potential in millions of Self Help Groups is waiting to be unleashed.

Going by the past, one is hesitant to believe that all these major shifts will get operationalized immediately or if these agencies will be de-politicized soon. For too long have policy debates been distorted by over emphasis on incomes alone. It is indeed a welcome move for these Institutions to focus on other deprivations like poor health, lack of education, stunting, social exclusion and unemployment which reflect in poor human capital within nations. It is in this context that India needs to present a refashioned narrative and look to building the human and social capital of its citizens rather than get lost in the debate of the state of the economy and mere GDP numbers.

-Balu

 

 

 

An interview of mine that appeared in the ‘Weekly’ published by La Sentinelle, Mauritius

August 29, 2017 Comments off

Please read ‘a year’ as ‘a decade’ in this interview.  Sorry for the inadvertent typo in the article.

Mauritius Interview Aug17

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

Anna Bhagya – Article that appeared in the SOM, dated Aug 3, 2017

August 7, 2017 1 comment
Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

‘Indigenous tribal communities: Refashioning Development’ – An article that appeared in Deccan Herald dated 27 July 17

July 29, 2017 Comments off

Refashioning tribal devlpt DH July 29, 2017

Find the article below:

A few months ago, the Chhattisgarh government made an announcement that it will now provide 35 kg rice at the doorstep of each tribal family. A thousand kms away, the Karnataka government was grappling with solving the issue of land that the tribals from Diddadahalli had occupied and were claiming as their rightful due. Around the same time, we had Prime Minister Modi announce just after the UP state elections that he would like to see a ‘new India’ arise where the poor and marginalized had access to opportunities and not mere Government doles. While each of these give conflicting signals, one is sad that despite 70 years of independence, the country is still grappling with how to strategize and undertake development of indigenous tribals who constitute a little more than 8% of the nation’s population.

Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes (STs) as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. STs are mainly the indigenous population in India that the Government of India identifies as socially and economically backward and in need of special protection from social injustice and exploitation. The tribals are identified by the Govt. based on a community’s primitive traits, distinctive culture, shyness with the public at large, geographical isolation and social and economic backwardness. Tribal communities live in about 15% of the country’s areas in various ecological and geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains to forests, hills and inaccessible areas. There are 705 ethnic groups notified as Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India who live across 30 states and union territories. Tribal groups are at different stages of social, economic and educational development. While some tribal communities have adopted a mainstream way of life at one end of the spectrum, there are 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), at the other, who are characterized by a pre-agriculture level of technology, a stagnant or declining population, extremely low literacy and a subsistence level of economy

The central government created the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in the year 1999 to give focused attention to the social and economic development of these indigenous communities and has planned to spend close to INR 5300 crores in the current fiscal year on tribal development. While millions of rupees are being spent by Government, NGOS and Corporates under their CSR programs across the country, one finds it difficult to explain why the development of these indigenous communities has not been to the levels expected.

To understand this, we need to appreciate that programs are currently designed by non-tribal people who seem to be deciding on what tribal development should be. It is unfortunate that many of these ‘experts’ and bureaucrats are designing and delivering programs that many a time seems to be disconnected from the ground realities. Across India today, the tribals are at a cross road and are neither able to move away from their dependence on traditional economies nor are they able to integrate with the demands of the market. They are wrestling with change – both at the individual and at the community level and are neither able to let go off the past nor are they able to embrace the present. Programs that are thrust on them are forcing them to accept lifestyles that are unsustainable socially, economically and culturally. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, they are left vulnerable to the forces that continue to exploit them and are living a life of merely coping with the poverty that surrounds them. To make matters worse, most tribal areas are also rich in natural resources and they suffer the collateral damage created by large irrigation projects and extractive industries.

Interventions to develop the indigenous communities needs to begin with an understanding of the tribals themselves. One needs to appreciate that these are communities who have traditionally lived in communes under the leadership of Chieftains and have operated in the traditional economy. Moving from a hunter-gatherer situation to a mixed economy is culturally jarring and can have shocking consequences if not handled sensitively. The state’s planning and executing machinery has little time, patience or competence to understand the dynamics and power structures in the tribal areas and little appreciation of attitudinal and behavioral dimensions. This results in shoddy implementation of schemes and does not provide enough space for meaningful participation of the people. What is further disturbing is that all these schemes are not dynamic or responsive, and seem to be ‘urban solutions’ to ‘tribal problems’. Precious little consideration is given to the skills, knowledge and practices that could help in addressing tribal issues through grassroots perspectives. Seven decades of rapid acculturation and shoddy integration into the mainstream culture has left these communities in confusion. Forest conservation laws that they can neither understand nor find relevance in, has left them at a crossroad with neither a coping mechanism nor an alternate lifestyle. Economic and social demands of mainstream culture and life is forcing them to abandon their traditional methods which kept things simple and sustainable and adopt more expensive, government and NGO driven coping strategies which are neither culturally appropriate nor contextually relevant. These indigenous tribals can neither go back to the past nor have they successfully integrated with the present. The skills that they traditionally had no longer meet the demands of modern existence. All that exists is an insensitive and patronizing system that talks of their development bereft of the dignity that they deserve.

-Balu

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

‘And i was ordained a Jenukuruba…’ – Article that appeared in SOM, dated 19th July, 2017

July 22, 2017 Comments off

‘Seeing God in Man’ – Article that appeared in the Star of Mysore on 5th July 2017

July 7, 2017 1 comment

My article on Gauging the Performance of our Civil Servants that appeared in the Deccan Herald dated 26th May 2017

May 29, 2017 Comments off

The Civil Services day is celebrated on the 20 and 21st of April and in this year’s celebration, the Prime Minister Sri Narendra Modi made an impassioned and articulate speech calling upon the bureaucrats to deliver on the mandate of governance.  His speech was practical, sometimes clothed in wit and sarcasm, and at the same time inspirational.  What stood out was his simplistic way of explaining how it was upto the political class to undertake ‘reforms’; how the bureaucrats had to ‘perform’ and how both working together could ‘transform’ the nation.  Beyond the semantics, this clearly meant that the civil services must deliver.  He gently pointed out how the civil servants need to go beyond mere ‘outputs’ and start to focus on the ‘outcomes’ of their actions.  He asked them to expand their sense of accountability from beyond the CAG and to include the common Indian citizen too.  He also mentioned how a few bureaucrats had limited the use of social media to mere self-aggrandisement and how it could be more efficiently and effectively used for doing public good.   When one goes deep into the Prime Minister’s speech and deconstructs it, one can recognize how emphatic he was in his demand for ‘performance’ from the bureaucracy.

The dictionary defines ‘Performance’ as an action, task or operation, seen in terms of how successfully it was performed and most of us have a tacit knowledge of Performance. We can recognize and understand that something is indeed working as it should be, and learn from a very young age to appreciate performance and quality. How does one translate this tacit understanding into something more structured and measurable? Can one measure performance in the public sector and of public functionaries? One can learn from the private sector that has taken the lead in measuring performances of individuals, teams and entire organizations. The public sector is very diverse in the context in which it operates, has egalitarian objectives and is funded by taxation revenues. Hence civil servants need to be more accountable and transparent but paradoxically one does not find these as the primary drivers of performance. By the very nature of having unlimited resources at its disposal, the public sector also tends to become inefficient and opaque over time.  This very complexity has incentivised the system into taking the easier approach of limiting the measurement to simpler variables like compliance to the instructions of the political bosses, absence of any controversial decision making, numerical achievements in terms of beneficiaries reached and budget expended.

Demanding performance of oneself and an organization is a very exacting process that requires discipline, determination and a strong political will to undertake. It requires not just managerial knowledge but a visionary leadership that is constantly evaluating, refining and improvising processes all the time. Performance processes normally fail because the required discipline and rigor wanes over time – one must have the patience and the perseverance to allow the system to mature for results to be produced. Measuring performance is not like instant coffee – made quickly and giving immediate gratification. These systems take time to initiate, evolve, mature, and become organizational culture. Leadership needs to be constant, consistent and serious till the entire cycle has taken root. It also needs mentoring support from experts who are willing to not only design a review process but also facilitate its implementation in the initial phases. The core leadership should take it as sacred responsibility and be willing to make public disclosure of achievements or variances. One must have public displays of the review process and all stakeholders should have a say in not just the design but also in the actual framing and implementation of the reviews.  Reward and punishment behaviours are indeed critical for human performance and public agencies should move away from not wanting to indulge in them. There is a normative feeling that public jobs are sort of permanent and career growth is not necessarily dependent on performance. One must communicate that ‘mediocrity’ need not necessarily be synonymous with ‘public agencies’ and a culture of valuing performance should be created. This can be done only when good performance is rewarded and poor one punished.

Moving towards more qualitative indicators in line with what the PM is demanding will necessitate major paradigm shifts in the mind-set of not just the bureaucrats and the political system but also in the way the common man views the civil servants and their performance.  Performance, when measured with the attitude of seeing the bureaucrat as a ‘public servant’ being paid out of taxation revenues will be totally different from that of seeing them as ‘elite officers’ overseeing service delivery functions. But can the officers of our civil services, who over the decades have got used to operating with neither the transparency nor public accountability be willing to subject themselves to a complete shift in mind set? Will the PM be able to push thru ‘reforms’ and make ‘social audits’ and ‘citizen initiated performance measurement’ of civil servants a norm rather than the exception?  If the PM and his intent can translate into concrete action and result in these paradigmatic shifts, then one can be sure that the much-touted reforms coupled with the performance of a vibrant and energetic bureaucracy will spear head the rising of a ‘New India’.

In Perspective Dec Herald 26 May 17

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings