18 November, 2017

The Proposed National Economic Council – The Way Forward

By C. Narayanasuwami

C Narayanasuwami

The proposal to establish a National Economic Council (NEC) is a welcome move. It should rightfully be the apex body to assist in the formulation of forward-looking and innovative Government policies taking into consideration the emerging development priorities. Lessons of the past as well as an understanding of the positive experience gained by countries in the region would provide useful insights. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have a proven record of success in operationalising such institutional arrangements. In the last decade, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh have also joined this formidable group.

Direction and leadership provided by such institutions in the formulation, implementation and management of development initiatives in the agriculture, infrastructure, information technology, and industrial sectors have contributed to visible economic transformation in these countries. The overarching feature of such institutional arrangements has been the high level of political and professional support provided to plan, execute and manage huge national enterprises. Independence and integrity of professionals, including key senior staff engaged in management operations, were always safeguarded to ensure that timeliness, efficiency, and effectiveness in the delivery of expected outcomes were never compromised.

In the past, the planning and implementation entities in Sri Lanka initiated excellent proposals for implementation with focus on sustainable outcomes. But implementation faltered and limited success was achieved largely because of problems associated with political interventions in purely development and management oriented activities, and inadequate capacity of public sector staff to execute programs. More often than not adverse comments noted in reports prepared by donors for the benefit of their Boards of Directors lamented on poor implementation efficiency and cost overruns! It is important to heed lessons learned and provide for systematic adherence to implementation standards that aim at delivering results.

A review of progress achieved in the development field in Sri Lanka during the last two and a half years betrays a lack of coherence, direction and continuity in planning and implementation. This has been largely due to multiplicity of development initiatives sponsored by ministries and departments without clear consultations and interactions with all stakeholders. Given the duplicity of ministries and the nature of functions allocated to pacify disparate interests in a coalition government, NEC has perforce to work within this framework to conceptualise dynamic action-oriented programs that would deliver both short term benefits and sustainable long-term results. A new approach to economic management has therefore become critical to ensure that people’s expectations under the ‘yahapalanaya’ government are fulfilled.

Role and functions of NEC to reflect new development challenges

Comprehensive and structured macro-economic planning aimed at sustainable outcomes requires mature and thought-provoking initiatives. Similarly, development interventions should cut across sectoral, thematic and distributional areas and should be results-oriented. Ideally, NEC should be able to provide leadership to review, assess, redefine and monitor all aspects of development, especially in the following areas; (i) analysis of objectives and scope of investments, including determination of investment priorities, (ii) adequacy of implementation mechanisms and strategies, including coordination structures available to reduce functional overlap, (iii) appointment of competent staff to monitor progress of projects/programs against targets and goals set at project conception, (iv) conducting reviews on a quarterly basis to identify constraints to achievement of development objectives, (v) subject completed programs to candid and objective evaluation to learn from lessons of experience and take steps to improve ongoing programs, (vi) elicit high level political intervention to remedy any impediments to achieving anticipated goals and objectives of development initiatives and (vii) achieve coordination of donor initiatives in a manner that contributes to pooling of resources for a more streamlined partnership in the delivery of development results.

Organisational  Framework.

If success in achieving the above mentioned tasks is to be ensured, it is important to give careful consideration to the organisational framework and implementation structure of NEC. The organisational framework of NEC should be broad-based to capture the manifold development activities it needs to oversee. Administratively, small cells/units should be established to oversee and monitor separately initiatives focused on food security, including sustainable and inclusive agricultural development, infrastructure development, macroeconomic stability, export promotion and industrial development focused on manufacturing enterprises, human development, including skills upgrade, and strategic health investments backed by enhanced IT support. It is not expected that this body will become another monolithic structure with a vast array of staff but a self-contained entity drawing competent staff on secondment from development-tasked ministries and departments. The primary criteria for selection should be professional integrity, experience and expertise in the chosen field of activity.

A core group of staff working with NEC should be supported by Panels consisting of highly competent professionals known for their expertise in their chosen fields. Panels should be based on different fields of expertise-one can think of development planners, agriculturists, economists, financial specialists, monitoring and evaluation specialists, administrative managers, accountants, health and educational experts, and technical specialists comprising energy and transport engineers, IT specialists, and port and aviation experts. There is no lack of experienced professionals in Sri Lanka-they should be identified and invited to serve in the Panels. It may even be prudent to invite Sri Lankans living overseas and known for their achievements to participate in these Panels provided they are willing to offer their services at minimum cost. These Panels should meet as and when required to provide advisory services and should be able to obtain the support of the regular staff of NEC. The Panel members could be remunerated on the basis of sittings attended to ensure judicious use of limited financial resources.

Setting New Directions

A major bottleneck to improved performance in the public sector has been the impediments to decisive decision-making and inadequate commitment to translate planning objectives into expected results, a problem which has several dimensions such as inadequate capability to execute programs on a timely basis, lack of enthusiasm and dedication to achieve outputs in the absence of an incentive system and a systematised monitoring mechanism that could identify opportunities and constraints, and inadequacies in the existing structural framework to coordinate, supervise and evaluate outputs and outcomes at regular intervals. It is in these areas that NEC could set new directions and chart out implementable procedures and processes. Each sector/theme should have identifiable indicators to monitor outputs and outcomes to pursue remedial action when shortfalls occur.

Conclusion

The scope and functions identified above are no mean task for a nascent NEC. Efforts may therefore need to be made to (i) assess carefully staff and funding requirements, (ii) prioritize and adopt proposed investments and existing projects and identify and enlist experts who could participate and contribute to the success of these endeavours, (iii) prepare an implementation structure that would be results-oriented, (iv) identify monitoring processes, including development of monitoring indicators and (v) formulate structured reporting processes for Cabinet/Government information/action. 

If there is commitment and vision to achieve success, NEC could turn out to be a pathfinder in the achievement of development objectives and this in turn could make Sri Lanka an enviable nation in South Asia. We have had several initiatives in the past, the five year and ten year development plans, the ‘Regaining Sri Lanka Program’, the ‘Mahinda Chintanaya’ and now the ‘Yahapalanaya’ programs (though in their early stages),  which have so far had only limited impact on the life of the ordinary people. Can the NEC deliver? Sustained performance and measurable results will eventually determine its success.

*C. Narayanasuwami – Member of the Former Ceylon Civil Service and retired Senior Professional of the Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    HeHeHeHeHeeeeeee……..Hope Dr Ranil is not sitting at the top of this APEX Body……….And Dr Mahendran and Rosie Aunty are advising Dr Ranil…………

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      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      “HeHeHeHeHeeeeeee……..”

      So Namal continues to tickle your tummy. Please buy him a puppy or chain Wimal to front door.

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      This was drafted by the Washington Economic hit men and Fake Development experts, who use jargon to distract people from the looting of Land and data by US today as Sri lanka become the American State of Lanka.
      Why don’t the corrupt Washington economic hit men and IMF use their who are Ranil’s patrons put investigations of corruption as a condition for loans rather than taxing the poor as a condition for FAKE development AID?!
      Reply

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    KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

    “HeHeHeHeHeeeeeee……..”

    So Namal continues to tickle your tummy. Please buy him a puppy or chain Wimal to front door.

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    One nonsensical input does not beget by two nonsensical counter inputs.
    Is there anyone capable of putting forward sound a proposal?
    Certainly not by the politicians. So far PM has failed and nothing can be expected of the Prez.

    It will have to be by a selected committee proposed by mutual consent to set a new direction.
    Selecting a panel with be the acid test.

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      Ranil overwhelmingly has proved that he is an idiot who doe snot know any economics and he only knows how to fool voters. He proposed a ETCA when the Sri lankan -Indian trade has a humongous trade imbalance favoring india. Srilanka’s import’s are twice that of the xports. Sri lanka imports Rice, onion, potato, chilli and even the coconut. Yey, Ranil wanted trade agreement with all the Asian countries. Ranil wanted to provide 10 million jobs but he did not say how. He postponed the Port-city project and he dalayed it, wasted it and wrecked it. It is the same with the Hambanthota project. He just made it a mess. Now, he wants to gove for another five years. MY3 would do anything if he can stay in the presidential palace for another five years. but, it is the voters who should think and chase them out.

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        Dumb Jimmy,
        You say: “He proposed a ETCA when the Sri lankan -Indian trade has a humongous trade imbalance favoring india. Srilanka’s import’s are twice that of the xports. Sri lanka imports Rice, onion, potato”
        Why do we import all this stuff? Because our farmers are too lazy to grow it. Imbalance in trade balance—– Do we make buses/ tuktuks/marutis/ scooters here? THAT is the imbalance.
        Before 1956, SL was better than Singapore. But then who was keeping the economy going? Exports were tea/rubber /coconut grown by INDIAN labour. The estates were British owned. The Port and bus services were privately owned. The civil service and police / railwaywere run by Tamils , Christian Sinhalese and Burhers.But you stupid Sinhala Buddhists changed all that. Idiots like you have no right to complain about what you did to your own country.

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    By Floating NEC by President and Primer is not new to Sri Lanka? You can see last 70 years that major cycle of Government has floated dozes of Out-fit like this. This not the first time came into being in
    Sri Lankan-model, under different names so many organization had been establish, but nothing happen in shape of Economy has Not taken place key remarkable changes in Island-wide.
    And its foundation remain as it is since 1948? It has not shifted one new path and model by going forward to national development of capitalist of sustainability.
    Ours Economy challenges has not that address by NEC of UNP economic line of unsustsnsbslity of growth . The Primer of Ranil Wicks is Not an Economist beyond doubt he has proven fail to address single issue of as even debt last 35 months.
    President of MS has no basic knowledge of Economic ,because he is not that an Educated enough to read vast subjects of complexities issues and ills of Globalization of new venture capitalism.
    Most of IMF and WD and ADB are advisers/consults and think-tank are not for Sustsnsibility of Capitalism of self-sufficient each countries of their national economies.
    These advices ‘s are for the US led globalization of that mobilization crony capitalism .
    In fact these set of policies are an opposed National Capital formation Economy models are not guided by International agencies of Banks?
    The fiscal policies of nationl economy that control by hidden reserve, taxes, and unemployment are wide spreads & an ills economy that control by political powers in who are manipulated state of ministers head by president and primer of coalition governances.
    Therefor NEC is name shake out-fit ,look nice by indeed nothing happen to changes the life of people of
    Sri Lankan?

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      “Most of IMF and WD and ADB are advisers/consults and think-tank are not for Sustsnsibility of Capitalism of self-sufficient each countries of their national economies.
      These advices ‘s are for the US led globalization of that mobilization crony capitalism”

      I have been spending a lot of time reading how Late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew succeeded in making Singapore what it is today without resources unlike Sri Lanka which had resources like Tea, Rubber, Coconut and even drinking water.

      The reason Singapore succeeded was because they took advice from United Nations Development Fund and others to develop their country. When JR was given free advice by the Late Mr. Lee not to start Air Lanka at that time he did not listen and ultimately today Air Lanka is the largest loss making institution in the country.

      Lenders (like Banks) lend money in the hope of recovering it in the future with interest. If our governments don’t know how to utilise that money and squander it then they have a right to impose conditions. ( If you have taken a loan from a local bank you would have had the experience)

      The loans taken should be used in a way that it creates at least double the revenue for the nation but instead due to corruption, nepotism, cronyism , and without a proper long term economic program the country is in a vicious cycle where we have to borrow to repay our previous loans.

      Capitalism worked in Singapore. It can work in Sri Lanka as well if done right.

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    Agriculture instructors and lawyers are at the top. So, they are economic experts. before the last election, Ranil wanted to provid ten million jobs and that proposal is implemented and completed. Now, this is the second proposal for the next five years. Because of the first economic proposal via ETCA, billion Indians got employment. Now, this is for whom ? MY3 says yes to anything. I KNOW NOTHING RAVI acknolwedged that he involved in money laundring. Yet, UNP is waiting the court verdict to get rid of PENTHOUSe RAVI. Probably, that will happen during the next govt. IF Mahinda Rajapakse govt comes again, he will forgive all the thieves.

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    To support the re-re-re-cycled theory “The Proposed National Economic Council – The Way Forward” C. Narayanasuwami says
    “…………..Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines have a proven record of success in operationalising such institutional arrangements. In the last decade, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh have also joined this formidable group…….”.
    C. Narayanasuwami has not added Pakistan, Myanmar Egypt, Zimbabwe, South Africa and a host of other countries way way way down on the ‘Corruption Index” list.
    Lankan problem is corruption. Couple of days back we were told that a member of COPE leaked information on what transpired at their deliberations – the carrier was the son of the member.
    Surely C. Narayanasuwami should know that his suggested NEC will be high jacked by the corrupt and the mission of the NEC will be to enhance the wealth of some individuals.
    The problem of SL is rampant corruption The silver lining is the emergence of Lankans (from the silent majority) to fix this..

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    Kuliyapitiya Voxwagon factory, Tyre factory in Horana, are all those included in this economic proposal. Who will be hired for that to implement – Paskaralingam and Arjun Mehendran – two Ex central bank governors both of whom have stolen from the public.

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    The case of Sri lanka is concern that all any proposed organization or planned projects has been misused by Ruling Parties Political achievements, which that intention of remain in political power in life -time.
    All objectives road Maps has change into corruption that out-fits by short period of time?
    That will be result of NEC which unveiled by President and Primer recently?
    Similar this thing happen to 2015 January 8th mandate given to President -MS by People 6.2 millions of “Good Governances” and “Rule of Law” has vanished overnight ?
    Is that NEC will take same foot path as well recent past since 2015?

    Yes, corruption means what ? By using political power to become Rich by Tax payers money in Economic terms and conditions are concern. The politics become lucrative-business which turn into Rich short periods of time an enjoy all gifts and Perks and other benefits of cost of Tax payers money?
    By and large blanket cover of privileges of Parliamentary of “Democracy” all parties( UNP, SLFP, TNA ,JVP, United front led by MR Caucasus and others as well) of that given lame duck excuse of Vote by People by So-called “mandate”>
    Is this regime change initiated and aim of by USA, UK and Indian has change this corruption is cancer into our an Economy since 2015 January ?
    An Economy is life-line of Politics and People that effects to very system of democracy, we need to be address soon.
    The NEC an objective is good intention by I having reasonable doubt is which going to an implementation is uncertainties in our Soil ?
    Why is that the current leadership of regime of President and Primer want to remain in power until 2025 by hook or crook?
    Is that AIM of NEC?

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    Lawyers domination in Politics and ruling is Ubiquitous. It is important for people from other professions also take part in politics and development. All professions should be taught basic Law and politics. Year 12 curriculum should be changed to to teach Law and politics.

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    C Narayanasuwami
    Can you contribute to build a freeway from Mannar to Puttalam. This is very important.

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    You cannot solve our countries economy without identifying and correcting our past mistakes and follies.

    English needs to be re introduced first so that our future generation will have an education of international standard. Our graduates should have the self confidence with their degrees rather than hold placards and demand jobs from the government. Today internationally a degree in it self is no longer sufficient but you need at least a Masters to get a job.

    Jobs particularly in the government sector should be on merit,talent and qualifications. Corruption needs to be rooted out and for that simplification of process where the contact between a government servant and the public should be minimized by using IT.

    It my opinion that a complete overhaul is needed. Ad Hoc policies and programs are not going to work.

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    Mr C.Narayanasuwami, seem to have confused between “Vision 2025’ which outlines the government economic development program was launched by President Maithirpala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremeisnghe at BMICH on 4 September 2017 with the National Economic Council. proposed by the President in a different context.

    Of Course Vision 2025 is similar to “Regaining Sri Lanka”, “Mahinda Chithanaya” and the 12 five year plans formulated and implemented in India and in line with the above imaggined programme of CN..

    Whereas the National Economic Council is a different kettle of fish.

    There exists a powerful Cabinet Committee on Economic Management CCEM,chaired by the The Prime Minister with R.Paskaralingam and Chaitha Ratwatte playing key roles and making important economic decisions.
    Prime Minister Ranil Wicramasinghe had a similar Committee during 2002-2004 also.

    There has been criticism from a broad cross section of society that the CCEM has even been usurping powers vested only in the Cabinet of Ministers. The SLFPers felt left out and complains that important economic decisions are taken without the knowledge of even the President.

    To rectify this lapse, the President has proposed to have “National Economic Council’ under his chairmanship with prime Minister, Finance Minister and several other Ministers and Secretaries as members.

    This NEC will be over and above the CCEM

    NEC will be an “advisory body on economic policy in the country to further strengthen policy coherence in Government”. This new body will sit above the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management (CCEM) which is chaired by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

    The President had informed the Cabinet that he must be consulted before a final decision is taken on any economic issue and development projects before implementation

    The Vision 2025 was launched very recently and ht eimplementation mechanism is still to be developed.

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    If you have integrity, nothing else matters, and if you do not have integrity, nothing else matters,” Mr Robert Mueller told graduating students at Tabor Academy in Massachusetts.

    Sri Lanka lacks leaders with integrity. Whatever you set up will be corrupt leading to ultimate failure.

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    Extract from https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/eradication-of-corruption-ignoring-harshas-warning-may-be-catastrophic-to-yahapalana-government/
    Dr Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Development, in an emotion filled intervention during a live television discussion programme, blasted the whole administration system of the country. His charge was that from top to bottom and from one side to the other, known to strategic planners as viewing from a 360̊ dimension, has been marred with stinking corruption, waste and theft of public funds.

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