Saturday, October 21,  2017

Economy

Actionable Policies Speak Louder Than Words

By Heba Abou Shnief

The question of whether Egypt manages to reach a final agreement with the IMF for the US$4.8bn loan is by many standards a high stake issue, not only because of its importance for economic recovery, but it will also serve as a litmus test as to whether the current government is capable of translating its proposed economic reform program (a pre-condition for the conclusion of a final agreement with the IMF) into a politically viable action plan. This action plan cannot be assessed only in terms of its financial and administrative feasibility but equally the political calculus of the gains and losses of the different interest groups affected by the various policy changes. This is not a straightforward task in a society that is becoming more plural. Although shifting to more plural forms of representation is allowing some previously marginalized and newer interest groups to become more vocal in expressing their public policy preferences, yet this still takes place alongside the more entrenched informal interest networks and more problematically the weak and unorganized interests. It is the latter groups that are reason for concern given that most austerity measures tend to hit the poor and un-organized interests (e.g. consumers) the most. The fact that representative, sustainable and transparent channels of participation in economic decision-making are not yet fully developed makes it all the more challenging for government to find ways and means to understand the possible impact of various policy reforms on the different stakeholders. 

The question is whether the current government is capable of translating its proposed economic reform program (a pre-condition for the conclusion of a final agreement with the IMF) into a politically viable action plan. 
It also follows that any action plan will inevitably invite some tradeoffs that the decision-maker must transparently relay to society, and that the latter should learn to accept.  In a plural context, the decision-maker and technocrats are responsible for finding the optimal solution that aims to achieve stated policy goals. Of equal importance, is the need to conciliate competing interests since plurality gives room for conflict between competing groups pursuing mutually exclusive objectives. It is virtually impossible to pursue one course of action that will attain every possible value and please all groups in society. For instance, the classic tension between redistribution for social justice and tax breaks for wealth creation can play out differently, not only because of the economic system in place, economic conditions and public opinion but also the dynamics of interest group politics.


Constructive Solutions and Dialogue Are Crucial 

The good news is that policy-making is not a responsibility to be shouldered alone by government.  Academia, intellectuals, political parties and civil society at large all have a role to play in informing the decision-making process through constructive solutions that are context specific and grounded in reality.The good news is that policy-making is not a responsibility to be shouldered alone by government.  Academia, intellectuals, political parties and civil society at large all have a role to play in informing the decision-making process through constructive solutions that are context specific and grounded in reality.  There should be great caution practiced over propagating overzealous rhetoric or unconstructive criticism that might have its populist appeal but in reality does more harm than good. While the long standing distrust between government and citizens makes the monitoring and critique function all the more pressing, achieving positive change requires more “proposition” rather than simply opposition and scrutiny of government action or inaction.

 


It is, however, a pre-condition for the regime to genuinely open the floor for dialogue. Reaching out to the technical area specialists, opposition, skeptics and national forces at large to tap their solutions and knowledge will help ensure that societal interests are balanced and conciliated in any political viable action plan. For instance, whether the NahdaWhile the long-standing distrust between government and citizens makes the monitoring and critique function all the more pressing, achieving positive change requires more “proposition” rather than simply opposition and scrutiny of government action or inaction. Programme can serve as a broad based vision for Egypt’s takeoff is debatable; however, there is a growing consensus, even among its advocates, that the program does lack a detailed and prioritized action plan, even if the buy-in and support of society does exist. 


In the final analysis, any reform program that the government wishes to undertake will raise a myriad of administrative, financial and political economy challenges. The Government needs to be ready to address those challenges through a well thought out action plan –through input of civil society and intellectuals- translating reforms or policy statements into actionable policies that tangibly impact citizens' lives.