Pakistan Needs a Single Situation and Reaction Room for CONVID-19: why no “war footing”?

Where is the Pakistan Government’s “situation and reaction room”? Who is leading and managing this “situation and reaction room”?

We continue to get multiple view points on what the “government” is doing to respond to the CONVID-19. We have the Prime Minister dealing with media flanked by the Health Minister and the Chairman of NDMA. We then have the Chief Minister of Sindh issuing a statement on how he is handling “lock-down”. We have the erstwhile Finance Minister coming on flanked by the Health Minister and the Chairman of NDMA–looking and sounding imperious–and briefing the press on Government’s efforts. The Leader of the Opposition who flew in from BorisJohnsonland walked out of the joint Cabinet Briefing and ordered his party workers to work along the lines of his ‘plan’. A few minutes later, and no less imperious, Minister for Information gets control of the State TV channel and lectures the public on how the opposition political forces are scoring political points rather than helping respond to the pandemic. So, the public is asking, who is in charge! Conflicting narratives alone can break the back-bone of an otherwise strong Pakistani public.

Then there is the private sector or shall we simply call it the the ‘non-state apparatus’ which is well intentioned though tiered and in-efficient in its response. While most are on busy on social media, some are actually trying to deliver required responses like simply providing food and rations to the needy in the times of this CONVID-19. Duplicity of efforts and absence of coordination is leading to a waste of resources. It is not just the government but also the non-state apparatus that requires coordination!

The book on handling disasters is long since available and needs no rewriting on principles even if we can argue that tools of response have evolved. This book states the following key principles: a) one organization handles the response; b) this organization has unbridled powers over all tiers and sectors of government; c) this organization operates all assessment and intervention and monitoring through a single window; d) this organization is supported and enable through the “political will”; and e) it is lead by a single person who also is the only spokesperson. This is what worked for Pakistan and the reason why the 2005 Earth Quake response by our country is written as the best-practice to be adopted globally. The powers to be at present seem not to have read this simple but powerful book–panic not, just read this paragraph again.

Nested in this response approach is getting the single ‘institution’ right. Who will take on this mantle in the present scenario in Pakistan? National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) presently castrated through the 18th Amendment? The National Security Council (NSC)? What should the roles of Economic Affairs Division (EAD) and the Federal Ministry of Health (MOH) be? The answer to these questions lies in the enabling mandates of these very institutions. NDMA per its raison d’ etre is the natural institution for this leadership and single window operation. Its original act allows it the requisite powers and what that lacks can be provided through political will. NDMA’s website alone at this time shows that it is far from its role and is under performing by miles.

Which brings us to the personality who should lead this effort!? Views are solicited. More soon.

Pakistan COVID-19 response working group

We have set up a group of disaster, conflict and fragility experienced and concerned professionals who under the aegis of PIDE using a 360 degree approach are identifying, analyzing, discussing, and formulating responses to Pakistan CONVID-19 and socializing the same. The 360 degree approach horizontally covers all sectors and vertically integrates the various tiers of government [including union councils and communities].

Daily, we widely disseminate bulletins and blogs and newsletters based on our daily deliberations and analytical work. The advisories have covered diverse issues from cost of lay-offs to identifying the sectors where employment vulnerable including who they are to technological approaches to tracking and monitoring to delivery; public health and logistics and energy and relief to the flow of information—critical in a pandemic—to how to work with the international financial institutions in aid of Pakistan; from food security to conflict and religion to communities and volunteerism. We are casting a wide net to share and understand and sift through diverse ideas and analytics.

We are now trying to create a single situation room in the country to house this effort and unify the multiple and often inefficient singular and otherwise efforts that waste precious time and resources despite their good intentions—be they in the government or in the private sector. The situation room also requires to rapidly and proactively identify and assess potential impact and resulting needs from people to energy to finance to water to food security to developing resilience and recovery post crisis. This must be done now!

The aim is to strengthen the governments’ hands and its institutions tasked therein. NDMA is the front line of any such response. My own experience in working with NDMA (at its inception) during the 2005 Earthquake in Pakistan and then again during the 2010 Floods, makes me sure that we need to house this situation room within the NDMA. We are continuing to make this effort, and hope that through this blog, some of the readers can socialize the idea with NDMA of Pakistan.

Should we go to the IMF?

Resolving the immediate external balance of payments crisis and some fiscal stabilization

Some thoughts.

  1. Resist going to the IMF in the first 100 d – They are expecting us. We do not have a plan for them. We can end up with a ‘bad deal’ and they could easily squeeze us and set us up for failure. IMF does not do growth economics! So, do the following first, get a plan with the right numbers together.
  2. Organize a global and regional and local, public and private, pledging conference for naya Pakistan – Our leader’s image is at an all time high. Cash it in. In October 2018, prepare for and organize a pledging conference in the convention center in Islamabad. Two parts. First for countries where ‘friends of Pakistan/Imran’ come and support a prepared revival plan promising improved governance and lesser leakages. Second, where we launch the ‘naya Pakistan’ bond and present various options for how private Pakistanis and other sympathetic capitalists can assist/invest in us. Keep the bond buy-in low [suggest USD 1,000] enabling the labor and working class Pakistani working abroad to participate. Estimated yield – USD 5 to 10 bil.
  3. Open up talks in parallel to restructure the existing debt and projects with all IFIs and bilaterals – Review and restructure the existing debt stock—cash in sympathies and support. This can be done separately for CPEC related debt stock and for the other [non-CPEC] debt stock. Second, the current portfolio of IFI/bilateral financed projects is full of fat and can be restructured along the lines we did in 2005 and 2010. The ‘human emergency’ facing Pakistan can be highlighted and shown clearly that if this is not done poverty levels [which Pakistan has worked hard over the last quarter century to bring down] will rise and the demographic dividend will become a demographic timebomb [youth with no education and jobs]. Both these can yield/create a space of USD 3 – 5 bil.
  4. Take stock of the CPEC debt and its looming repatriations [earnings and profits] separately and talk China – This will also be the discussion wherein the CPEC portfolio can be reset, sunk-cost-analysis carried out, AIIB/China Bank/Chinese Government direct assistance sought. Yield is expected to be up to 3 bil USD. Doing this will also send the signal to the IMF/US Treasury that they are not going to be called upon to pay for liabilities created by China!
  5. Now take on the IMF after starting and progressing on all the above measures and create a plan which enables you to take on SOEs and labor rationalization programs along with right-sizing the government/government expenditures – With the wind in your sails—having demonstrated that you did not come running to the IMF, and with a real plan in your back-pocket and demonstrated actions [the above 3], call in the IMF on your terms and request for discussions. By now they and you both will have reassessed ‘numbers’ on the fiscal front and taken in the real political economy impact of ‘naya Pakistan’. Use IMF to a) right size government and government expenditure, and b) to tackle the burden of the SOEs and related labor rightsizing issues—the Wealth Fund comes in here. Yield estimated at USD 6 – 10 bil.
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