Public Policy, Pakistan, Scandinavian, IMF, World Bank

Sweden is not only one of the most economically prosperous countries in the world, but also one of the most socially equitable and environmentally sustainable ones. Finland has the most comprehensive, creative, and competent educational institutions and teaching staffs. Denmark has the highest rate of investment in training and skill rehabilitation programmes, which has resulted in a low unemployment rate and a highly skilled labour force that enjoy flexible working hours and job security. Norway’s taxation mechanism enforces sustainable use of non-renewable natural resources, hence ensuring its long term wealth.  These Nordic countries provide us with perfect examples of how sustainable and equitable growth can be achieved by employing a right set of public policies.

The presence of never ending challenges and problems in every society is inevitable. Public policy is a tool; an action, or a regulation, formulated by the governments to address those societal problems which may appear in areas of education, politics, transportation or any other vital sector of the state. The role of any government is to implement and promote such public policies that contribute towards economic growth, sustainable development, and the improvement of the socio-economic well-being of the local people. If an immediate policy response does not follow a particular problem, which may exist at any point in time, it might have long term consequences on a society’s socio-economic growth and hinder development.

It is often true that many good ideas set forth by governments struggle when implemented because the challenges that a country faces are so complex and interlinked. It is quite often the case that in pursuance of one policy objective, one may have to forego another objective. For example, one of the greatest challenges in today’s world is that of environmental degradation and global warming. These problems are a result of mankind’s rampant pursuit of development and economic growth. In the past, the possible long term impacts of clearing up forests and green land patches for setting up industries was not included in our development policy calculus.

Failure to achieve the envisioned results puts high costs on the economy in terms of not only wastage of time and money, but also in terms of diminished public trust in institutions and leaders. But as times are changing, it is essential that policymakers view social development, economic growth, equity and sustainability as one interconnected goal.

A good public policy is, therefore, the one that identifies a ‘triple-win’ solution which considers economic, social, and environmental gains altogether. A good policy is also the one that solves problems without causing political disagreements between parties and encourages active citizenry. Regulatory frameworks should be designed in a way so that they use the state finances and encourage new technology in a way that not only generate sustainable outcomes, but also benefit the most vulnerable members of the society.

Failure to achieve the envisioned results puts high costs on the economy in terms of not only wastage of time and money, but also in terms of diminished public trust in institutions and leaders.

Since its establishment, Pakistan has failed to present a sustainable mechanism or the commitment to implement and formulate public policies. This has resulted from a lack of vision and leadership, wide spread corruption, and weak relationship between the community and institutions.

It is common practice to question the intentions of government and development policies that it sets forth. The truth is that excessive political interventions have destroyed the framework of policy making because the policy process includes the involvement of state institutions, bureaucracy, specific central and provincial agencies, and the political elites. Policies are determined through political interests and motives; they are more ‘vote-oriented’ than they are ‘welfare-oriented’.

Policies in Pakistan fail due to poor governance caused by micro and mega level corruption along with the curse of clientelism. An analysis of previous development policy failures provides evidence that policy failure has roots in class, institutional, and political structures. Effective and honest public policies can serve as means to provide every member of the state a chance for economic and social empowerment. However, the corruption level in Pakistan has only resulted in a lack of trust in the government and a feeling of deprivation as their rights are duly ignored.

The policy making process lacks proper planning and a complete cost-benefit analysis as is evident from the ‘Metro Bus project’ in Islamabad. The project was executed with a complete lack of consideration of environmental concerns, and without proper consultations with the people that were likely to be affected by the project. The policy making process completely ignored collective and societal interests which is likely to have long term consequences.

No matter how integral a certain policy is for the politicians, ultimately it is the local people that have the most stake in it. Ironically, however, they are the ones who do not have any role in policy making. Lack of public involvement in the process has resulted in the emergence of demographic and information challenges in drafting development policies. The policy making process in Pakistan is also heavily dependent on foreign donors. Most development projects are financed by agencies like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). And since the country faces weak policy implementation capacity, these agencies dictate step by step project implementation resulting in a clash of priorities.

In most cases, the problem does not occur because of the absence of a public policy rather, it occurs because the initiatives constituted on paper are rarely ever put into practice. A policy document remains a piece of paper until it is actually implemented. Hence, the policies fail in Pakistan because the state lacks the leadership to operate on the public policy and translate its political vision into action.

The Social Action Programme (SAP), introduced by the Planning Commission from 1992 to 1995, was an effort to sustain the high growth of Pakistan at the time. The programme was designed to implement improvements in areas of education, health, sanitation and general welfare of the population because despite high levels of economic growth, the country’s social performance was very poor. In the beginning, the programme was quite successful but that did not last long. There was a lack of efficient service delivery, intense involvement of donor agencies, and charges of corruption that led to the programme being abandoned.

Policies in Pakistan fail due to poor governance caused by micro and mega level corruption along with the curse of clientelism.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2002-2003 presented the country with another opportunity, to learn from past mistakes and overcome its social performance. But yet again, poor strategizing and unaided planning and coordination by the Planning Commission and the Ministry Of Finance led to the failure of the MDGs in Pakistan. The presence of donor funded units at the time encouraged rent-seeking behavior by the government officials that were offered working opportunities with huge premiums by these units. The Finance Ministry took over the project and increased spending without an efficient service delivery. Most of the MDG targets were missed by huge margins.

Currently, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seem to be included in development programmes’ guidelines in Punjab. Donor agencies are also trying to compete in the provinces. A breakdown of target-specific policies and implementation strategies are not yet clear. In order to achieve results, the state should not repeat the same mistakes again and again, it should focus on mainstreaming and highlighting specific policies for each target while maintaining complete transparency.

Pakistan has enormous potential for achieving socially equitable and sustainable growth. The country can overcome its development challenges if it realizes the power that a good public policy holds. For example, at present 64 per cent of the Pakistani population is under the age of 30, which makes Pakistan one of the countries with the largest youth population in the world, according to the new National Human Development Report. Yet, the country ranks 154 among 183 countries in the Global Youth Development Index and Report, 2017. The critical analysis of the current National Youth Policy shows that it is not only insufficient and inefficient, it also needs to be reshaped to target the challenges and problems faced by our youth. The new generation can be game changers for Pakistan if youth policies are efficiently implemented.

In this context, reformation in the current education policies in place to include a substantial budget increase for schools and teacher salaries; increased accountability and transparency of the institutions, improved infrastructure; raised quality of education; and introduction of technical and skill education programmes can improve the socio-economic prospects of the people of Pakistan. Being a strategically important country, Pakistan can achieve so much growth and enjoy favorable relations with its neighbours, by improving its foreign, and trade policies. Better health policies and human resource policies can help ensure long term prevalence of skilled, motivated and efficient labour force for the country.

Ultimately, what matters is the impact that the policy makes in the society. Failure or inefficiency only prompts the citizens to disengage their trust in the government and further makes it harder for good policies to implement. While there is no distinct blueprint, a successful public impact of any policy is based on three interlinked pillars; a calculated and well-designed policy; proper legitimacy; and a solid delivery. This means that effective governance is a key prerequisite to an integrated public policy that will ensure sustainable development.


Zahra Khan Durrani

has done M.Phil in Development Studies from the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics.

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    Rummana Shah Reply

    August 3, 2018 at 3:47 am

    Good public policies are the backbone of sustained and equitable growth. Good job Zahra

    • Avatar

      Zahra KhanDurrani Reply

      August 13, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      Thank you

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    Hiba Reply

    October 22, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    Great write up. Could you please quote a few policies which proved to be successful in Pakistan’s case?

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    Shahid Umar Reply

    October 28, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    Great work. Searching for a specific policy failure example in the context of Pakistan. I am also currently studying at PIDE.

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      Zahra Khan Durrani Reply

      December 4, 2018 at 8:58 pm

      Thank you

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    heffza Reply

    November 18, 2018 at 9:35 pm

    very effective and helpful

    • Avatar

      Zahra Khan Durrani Reply

      December 4, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      Thank you

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    Aqib Bukhari Reply

    November 24, 2018 at 2:20 pm

    Im in searching of big failures of punlic policies in pakistan and i found it here.
    Thanks Zahra and keep it up.

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      Zahra Khan Durrani Reply

      December 4, 2018 at 8:56 pm

      I’m glad it was helpful to you. Thank you!

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        Shahab Reply

        December 7, 2019 at 9:31 am

        Zahra you have done an amazing job.
        this material is very helpful. Thank you so much. keep writing such content to enlighten.🙂

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    zaiba Reply

    July 29, 2019 at 7:21 pm


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    Muhammad Muneeb Reply

    December 10, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    I need help regarding 2nd questions

    On a government level, what are the major barriers in implementing a policy in Pakistan? If you were able to address those barriers, how would you do so?

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    alvina Reply

    December 13, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    imressive article, could you please mention few advices or actions that should
    be taken to address these barriers?

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    Muhammad Waseem Reply

    February 19, 2020 at 11:18 pm

    What a great article you have written, Zahra. Its a excellent example, why sustainable development goals are not being achieved. Congratulations

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