Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Aid & Pakistan’s political economy

[…] The deep pockets of the United States' civilian program in Pakistan-in the form of $1.5 billion a year in development assistance-don't seem to contain the leverage to push those reforms through.

[…] The IMF's view matters, because Pakistan has been waiting for the remaining $3.5 billion from an $11.3 billion bailout package that kept Pakistan's economy from collapse in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. But that support carries explicit conditions, including progress on both energy pricing and tax reform.

[…] U.S. policymakers should note well this series of events and remember a simple lesson. Billions of dollars of U.S. assistance-and a sustained diplomatic focus on the reform agenda-have not given the United States the ability to dictate the outcomes of Pakistan's political process. This is inconvenient for the United States, but not surprising. For the United States and for other major donors in Pakistan, money has never brought leverage.

[…] Pakistan's energy sector demonstrates the difficulty in achieving the kind of influence donor countries would like to have. For decades, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank-armed with sums greater than the current Kerry-Lugar-Berman U.S. aid package-have urged the Government of Pakistan to finally reduce the price subsidies on electricity, to no avail. Time and again, project documents cite the same problems, the donors recommend the same solutions, the government of Pakistan promises to implement the same reform, the government breaks (and donors lament) the same promises. Meanwhile, the basic politics maintaining the status quo have not changed-there are too many reaping the benefits of subsidized power, and ordinary consumers feel they aren't getting service that warrants paying more.

[…] When Vice President Biden visited Islamabad this week, he promised that the United States would "keep the entire commitment" of the pledged $7.5 billion in Kerry-Lugar assistance. This assurance will surely be welcomed by Pakistan, and it's a fair reflection of Pakistan's short-term and long-term importance to U.S. interests. Adjusting where and how aid is spent-including by taking the requests of the Pakistani government into account-is necessary to respond to the real needs on the ground. (On that note, we applaud the decision to put $190 million into direct smartcard grants to help Pakistani flood victims rebuild their lives). But U.S. policymakers should not expect the aid money to give the United States greater influence on economic reforms in Islamabad. This is not the point, nor the potential, of U.S. aid.

[…] The key point is that certain aid projects can carry both direct benefits (better services and infrastructure for the people of Pakistan) and indirect benefits (incentives for the Pakistani political system to achieve greater results with their existing resources). Here are a few examples to consider: U.S. investments in energy generation and transmission capacity can be linked to public commitments to raise electricity tariffs  only when brownouts have been reduced below an announced benchmark. In this grand bargain, as service quality improves, tariffs would go up, and another round of aid investments would be delivered. In another case, U.S.-financed tools can be deployed to help Pakistani citizens hold their government accountable-with regular reports on simple indicators of development, for example, or an easily accessible database of all development projects funded from internal or external resources.  Or a pilot Cash on Delivery aid contract in one or more Pakistani provinces could put levers in the hands of education reformers and help their ideas gain traction.

More by Nancy Birdsall et al. here.