New PRSP ready at last for NEC approval: Research groups find stagnation in poverty reduction process

Khawaza Main Uddin, NewAge, August 24, 2008

The Planning Commission has readied the second version of the poverty reduction strategy paper with a new slogan – ‘Moving Ahead’ – but without properly assessing how far the previous development document – ‘Unlocking the Potential’ — has been implemented, admit officials concerned.
   

The interim government has spent about two months of the 2008-09 fiscal year without a long-term development strategy at hand even after the expiry of the four-year period of the poverty reduction strategy titled ‘Unlocking the Potential: National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction’.
   

The draft document – ‘Moving Ahead: National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction II (2009-2011) – is scheduled to be placed for endorsement at a meeting of the National Economic Council, currently headed by the chief adviser, on August 28, according to officials of the general economics division of the Planning Commission.
   

‘We do not know whether there has been any poverty reduction as a result of the implementation of the first PRSP. The new document, too, will not be of much benefit to the poor despite the common slogan of pro-poor economic growth’, economist Anu Muhammad told New Age.
   

The government has no data on the poverty situation after the Household Income and Expenditure Survey-2005 whereas private research groups have found increase in poverty or at least stagnation in the process recently, though for a different reason – price hike of food grains.
   

Now the authors of the draft document have acknowledged the failure in achieving the targets set in the first strategy paper after various quarters, including economists, criticised the poor status of implementation due to lack of institutional capacity and political commitment to development.
   

‘Implementation failures have been so endemic that [it] is seen as a critical strategic challenge’, reads the new document stressing the need for giving more attention to effective implementation of the strategy paper.
   

Problems related to regulations, laws, projects and programmes and poor institutional mechanism have been generally identified as obstacles to implementing and monitoring the progress in poverty reduction.
   

Asked how development goals could be attained, Uttam Kumar Deb of the Centre for Policy Dialogue pointed out that the strategy paper must be made a concrete one with achievable targets and institutional mechanism to monitor the implementation process. He also insisted on evaluation of the previous document and cost estimation for the new one.
   

The new strategy paper has made an estimate of target implementation at Tk 2,54,000 crore. A resource gap between availability of funds from domestic sources and requirement of money for implementing PRSP goals has also been projected at more than Tk 61,000 crore in three-year implementation period.
   

The interim government on July 26, 2007 decided to embark on the second version of the lender-driven poverty reduction strategy following extension on April 30, 2007, of the first strategy paper for another year on completion of three years.
   

The government is also preparing a long-term participatory perspective plan setting 2021 as the deadline for making the country free of poverty and corruption.  A project styled Outline Participatory Perspective Plan will design the document, which will include a vision-2030 of a prosperous Bangladesh.
   

The general economics division was made the focal point for formulation of such development policy document and accordingly, as many as 18 thematic committees backed by consultants made various suggestions.
   

Their estimation of resource endowment needs marked a significant shift from the first strategy paper devoid of specific calculation of costs and requirements of money, which was formulated more in line with the UN Millennium Development Goals.
   

In order to expedite the poverty reduction process, the draft strategy paper has outlined five strategy blocks – pro-poor macroeconomic management, investments in important sectors for pro-poor economic growth, infrastructure building for pro-poor growth, social protection for vulnerable groups and human resources development.
   

Five more areas have also been selected in the draft document to achieve the pro-poor development – participation of all strata of the people and their empowerment, establishment of good governance, effective delivery of public services, facing the challenge of weather and climate change for sustainable development and enhancing productivity by means of innovation and extension of technologies.
   

‘The second strategy paper has been prepared in conformity with the objective of the first one – poverty reduction through pro-poor economic growth’, Jafar Ahmed Chowdhury, member of the economics division and planning secretary, wrote in the working paper on the PRSP to be submitted to the National Economic Council.
   

The division held a consultation with the stakeholders in Dhaka in March 18-20, a special meeting with experts and civil society members in June 1-2 and another meeting with the development partners on June 10. Besides, three regional consultation meetings were arranged in Barisal, Rajshahi and Rangamati.
   

The working paper noted that the draft document reflected the opinions and suggestions made in the consultations by different ministries and divisions and also the opinions of the development partners.
   

Anu Muhammad, however, said that although consultations were held to take opinions before preparing the PRSP, the suggestions made by the participants had not been incorporated in the document because of the government’s tendency towards swallowing the lenders’ recipe’.

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