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Need for unbiased, critical policy formulators

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11th-Sep-2017       
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Md. Monirul Islam :
The post-World War II period witnessed the emergence of a technocratic approach to deal with the policy problems, that the war ravaged world faced mostly in the economic domain, to wage a quick come back on the path of national development or at least early rehabilitation of the old order. Recently, researchers worldwide consider this approach (technocratic) is an inefficient, ineffective and obsolete means of making policy decisions. They are advocating for substituting them with sound techniques of scientific policy analysis that could help both the legislators and the executive decision-makers enabling them to select correct polices objectively. Now, the use of scientific knowledge and techniques for making, managing and evaluating public policies is generally termed as 'policy analysis.' It mainly demonstrates the notion of 'thinking man's response to demands'.
Policy analysis is the multiple methods of inquiry and argument to produce and transform policy-relevant information for resolving public problems. But in Bangladesh, as of now, it is, in some cases, done through adopting unsystematic approach to suggest and evaluate the public policy options, mostly resulting in non-achievement of the targeted goals. Under the existing system of administration, officials are mainly required to execute the policy. They are also engaged and entrusted with the task to analyze policy. But after managing offices, they hardly get time and scope to engage themselves devotedly in such policy relevant work(s). However, some of the privately owned entities together with public institutes are working in the policy analysis area of the country. But their outcomes are not much satisfactory in terms of the fulfillment of people's desire(s). There is a concern in Bangladesh that nobody is interested to think beyond the governmental stance simply to prove that they are most diligently government friendly or at least they do not stand on the way of the government policy matrix, more so the persons walking in the corri-doors of power that be. Some of them tend to criticize the government policy in an half-hearted way without causing any real damage to the govt's image.
The process of policy analysis may culminate in its optimality through incorporating the notion of think-tank to make, manage and evaluate public policies in Bangladesh. US, the leading developed country in the world, has annexed the concept of think-tank in its policy analysis process much earlier. In US, there are some 1,200 think-tanks belonging to four categories to make and appraise the public policies. These think-tanks are classified into four categories, such as conservative, liberal, non-partisan and libertarian. Normatively, think-tank is one of the main policy actors in democratic societies, which assures a pluralistic, open and accountable process of policy analysis, research, decision-making and evaluation. Think-tanks affect the American public policy-makers in five distinct ways: by generating original ideas and options for policy, by supplying a ready pool of experts for employment in government, by offering venues for high-level discussions, by educating US citizens about the world, and by supplementing official efforts to mediate and resolve the conflict(s).
Bangladesh needs to follow these distinct ways of US think-tank for judicious policy-making, implementation and evaluation. It should be not by copying, but by adaption in matching context.
Government (political authority) and administration (bureaucratic authority) of Bangladesh tend to ensure the well-being of the people by introducing an appropriate policy set-up. But due to lack of proper support, equipment, capacity, and capability etc. for policy analysis, these two forces (government and administration) often fall short to evolve a workable policy-mix and implement those into action to achieve the set goal(s). From this inconvenient arrangement, think-tanks as policy-making and analysis players may come into pitch to assist both the government and the administration in  public 'policy-making, implementation and evaluation', which are the terms and conditions of policy analysis.
Considering policy relevant cooperation, think-tank may help policy makers to exploit multiple channels and marketing strategies - publishing articles, books, and occasional papers; appearing regularly on television, op-ed-pages, and in newspaper interviews; and producing readers-friendly issue briefs, fact-sheets, and webpage on public-oriented issues like environmental policy, energy policy, power plant issue, nuclear issues etc. Besides, generating new ideas for government officials as well as political leaders (the state stakeholders), think-tanks may also provide a steady stream of experts to assist them in adapting with policy analysis and viable public policy-making. In this regard, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM), Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) etc. can take vibrant initiative to provide policy-relevant rigorous knowledge for both the political leaders and the officials. Noteable, CPD is the only private initiative in this area. Others are, in nature, quasi-public entities.
Following the election in 1976, Jimmy Carter, the former President of US, staffed his administration with a batch of individuals from the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations, the two renowned think-tanks in the US. Four years later, Ronald Reagan turned to other think-tanks to serve as his brain trust.  During two terms in office, he drew on 150 individuals from Heritage, the Hoover Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Even, US 'policy of war' or 'war on terrorism' in 2001 against Iraq was made with the suggestions and research findings of a think-tank namely 'Project for New American Century'. In spite of having US dominance on Think-tank, they convene professionals from the external countries for sharing ideas with the policy makers within the framework of think-tank. In Bangladesh, we have some government and non-government think-tanks; but we don't have such type of glaring course works relating to sharing ideas with that of foreign resource personalities who have the greater affiliation to policy-making.
There are immense lacks of new idea set-up, which is one of the major constraints to the way of proper public policy-making in Bangladesh. Even, we have no prolific ex-ante analysis (prior analysis on decision) under governmental surveillance, but ex-post analysis (post analysis to implement the decision) of budget beyond governmental supervision, which is also very minimal. For this reason, our budget, to some extent, fails to satisfy the desire of the people as it lacks ex-ante analysis.
Governments of many developed countries like US, France, Germany, and Japan etc. sat with those think-tanks for budgetary discussion under ex-ante analysis. Bangladesh needs to have not only public and privately owned think-tanks but also other professionals who may even oppose the official version of the problem(s) or policy so articulated. These independent think-tanks from their contending approach may be able to competitively gather information from the field with a view to assisting or criticizing the government for making people-oriented policy. Seemingly, such entities, especially opposition think-tanks, may root out the trend of biased policy analysis. Markedly, sometimes nation faces confusing statement from the authoritative source(s) relating to the purchasing capacity of the people, the economic growth rate etc. of the country.
Ours have a dominant market of garment industry from which the country earns at least 56% of total foreign currency every year. Bangladesh may use the potentials of the think-tanks to enhance its market policy abroad. In the age of globalization, various economically advanced countries like China, India, and Japan have already put together its course of occupying world market with their home grown commodities through promoting sophisticated market policy framed by various think-tanks. In the backdrop of above discussed situation, pragmatic think-tanks both public and private may be helpful in providing policy analysis tools, knowledge and expertise and thereby improve quality of public policy-making. To put it more simply, Bangladesh now needs the honest services of a trusted brand of think-tanks more pressingly than ever before to keep its progressive march on and forward.
(The writer is a Faculty at Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM), Dhaka.)

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