Should we get hit a second time?
The appointment of representatives of the World Bank (WB), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and US consultancy agency Mckinsey into 19 Planning Commission committees by its Deputy Chairman, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has become a matter of major controversy.
Through a number of clarifications and letters addressed to the Left Front leaders and news plants in obliging media, Dr Ahluwalia has tried to confuse and explain away the issue as part of his plan for wide-ranging consultations. It was also said that expertise from all corners of the world should enlighten the planning process. At another level it was said that those who disburse huge loans for development plans in the country have a right to know and be part of the executive process. Yet another argument was that both the Left parties and the NDA also had extended such courtesies to the multilateral agencies.
These experts are there only in consultative capacity, not as policy makers, it was clarified. All these explanations are only half-truths.
Why, in the first place, India cannot handle its developmental issues on its own? Is there a dearth of talent in the country? We have a large number of IMF, World Bank-returned, including the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Dr Ahluwalia, to have the benefit of their expertise and worldview. These World Bank-returned experts are also privy to the thinking of these funding agencies on the development models they want us to adopt.
And to have expert consultation we need not have them on the Planning Commission. They can be invited anytime for specific consultations.
In any case before disbursing the loan and during the course of its utilisation, such consultations are routine. These have been taking place under all governments.
Then, what is the need for them to permanently represent in these 19 committees? Planning Commission is the body that vets all projects and schemes of the Centre and the states, and only after its okay, the cabinet gives the go ahead. Foreigners should not have access to such a sensitive body.
The specific areas of their interest include education, agriculture and health, where we pride ourselves of possessing great knowledge.
It hurts our national ego and it is a challenge to our sovereign status.
The World Bank or IMF has no success story to flaunt around. The experiences of Latin American and South-east Asian economies rather make their presence a frightening proposition. Their macroeconomic studies have only one focus, ?Doing Business?.
In fact, this is the title of their recent studies, where, they have a plan to help poor countries help themselves. How? The splendid new report from the World Bank, Doing Business in 2005 provides a long list of 145 countries, including India. In the report there are some indicators of a country'sbusiness climate from the cost of starting a new firm and enforcing contracts to the ease of hiring and firing workers and of borrowing money. This, they claim is a handbook for how to put things right.
And their ?to do list for growth? wants as the first step to put aside ideology, of the Left or the Right. The two goals- improving the business climate and reducing poverty-are the same for them. Other crucial points are labour market reforms, smoother property rights to investors, and making more foreign aid conditional to ?specific and verifiable regulatory reforms and examples of aid that have been used in such ways?. It notes that Development Banks have taken a beating in recent years for pushing budget cuts and privatisations on borrowers.
One need not look for more to find what the IMF-ADB and Mckinsey experts want to do with the Planning Commission. Should we allow this? Can we forget that a few score Englishmen who came to India a couple of hundred years ago, with the just and peaceful idea of doing business, colonised us? Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, they say.