Recent years have witnessed a wide array of public-sector reforms in Pakistan, ranging from new fancy organisations to service delivery outsourcing models and from snazzy technological applications to novel approaches for citizen facilitation. But in most cases, these reforms avoided the difficult questions and bypassed any controversial issues. As a result, while these flashy reforms did create an illusion of progress, they failed to change behaviours, fix rusting institutions, reduce red tape, address inefficient public-sector workforce or produce a sustainable change.
But last week, I came across the draft Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Tourism Act 2019, which if approved will be a deviation from these half-hearted reform efforts of the past and may serve as a model for other sectors. There are three distinguishing features that, in my view, set this piece of legislation apart from other reform efforts.
Firstly, most reforms focus on creating new approaches of doing things, but do not mend the old ways. The much-trumpeted Punjab model, for instance, created scores of new autonomous companies with better incentives and flexible policies. But in no case did these companies replace the old corroding institutions. Look at the examples of Punjab Infrastructure Development Authority and Punjab Health Initiatives and Facilities Management companies. These were parallel structures created with improved capacity and a modern outlook but they never replaced the old and rusty Communication & Works and Health departments.
The draft K-P tourism act, however, aims to completely disband the older dysfunctional institutions like the K-P Tourism Corporation and the Directorates of Culture and Tourist Services. Shutting down such institutions is painful and may entail political costs. But such hard decisions are essential for meaningful reforms.
Secondly, in Pakistan where governance is already weak, it is the multi-sector challenges where such weakness becomes all the more pronounced. Pakistan’s adverse performance on issues like stunting and poverty alleviation is a case in point. This is because multiple agencies have to work together in sync on assigned targets and complement one another’s work.
Tourism is also a multi-sector challenge. The infrastructure department has to construct roads to connect tourism destinations; the police have to ensure safety of tourists; the transport department has to provide reliable transport; whereas local governments need to manage land zoning and provide municipal and other local services. Failure of even a single organisation can result in the failure of the whole strategy.
The draft tourism legislation attempts to address this problem, by creating Integrated Tourism Zones, with exclusive jurisdiction of the K-P Tourism Authority, and eliminating any role of local governments and other departments. Not only will it ensure a clear mandate and clear accountability, but this approach will also address the problem of poor capacity of local governments to manage tourist sites.
Thirdly, the proposed legislation emphasises the government’s role as a regulator and facilitator rather than a service provider and encourages engaging the private sector. The state can rarely perform as efficiently as the private sector, let alone in a country like Pakistan, where it can barely perform its own functions. Pakistan is full of government-managed tourist facilities, which cut a sorry figure offering low-quality services and poor experience. However, rent-seeking opportunities and vested interests have prevented them from being privatised. Look at all the large cities of Pakistan where the private sector is functional. Can we expect the government to establish and operate better restaurants or hotels than the ones operating in the private sector? What we need is private sector-led tourism growth, supported by an efficient regulatory structure and targeted incentives.
Pakistan is rife with examples of laws that are never implemented. Promulgating a new law is no guarantee that tourism in K-P will be improved. But it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, something that needs to be replicated in other provinces.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2019.
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