Experts question rationale behind new government think tank

  • Analysts concerned about a turf war between old and new institutions
- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Feb 6, 2019-

The formation of a new think tank by the government last September is being watched by many as to how it will function and how its relationship with other similar entities within the government machine will evolve.

While government officials claimed the objectives and work scope of Niti Anusandhan Pratisthan, which literally means Policy Research Academy, would be completely different from the National Planning Commission, many have foreseen a turf war between the two entities.

The National Planning Commission is the government’s apex advisory body for formulating a national vision, periodic plans and policies for development.

The government officials claimed that the new think tank headed by Professor Chaitanya Mishra, a professor at the Tribhuvan University, was not comparable to any other existing think tanks. It has wider mandates to regularly advise the government through study and research on development, construction, security, foreign relations, and good governance. In an interview with the Post, Mishra said that it took months for them to prepare the legal framework of the newly established think tank among other arrangements like staff hiring and office management.

Some experts say the proliferation of think tanks within the government machinery will likely trigger internal turf war among themselves. Both Policy Research Academy and the National Planning Commission are under the Prime Minister’s Office. There will also be high chances of policy contradictions with state-funded think tanks, experts said.

Swarnim Wagle, former vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission, said when a new act was enacted to strengthen the commission—including expanding its scope to carry out research, analysis on diverse policies except for security and foreign policy—there was no need for a new think tank.

“I don’t see any relevance why the government decided to set up the Policy Research Academy in lieu of the commission. In the context of federalism, we have revisited the commission’s objective and recommend making it a premier think tank to undertake various policy-related research for the government, apart from foreign affairs and security,” said Wagle.

Government officials, however, said the academy would work more as a research institute and advise various policy recommendations to the government. Though it comes under the purview of the PM’s Office, the academy will be an autonomous body and have the authority to take decisions without consulting officials at the PM’s Office.

Wagle said the government could have assigned the Institute of Foreign Affairs for any research on foreign and national security-related policy.    

“The National Planning Commission is more focused on budget preparation, so we needed a separate think tank with adequate resources to undertake other thematic policy research, which the academy can fulfil,” said Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, the secretary for the PM’s Office who prepared the draft of the new think tank. “The planning commission prepares the policy but does not conduct impact study while this think tank will study policy impacts of various government policies.” To start its government-mandated job, the academy hired four staff but Mishra said it planned to hire up to 15 employees within a year. The academy, which will have research fellows to undertake research on various thematic issues, has been given a free hand to hire staff.

When asked how the academy’s work would differ from other think tanks, he said his team had a larger mandate and did not limit itself to what the planning c omission or other groups did.

“We do research and offer inputs/ suggestions based on demand,” said Mishra. “We write to various government ministries and entities to ask what kind of policy study they need, to bring reforms.”

Nepal Communist Party insiders said setting up such a body had been planned for a long time. Some party leaders told the Post that there had long been a feeling within the party that the planning commission had become too budget-oriented, bureaucratic, and had a limited role to advise the government on security, construction, good governance and foreign relations.

The planning commission, some ruling party leaders said, had become like a recruiting agency to fill the seats with members from whichever party is in power.

Mishra would not disclose the first policy briefing by the academy but said his team had already started working on it.

Posh Raj Pandey, a former member of the planning commission who now heads SAWTEE, a research institute on trade, economic and environment, said he saw overlap between the academy and the planning commission.

“When we already have institutions working on policy research field, the wiser thing would have been strengthening the existing sectoral institutes,” said Pandey. “The future of the Policy Research Academy hinges on whether it will be influenced or intervened by the state, how its relationship with the planning commission will be defined and whether state entities and ministries will own up its recommendation.”

Published: 06-02-2019 10:26

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