Improving the quality of policy proposals in the Budget
by Rohan Samarajiva
I have been immersed in discussions in various media platforms about the 2018 Sri Lanka Budget. A budget speech seeks to communicate the direction of government policy to other economic actors. While it is a coherent and forward-looking document overall, the 2018 Budget does contain some problematic proposals that will have to be walked back or quietly buried.
In this op-ed published in the Financial Times, I discussed a solution:
Every Budget Speech includes complex policy measures. Given the traditions associated with the Budget Speech, it is not possible to conduct public consultations on each of the measures beforehand. But without extensive consultation and input from persons with deep subject knowledge, the proposals will be half-baked. They are likely to contain significant errors, may not achieve the stated objectives and worst of all may cause harm.
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Until such time as we can reform the administrative service and remedy the ignorance of our ministers, what can be done to avoid the embarrassment of half-baked policy measures that have to be walked back or quietly buried when stakeholders and outside experts demonstrate their flaws?
The solution is for think tanks to conduct research on various policy options and make available their findings to policymakers in easily absorbable forms. And for policymakers to be open to such research.
I illustrated the solution by discussing a weather-indexed crop insurance proposal that appears to have been taken from the work of the Institute of Policy Studies. I went on to describe how our planned research on developing localized weather reports from the attenuation of microwave signals used in mobile networks could supplement the conventional, but sparse, rain gauge data.
The discussion is of central relevance to the work of LIRNEasia, and to what we seek to achieve through CPRsouth.