Why appropriate policies are not adopted
The Case of Nigeria
We need appropriate public policies. No doubt about it? They cushion or eliminate many of the challenges that we face. With many of such across the public sector decision-making terrain, many of our challenges as acountry will inevitably be resolved. However, beside the fundamental issues pertaining to the adequacy andappropriateness of policy components and processes, concerns have revolved around the determination of the actual point where chances of unriddling the identified chain of Nigeria's problems are frustrated. Many such points are identifiable and comprise stages where (a) the intention of the government is made known (b) goals to be achieved aredeclared (c) means for achieving the goals are stated (d) announcement ofthe collateral programmes for achieving those goals as well as (e)specific actions taken in order to implement programmes are made.
Points(a) – (d) may well represent the policy design and communication stage while stage (e) represents the implementation phase. The attendant concern for the former is about the appropriateness or otherwise. In many quarters, the platitude is that Nigeria's problem is sustained bypoor policy implementation. If this is true then the issue of policy appropriateness has been put to rest. On the contrary, Nigeria's perennial history of inappropriate policy design is its core undoing. These have resulted in gross resource misallocations, heightened inefficiency levels,grievous reduction in the levels of productivity of capital and labour available to the economy. Cumulatively this has continued to negatively hurt the growth of output,income and employment. It has equally exacerbated uncertainty levels andmacroeconomic instability with implications for reduced investorconfidence on the economy.
Examples abound and have been well rehashed in the media and are amply evidenced in the failures of the economy in virtually every aspect of its life as a country giving birth to manypublic bads such as long fuel queues, burgeoning unemployment, poor quality of education, endless brain drain, poor medicare etc. In effect therefore, even with well implemented inappropriate policies, the actualresults must be less than desirable. When is a policy considered to be inappropriate? Rarely do governments and their agencies admit to inappropriateness of policies enunciated by them.
Let's cite a few examples. Inflation in Nigeria is rarely reported as aconsequence of CBN's money supply disposition which is always its truesource. On the contrary the underlying causes are always popularly attributed to changes in the prices of agricultural products. A similar example is government's declining revenue position. This is rarely located within government's historical policy neglects or wrong policies that have not addressed the base infrastructural challenges that would have supportedentrepreneurial growth and enabled the expansion of tax bases but areerroneously placed on the unwillingness of people to pay increasingly multiple level taxes which is theoretically explained by the Laffer curve. Employment is equally blamed on laziness or changing value system thatmakes white-collar jobs more fascinating. Fingers are not pointed to thefact that many wrong policies have actually killed firms that ought tohave provided young people with jobs.
Government's decisions and actions (policies) become ineffective when they fail to address public problems in ways that are consistent with widelyshared values and preferences. Consequently effectiveness cannot beconsistent with making `supposed' genuine efforts to live up to statutory responsibilities. In the domain of economics for instance there are popularly pursuedmacroeconomic goals which are restated annually in the rites of budget speeches: strong and sustainable economic growth, price stability, lowlevels of unemployment and balance of payment stability.
In Nigeria, failures in these areas have been palpably constant across time even with deliberately structured attempts to play them down. For instance rather than focus on productivity growth that would present the true pictures of failure, assessments based on output growth that hidemany policy failures are played up. It therefore follows that policy makers in Nigeria see good policies asthose that their experts tell us are good for us rather than the one thattruly satisfies the value expectations of the claimants.
In some sensetherefore, their view of national problems and how they solve them definepolicy appropriateness. Unfortunately even some policies with supposedshort term positive outcomes may have very grave chain of consequences that take time to manifest. These other sides are rarely discussed and areplayed down. The appropriateness of policy therefore should be evaluated based on thefollowing criteria namely the (a) underlying theoretical soundness and logical consistency that will demonstrate how the policy will on asustainable basis prevent public bads or provide public goods as well as correct emerging negative externalities, (b) contextual relevance of thepolicy, and (c) policy design process that is clearly supported by law which at its basest form determines what is good or bad for the public. These go a long way to explain why in this country, good policies areactually not pursued.
Appropriate policies require substantial rigour as virtually all these conditions must be met. For instance, bad theory always results in inappropriate public policy when adopted as frameworks.Many of such bad theories abound and command some level of popularitydepending on the underlying motivations and stridency of the policy designer. However, even with such popularity, it is not possible that such policiescan deliver public good or prevent public bads or minimize negative externalities on a sustainable basis. The typical collateral manifestation has always been bouts of `the more you look, the less you see' short term positive outcomes that are quickly followed by the inevitable long-termdestructive consequences. In the same way, blindly copying policies thatworked in other geographical contexts and blindly imposing same on us withthe expectation of efficacious results can many times be achasing-after-the-shadow.
Foreign policy importation should be based on satisfactory evaluation of the contextual compatibilities before adaptation. Following through these rigorous standards in almost all circumstances does not permit the actualization of the personal interests and motivations of many policy makers. Needless to point out that many of them merely pursue interests that are substantially public as defined and promoted by them but are not genuinely common to warrant their attentive evaluation of the magnitude of the pain that they can cause the public. But aside this, policy making positions by those who are not properly trained to develop sound policies will produce similar effects as inappropriate rather than good policies may be pursued.
Martin Oluba, Ph.D, is the President/CEO of Value Fronteira Limited and a Senior Fellow of Initiative for Public Policy Analysis, a public policy think-tank based in Lagos Website: www.ippanigeria.org