Posted by Suhas Joshi
In the latest in the series “Views from the Field”, Richard Alen interviewed Suhas Joshi, FAD’s PFM Advisor in East Asia, who is based in Cambodia.
RA: What is your experience of working as a PFM advisor around the world?
SJ: Tolstoy starts Anna Karenina with the sentence “Happy families are all alike, unhappy families are unhappy in their own way”. In the same way countries are all alike in their basic PFM requirements and issues but each is unique in its own problems and issues. I have had the privilege of having sat on both sides of the donor table - in India I used to deal with bilateral aid to India and now, for 13 years with the Fund, I have delivered aid to Russia, West African states such as Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gambia, then 15 Pacific Island countries, and now to Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives.
In his Theban plays Sophocles says “There is nothing new under the sun”. In the same vein, I see in all the countries where I have worked certain fundamental PFM issues that remain the same. Yet diversity in location, size and capacity makes each country and its problems different. This creates a challenge for practitioners at the implementation stage - indeed a philosophical one. Often we tend to believe that we, as TA providers, are guiding the reform process. But, as the Gita tells us, we are not the “doers” – we are at best catalysts in the reform process. As I saw from my experience in India, the main “doers” of reform are the ministers and government officials in any country. They are busy performing the routine functions of government about 90% of their time, failing which they will lose their jobs. This leaves about 10% of their time to engage in the reform process. If government officials have to implement several reforms at the same time, their resources are further stretched, resulting in slow implementation. Factor in a bureaucracy that is often either de-motivated or ambivalent, then none of our efforts will bear fruit!
In sum, we need to be realistic in our hopes and recognize that unless we have a high level champion to provide motivation and guidance, the reform process will be slower than expected, if indeed it will be implemented at all. Reform needs to be combined with sustainable capacity development so that the “doers” can do things themselves, and correctly, while we support them in meaningful ways.