Drabu’s Wednesday of Ideas: Unleashes Radical Reforms

KL NEWS NETWORK

SRINAGAR

Haseeb-Drabu-PDP

Finance Minister Dr Haseeb Drabu has started initiating key reforms in the fiscal management by asking the administrative secretaries to evolve expenditure policies of their departments regardless of the resources it would require. He emphasised quality of expenditure over the quantum of resources and insisted this is the only way to ensure the surging transaction costs on governance are used to effect productive change.

In a marathon three hour long meeting with administrative secretaries Wednesday evening, Dr Drabu literally initiated the process for next budget by indicating that presentation of the budget may be advanced for the next fiscal. Sources said Drabu wants the budget for 2016-17 be presented in January so that all the resources are kept ready by early March when the working season in winter zone starts. “He wants to have a longer mid-year session of the state assembly in September in which Economic Survey is presented, mid-course review takes place as it will offer all the details of what changes public expenditure has resulted in,” an official, who was part of the meeting, said.  Normally the state legislature has a prolonged budget session in Jammu that concludes around March and is followed by week-long session in Kashmir.

Finance Minister insisted that availability of resources comes only next to the quality of expenditure. “We may have lot of resources but more important is how we are spending and for what?” Drabu is reported to have said. “He actually suggested the institutional audit and social audit going side by side.” He said the 14th Finance Commission award has made it abundantly clear about the availability of resources with the state government which must encourage us to use it properly and as per our priorities with emphasis on improving absorption capacity of the state.

“Budget should not be about numbers but it must outline the fiscal policy and development strategy of the government and must be directed towards policy outcomes on government priorities,” Drabu was quoted saying. “Expenditure efficiency must define the outcome of expenditure and for this we can attempt zero budgeting than incremental budgeting, which is in vogue.”

Drabu gave administrative secretaries a literal template of highlighting their requirements in a mix of three scenarios in which J&K lacks resources, has resources and a mix of the two: fifty-fifty. “Value of budget should not be in numbers but in quality of expenditure and its structure,” Drabu emphasized. He asked them to offer him an idea of what they intend t achieve and how when they seek a particular quantum of resource.

The government, Drabu said, must be a facilitator in helping businesses grow and service delivered properly and promptly. Given the absence of private spending in the infrastructure, Drabu wants public capital spending to have linked with the requirements on ground.

His key ideation on facilitation front is bestowing complete financial autonomy to the Universities and the SKIMS. At the same time, however, he wants them improve their resource base. Sections of the society which are availing medical services against a payment in the private sector can have the facility in the hospitals and students wishing to pay for the seat should not be stopped and encouraged to move out.  But there has to be a mechanism that will make these institutions socially responsible and accountable, the minister is reported to have said.

While Drabu suggested the state’s General Administration Department should move beyond the routine transfers and become a the Human Resources Development (HRD) cell of the state government, the IT department should in fact get converted into a service that facilitates governance. He said IT is the only platform that can help J&K reduce the transaction costs of the governance, which, right now are the highest in India.

Drabu said the state’s Planning Department should evolve into a Capex Strategy and Monitoring department. This will give the particular department a new role in wake of the policy shifts at the federal level.

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Emphasising importance of management of assets that state government is creating, Drabu said maintaining the assets almost equals creation of assets and every department should keep part of the budget aside for maintenance of assets. He advised the secretaries – the de facto policy makers in their own sectors, to stop seeking more resources for new projects at the cost of those still not complete. “Stop new projects till the older ones are ready,” he said.

Drabu said the vast assets created across the state in various sector including tourism must be utilized – monetize if you have the capacity, out-source if you lack the capacity and liquidate, if they are a liability. He asked the animal husbandry department to either use the farm or simply outsource them to the private sector so that the objectives are achieved.

But it seems Drabu’s Wednesday was his ideas day. Earlier in the day he told a function at Tagore Hall that the government will invest in creation of infrastructure but will not indulge in cultural activities. His wisdom: when government gets into the cultural activities, it becomes propaganda.

Much later when he had a visit to his Rajpora constituency, Finance Minister decided to convert a 70-bed hospital into a maternity facility for the South Kashmir and shifted the transfer of other equipments to the district hospital in Pulwama which it was in desperate need. “We cannot have two similar facilities between 12 kms so one has to be utilized for something which is more important,” he is understood have said.

Later, he drove to Bellow with top CRPF officers and asked them to evict Kashmir’s oldest apple grading and packing facility. Set up somewhere in 1980s by the JKHPMC, the facility was taken over by the CRPF and continues to be a garrison for around 30 years now. It is expected to be free early next year.

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