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Welcome to His Holiness Pope Francis: Inspiring Institutional and Policy Reforms

This article is being written on the eve of the elections. By the time it is published the

outcome would be known and the country will be looking forward to the Papal visit. His

Holiness Pope Francis has proved to be a remarkable Pontiff. As an Argentinian, he is the

first person from a developing country to grace this eminent position. His refreshing approach

has undoubtedly been influenced by his Ministry in his homeland which would have given

him first hand exposure to the challenges of living in the developing world.

Reforming the Church: Leading from the Front

Pope Francis assumed his position when the Catholic Church was in crisis. Sexual and

financial crises had shaken the venerable religious institution to its very foundations. Its flock

of 1.2 billion people around the world was in need of leadership that would revive their faith.

It is remarkable that in a relatively short time the current Pontiff has been able to change the

entire narrative through a combination of his highly spiritual and simple personal lifestyle; as

well as his willingness to speak out whenever he has come across injustice in any part of the

world. This is not all. He is going beyond changes in form to substantive reforms. There are

lessons to be drawn for the newly-elected government from the Pope’s decisive actions. His

visit to Sri Lanka should have resonance not only through his simple lifestyle but also the

radical structural institutional reforms he is undertaking at the heart of the Vatican to

strengthen governance.

 

The Pope and his nine key Cardinal advisers are drawing up plans to revamp the whole

bureaucratic structure, merging offices to make them more efficient and responsive. The

Vatican’s finances are also being overhauled. New financial and budgetary measures are

being imposed to increase transparency and accountability. The Pope is also changing the

composition of the College of Cardinals by appointing more of them from the developing

world. Most recently, 9 of the 15 Cardinals appointed by him were from the developing

world. In addition, he has appointed a Moroccan – born French Prelate to lead the Vatican’s

highest court.

 

Pope Francis has said that while his major institutional reforms are moving ahead, what is

taking much longer is ‘spiritual reform’. He has accused senior Cardinals of ‘spiritual

Alzheimers’. He used his traditional Christmas message to deliver a the public dressing down

of the Curia, the central administration of the Holy See, which governs the 1.2 billion strong

Catholic Church. He signalled that his plans for institutional reforms had to be accompanied

by more radical changes in the minds of the men involved. Pope Francis’ willingness to

challenge vested interests for the benefit of the larger Catholic community is a message

which should be taken on board by the country’s newly elected leadership.

 

Learning from His Holiness

The Pope’s determination to change the thinking of the Catholic hierarchy has great

resonance for both the government and people of our country. Our political culture has been

deteriorating in several aspects over the years. These must be arrested and reversed with

primacy given to the rule of law over impunity and thuggery. Equally, the Sri Lankan people

need to move away from an entitlement culture dependent on the doling out of political

patronage to a mind-set imbued with an entrepreneurial spirit which takes cognisance of the

importance of merit, productivity and competitiveness.

 

Reforms in India and China

Today, major reforms are not confined only to the Vatican. The newly – elected government

can also draw lessons from the changes taking place in both India and China. The reforms in

India will generate both opportunities and competitive challenges. It is important that Sri

Lanka acts proactively to position itself to deal with the changing commercial realities in

India. At the same time, China will emerge with a more vibrant private sector and further

implementation of its going-abroad strategy. It is important that the enabling conditions are

created to take advantage of the opportunities which will be created through China’s

maritime and land based Silk Road initiatives which will be backed by the funding to the tune

$40 billion.

 

The Modi government has embarked upon an ambitious program of reform to boost the

faltering Indian economy. The signs of its revival are already beginning to emerge with

growth picking up, inflation abating, the share market booming, non-debt creating foreign

inflows rising and the balance payments strengthening. The reforms have been introduced in

the following areas: tax structure and administration; increasing limits on FDI in insurance,

defence, railways and real estate; simplifying the land acquisition law; greater transparency

and less discretion in the coal and power sector; de-regulation of fuel prices; opening up of

the petrol and diesel sector to the private sector; addressing agricultural inflation; promoting

financial inclusion; launching flagship programs such as digital and skilled India; labour law

reforms; banking sector reforms, including recapitalization of banks, professionalizing

management, while allowing greater autonomy; measures to combat ‘black money’ both

domestically and abroad; trade facilitation measures 24/7 customs clearance; and e-visa to

boost tourism. The Indian government has identified the following challenges for next year:

encouraging and enhancing investment; stepping up infrastructure spending; and giving the

manufacturing sector a major boost.

 

In China, President Xi Jinping has also launched an ambitious reform program. These

include: a clamp-down on corruption which has reached the highest echelons; a greater role

for market forces in the economy through wide ranging de-regulation with the removal of

over 600 administrative approval procedures; SOEs being forced to operate on a more

commercial basis, including corporatization of the railways department which employs 2

million workers; announcement of a strong link between wage increases and productivity,

with priority being attached to continuing education and skills training; establishing a market

for rural land; easing restrictions on rural migrants living in urban areas; restructuring the

relationship between central, provincial and local governments with the latter two levels

gaining a greater share of tax revenues; reforms to reduce distortions in the financial sector;

reforms of social security, pensions and healthcare; accelerating the $1 trillion infrastructure

development program, particularly in the hinterland to realise the potential of catch-up in the

lagging regions as an important source of future growth; and granting 4G broadband licenses

with e-commerce in China expected to overtake the US this year.

 

Conclusion

Pope Francis is a highly inspirational figure not just for the Catholics but for the whole world.

His visit to Sri Lanka is very timely. His message of reform and renewal backed by

determined action has resonance both for the newly elected government and the people of this

country. In addition, we can draw lessons from both China and India regarding the level of

ambition for our reform efforts. The enormous potential of the present historical conjuncture,

spelt out in many previous Pathfinder Foundation articles, must not be frittered away through

poor governance and populist policies.

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As of October 2010, the PF has been issuing monthly Economic Alerts which have sought to highlight emerging economic challenges & opportunities. These Economic Alerts have gained wide publicity in print and electronic media.

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