The Strategic Economic Plan, a vibrant and dynamic document

(SHADA: TEHRAN) – The name of Mojtaba Lashkar Bolouki has been thrown around in the Iranian economic circles after the Strategic Economic Plan was unveiled last March. As the senior advisor to Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance on Strategic Management, Dr. Lashkar Bolouki had a key role in developing the fabric of the plan and defining the goals, sub-goals, requirements, and specifications of the project. With the seven phases of the plan now becoming more established and more measurable at a larger scale, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s finance ministry seems to have taken effective steps in transition from a traditional organisation into an innovative one. The following is our interview with Lashkar Bolouki on how the Finance Ministry has attained all this achievement in a very short period after the 11th Government took over last year.

SHADA: Dear Dr. Lashkar Bolouki! As one of the main developers of Minister Tayyebnia’s proposed Strategic Economic Plan and advisor to the Iranian Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance, could you please tell us what finally led you to developing a raw idea into a concrete plan?
LASHKAR BOLOUKI: The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance is undoubtedly an important Iranian organisation. If you take a look at its subsidiaries and affiliate sectors, for example, the Securities and Exchange Organisation (SEO), Iran privatisation organisation (IPO), Organisation For Investment, Economic & Technical Assistance of Iran (OIETAI), Central Insurance of Iran, Iran Insurance Co. and all the state-owned Iranian banks are all acting under the Economy Ministry. Adding to this long list the Iranian Tax Organisation (IRITO) and Customs Administration (IRICA), you will see that what we are facing is not a simple ministry but rather a complex mega-organisation. A complicated socio-economic ministry of this kind will definitely require an effective regulatory and supervisory system. So we needed as the first step to prepare the guiding statements—vision, mission, and values—to create a conceptual framework for the actions the organisation were going to take.

SHADA: How did you come to identify the main areas you needed to cover in your plan—those that eventually formed the top-line strategic priorities of the document—and what are the responsibilities of executive organisations in fulfilment of them?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: Normally, an organisation of this magnitude needs to employ a set of comprehensive, quantitative and measurable strategic guidelines and this was something lacking in the Ministry, even at the lower levels of decision-making like the deputies and affiliate departments. Although something of a roadmap had been drafted in one or two of the deputies such as the Deputy for Treasury or in a few organisations as in Iran’s the Tax Organisation (IRITO), but the programmes were not harmoniously coordinated between different levels; there was a lack of precise, operational and measurable commitments and, if existed, they were not necessarily in compliance with the strategic priorities of the government and Ministry of Economy. Moreover, they exhibited significantly limited functionality and lacked accountability and transparency expected of them. So we decided to identify the most important priorities in the four years ahead as a first step. Finally, the three primary foci of the plan were determined as "improving national wealth-creation standards" (promoting national production and supply capacity), “sustainable financing for government” (reducing oil dependence), and “improving the stability and financial transparency”. Based on these priorities, we asked all sectors and sub-sectors in charge to set measurable and sustainable targets.

SHADA: What do you mean by strategic priorities in the context of a strategic plan?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: The strategic priorities are in fact the main areas of change that were needed to be made in the entire ministry. These were identified and introduced by the Strategic Management Centre (SAMA)*, studied by the Deputies’ Council of Advice and then endorsed by Dr. Tayyebnia.

SHADA: But where do these priorities come from? Are they aligned with other national strategic frameworks and higher-level documents?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: On the very first day of Dr. Tayyebnia’s term, we sent an eight-paragraph letter to all centres in charge asking them to inform us of the issues, challenges or any failed and/or unfinished projects they had been facing or participating in. A thorough analysis of their feedback was the first and most important factor for us to decide what to focus on more rigorously. The second source was the Charter for Establishment of Ministries of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The higher-level strategic documents such as Iran's 20-Year Economic Prospective (2005-2025); the 5th Five-Year Socio-Economic Development Plan (2010-2015); the General Policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran [a series of policy packages approved by Iran’s Expediency Council]; a number of expert reports in regard to the Finance Ministry’s performance management systems and the 5th Development Plan of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and some suggestions and recommendations we received from, for instance, Iran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines & Agriculture for performance improvement and management of Iran Tax Organisation (IRITO), the Customs Administration (IRICA) and Privatisation Organisation (IPO); also the guidelines and policies of President Rouhani’s administration of “Hope and Prudence” and those of the Finance Ministry, developed by Dr. Tayyebnia, and delivered to the Parliament shortly after the government took over made up the other important sources for our decision-making. These helped us to come to an overall understanding of the country’s economic situation. Based on this, we decided to proceed with four criteria in mind.

SHADA: What were those criteria?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: They were a) stability against external influences (time-invariant); b) tangibility for all the members of MEFA**; c) full compatibility with higher-level documents and pertinent obligations; and d) political feasibility. Altogether, these factors led to the final draft of these priorities.

SHADA: To talk about one of the most important of the seven priorities—the country’s poor national wealth creation capability and effective ways for its uplift—how did you fit in or mould a strategic priority into a quantitative scheme?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: Well, in a document that explains quantitative goals, we have established a set of guidelines for each affiliated department describing their responsibilities regarding each of the seven priorities. For example, in regard to the issue you just mentioned, all the related managers have been asked to provide a report on how their respective unit is doing to improve wealth creation and related policies.

SHADA: How about the planning horizon for the project? And how long will they be executable?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: We insisted since the beginning of the project that the content of the document be neither confidential nor gospel truth or something like that. One of the main problems with such documents is that they are often regarded as irreversible. We tried to make it clear that there will be the possibility of a revision or redefinition of the structure and content of the guidelines once every six months. It is a living and vibrant document with a dynamic structure, which will get a six-month update as ordered by Dr. Tayyebnia. The Minister also insisted that the goals should be set for a four-year term and pursue a dynamic and floating schedule, meaning that the goals set for the 1392-1396 (2013-2017) period would be revised by the end of the Iranian calendar year 1393 (March 20, 2015) for the upcoming four years (1397/2018). We also agreed and acknowledged that it would be published to all and was NOT confidential.

SHADA: Would you please tell us a little bit about the Strategic Management Centre (SAMA)? What are the functions and goals of this unit?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: The centre was established in an attempt towards the fulfilment of the primary goals of “convergence”, “alignment” and “synergy”. So, it is a simple, fast and efficient system designed for use by all levels and sectors of the Ministry of Economy for the more targeted, synergised and systematic performance of the organisation.

SHADA: To sum it up, do you have any other point to make?

LASHKAR BOLOUKI: Evolution requires learning and learning can only take place through [constructive] criticism. There needs to be something on the table to provoke criticism, however. And we are pleased we have taken the first step of this path by introducing the Strategic Economic Plan. We hope that the critical views and ideas of our colleagues would help us in the course of this evolution.

* A dedicated research centre at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance comprised of the Minister’s deputies, consultants and other top economic experts and officials, which is responsible for preparing, drafting, finalising and executing the strategic plans and guidelines of the Ministry of Economy. All the activities of the centre are carried out under the direct supervision of Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance.

** Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance