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Functions, objectives and instruments of policy

13. It is useful to distinguish three rather different functions in relation to policies. Firstly there is policy making the act of making the decisions concerned, and policy-making is naturally the prerogative of senior people just how senior depending on the importance of the policy concerned. Secondly there is policy implementation - the executive activity of carrying out the decisions made. Thirdly there is policy analysis the activity of identifying different policy choices and of examining the actual or possible impact of these alternative policies to see how successfully they comply with the policies' objectives. Policy-making, policy implementation and policy analysis may all be carried out by the same people, but in countries wealthy enough to afford the trained manpower policy implementation and analysis are often carried out by specialist groups of middle-level officials who advise and receive instructions from the top-level policy makers. This paper is not substantially concerned with policy implementation.

14. Implicit in the concept of having or making a policy is that one has a choice or option to have this policy or some other one. If, in practice, there is no choice then there can be no policy either. But in considering options it is again useful to distinguish choices between the objectives of policy - including the objective of overcoming particular problems that have arisen - and choices between the different instruments, i.e. methods, by which these objectives are to be achieved. Objectives and instruments are conceptually distinct and both are integral to having a policy although some writers (e.g. Thomson and Rayner, 1984) restrict the scope of the term to policy instruments. Objectives and instruments are best explained by way of examples.

15. Let us take the example of policies with respect to dairy marketing systems, i.e. options between different ways of organising dairy marketing, in considering these options a government may be motivated by one or more of the following objectives:

a) To improve the incomes of dairy producers by paying them higher or more stable prices;
b) To secure plentiful and reliable milk supplies to urban consumers;
c) To provide milk supplies to urban consumers generally at prices they can afford;
d) To improve the hygiene and quality of dairy products.

These are not the only possible objectives of policy in respect to dairy marketing but they are among the most common.

16. In pursuit of these objectives a government has a wide variety of instruments that it can use. Some instruments can serve several objectives while others serve only one objective and may hinder others.

a) It can set up monopolistic dairy marketing organisations - private, cooperative, or parastatal ones - in order to:

i. Secure economies of scale in collection, processing and distribution,

ii. Operate monopolistic or monopsonistic trading practices which enable the trading organisation to discriminate in prices and quantities for or against particular groups of consumers, producers or products, and

iii. Achieve improvements in quality and hygiene through direct managerial control of processing, transport and storage.

b) It can license, inspect and regulate non-government and competitive trading organisations so as to ensure compliance with minimum standards as to price, hygiene and quality.

c) It can provide subsidies to producers or consumers or to particular groups thereof.

Again, this list of instruments is illustrative rather than all-inclusive. Objectives and instruments in dairy marketing are discussed in detail by Mbogoh (1984).

17. Policy makers can make choices with respect to both objectives and instruments. Such choices do not have to be totally exclusive, i.e. one does not have to pursue ruthlessly one objective to the neglect of all others. On the other hand, different objectives may and frequently do conflict. To take an example from dairy marketing, it is clearly difficult both to pay high prices to producers and to ensure low prices to urban consumers unless the government has substantial spare funds at its disposal with which to pay a heavy subsidy - a happy situation which very few if any governments in sub-Saharan Africa face. Thus although governments do not have to opt exclusively for just one objective it is important that they consider which of these objectives are the most important and how much of progress towards one objective they are prepared to sacrifice in order to make progress towards another. If policy makers can become clear in their minds about what their priorities are as between different policy objectives, it then becomes possible to select the set of instruments which most efficiently promotes those objectives. There are then, conceptually, two rather different sorts of choices to make. Firstly, choices about objectives; secondly, choices about which instruments to employ in order to pursue best those objectives.

18. This may seem obvious to the point of tedium. In practice, however, actual discussions Of Policy issues in developing and developed countries alike often fail to distinguish clearly between instruments and the objectives or the problems which a policy is supposed to solve. In the ensuing mental confusion special interest groups who have no real claim to priority on social, economic or even political grounds, but who are blessed with fluent spokesmen, are able to secure privileges for themselves which are costly to the nation as a whole and which a more clear-sighted approach to policy would have avoided granting.


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