## Tuesday, December 22, 2009

### Building the perfect GST

The 13th finance commission has released the report of the task force on the GST. Here are some responses:
There are three huge and complex projects which are afoot in India today, each of which is of critical importance in transforming the landscape. They are: the Goods and Services Tax (GST), the New Pension System (NPS) and the Unique Identification (UID).

A lot of what I know about pension economics comes from David Lindeman, and he often quoted Larry Thompson in saying that such reforms involve three dimensions of effort : policy, politics and administration. Each of the three has to work out right in order to obtain success. If any one of the three goes wrong, then the overall outcome is attenuated.

With the NPS, we have made enormous progress on the politics and policy, but are weak on implementation. The GST faces political difficulties and it is not clear that the policy thinking will be done right. But the moment these early stages are crossed, the brunt of the problem will become administration. With the UID, there seems to be political support (so far), and the challenges are of making the right moves on policy and administration.

Bringing Nandan Nilekani to run UIDAI is an important step forward because it shows a recognition that the administrative challenges of these systems are unlike business-as-usual in government. These are complex IT systems, and require a new kind of execution punch in terms of rolling out complex nationwide IT systems. Similar thinking needs to be brought to bear for NPS and GST also.

Till date, the best success of a large complex system of this nature is the TIN. That was a problem which was all administration - it did not involve complex problems of politics and policy. However, it has proved a certain model of how to get this done (by contracting-out to NSDL using a certain kind of contract structure).

On large complex IT systems and their impact on India, you might like to see: Improving governance using IT systems, page 122-148 in Documenting reforms: Case studies from India, edited by S. Narayan, Macmillan India, 2006.

Update (February 2011): IT strategy for GST.

LaTeX mathematics works. This means that if you want to say $10 you have to say \$10.