The impediments to full provincial autonomy under the 18th Amendment need to be tackled despite the odds
By Raza Rumi
Perhaps the best thing about contemporary Pakistan is the way its governance arrangements are being restructured to undo the bitter, brutal legacy of centralisation. Had we undertaken such reform decades ago, Pakistan would have been a far better place. The 18th Amendment reflects a board political consensus on how Pakistan can actually evolve into a real federal state as opposed to the notional federalism of the past where provincial autonomy had become a residue of central patronage and not guaranteed by the Constitution.
Nevertheless, the devolution of powers in 2011 faces two major dilemmas. First, the provinces are currently operating as centralised bureaucratic apparatuses with little or no powers and accountabilities at the local levels. Second, and perhaps far more important, the provinces have to build their technical and political capacities to handle the new powers and functions, which are now flowing at an unprecedented speed. These two challenges are the real test of civilian governments and it remains to be seen if they can handle it lest another messiah or messiah-proxies enter the arena and reverse this process. Knowing Pakistan’s history, anything is possible. This is a country plagued by lack of political stability and policy continuity. We shall examine the pitfalls and challenges that lie ahead in this transitional process.
Progress so far: During the first two phases of the devolution, 10 of the 48 ministries at the federal level were to be devolved. The Committee set June 30th 2011 as the deadline for this process. Taking up these recommendations, the federal cabinet devolved ministries for special initiatives, Zakat and Ushr, population welfare, youth affairs, and local government and rural development to the provinces in December 2010. The provinces also inherited office buildings, equipment, development funds and projects for fiscal year 2010-11. All international matters of these ministries were transferred to the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) and some planning-related matters to the Planning and Development Division. However, overall planning of ministries that are being transferred or will be transferred in February 2011 will be the responsibility of provincial governments.
On April 5th, 2011 the second phase of the devolution process commenced, with the devolution of the ministries for education, social welfare, and special education, tourism, livestock and dairy, rural development and culture. According to reports, the Commission for Implementation of the 18th Amendment has also approved a plan for the transfer of three federal ministries, including sports, women development and environment, to the provinces in the third phase.
Unclear federal arrangements: While the centre has abolished ten ministries so far, there is a deadlock over the staff and resources. Provinces complain that they cannot pay the wage bill of surplus staff and centre has retained all the existing federal public servants, as any move to right size will be fraught with political dangers. Similarly, after June 2011, who will pay the staff? If the federal government continues to foot the salaries bill then it will not be able to rationalise its size and the temptation of recentralisation will remain. Secondly, the federal government’s move to shift attached bodies and autonomous organisations to Cabinet Division and such other dysfunctional ministries is even worse. There needs to be a more thorough assessment of post-devolution architecture of the central authority. It appears, with due respects to a great reformer, Raza Rabbani and his colleagues, patchy, ad-hoc and devoid of long term thinking. (more…)