. .

Politics & Policy
The devolution of power plan





Politics & Policy

The Chief Executive will announce the devolution plan on Aug.14

Aug 14 - 20, 2000

Perhaps no decision taken by the present government during its tenure of about 10 months has been so widely criticised by people of all shades of opinion including those sympathetic to this regime, as its plan for devolution of power. All parties conference in Lahore on Sunday - participated by over three dozen political and religious parties including all the major political groups in the country like PPP, PML, Jamaat-I-Islami, ANP - totally rejected the devolution plan - while those outside the conference described the idea of district government as unworkable, half backed, practically impossible, too ambitious and too costly a system which the country cannot afford.

The plan for devolution of power and responsibility with comprehensive police and administrative infrastructure was approved at a joint meeting of the National Security Council and the Federal Cabinet held in Islamabad on Saturday with the Chief Executive, Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the Chair. It was decided to make police service of Pakistan(PSP) and District Management Group (DMG) subservient to the district government to be established under the devolution of power plan.

It however, brought some relief that the present government agreed to accommodate some of the major suggestions made by general public during extensive debate on the plan during the last 4 months. A public debate had ensued in the country, ever since the plan was revealed by the Chief Executive last March 23. A lot of men of opinion including intellectuals, bureaucrats and politicians have evinced keen interest in the plan, who had put forth valuable proposals for improvement of the proposed system sought to be introduced by the government for introduction of true democracy in the country. Not only has the government reduced the female representation from 50 per cent to 33 per cent, but has also decided to place the police and bureaucracy under the district governments to make them accessible to the public. Many basic questions, however, such as financing of over 107 district assemblies of 60 members each, their control and relationship with provincial governments, availability of suitable candidate to run the district governments and the extent of administrative and financial powers to be given to them and many other such questions remained unanswered.

The Chief Executive will announce the devolution (or district government) plan on Aug.14. At the joint meeting of the National Security Council, cabinet and the junta, he paid tribute to the National Reconstruction Bureau for the excellent plan it had produced that was a signal to the large assemblage not to pick flaws nor raise-many questions.

Gen Tanvir Naqvi has indeed worked hard in preparing the plan but, at the same time, he has been most casual in dismissing all suggestions made to make it practicable. The political leaders, intellectuals and experts and, above all, ordinary folks were both critical and generous in making suggestions in the fora organized by the media, NGOs and the bureau itself. Gen Naqvi listened to them all with remarkable patience but marked apathy. It seemed he had either his own fixed ideas or the mandate given to him was inflexible.

Thus while the bureau established a good precedent in throwing the plan open to extended public debate (contrast it with the constitutional amendments rammed through parliament in hours by the Nawaz Sharif government and signed by an obliging president in minutes in his tribal-home retreat) it has set an equally sorry precedent by rejecting or ignoring most of suggestions emerging out of that debate. The political leaders thus remain as hostile and administrative experts as skeptical as they were at the start.

It so appears that the storm of criticism has not hit the planners of the district government. The common thread running through this criticism is that, though grassroots democracy is an unquestionable concept and the ideal to aim for, the NRB's quest is too fast and goes too far.

Secondly, that it is doing so without considering the complex and varying socio-cultural milieu of the country. This has caused previous democratic experiments - at the local, provincial and national levels - to falter, and, in defiance of the democratic logic, thrown up an unscrupulous coterie of power wielders after each election. The NRB, thus, appears bent upon changing the system without changing the reality in which it has to operate in the unconvincing hope of simultaneously creating an ideal environment for it.

According to independent experts, not opposed to the present government, the concept of governance at the grass roots level is workable in its present form in the advanced and highly developed countries, where the literacy rate is very high, coupled with the tolerant temperament as viewed against highly volatile and emotional temperament of this region. It is felt that following snags and bottlenecks are likely to fail the envisaged devolution of power at the grass roots level which unfortunately, if it happens, may, in turn, have very serious implications for the country as a whole and in particular for the Army, which is the last bastion of power and the unifying and preserving force for the maintenance of the integrity of the country.

a) A Provincial Assembly in hibernation, once resurrected and finding itself stripped off major chunk of powers and departments transferred down to the newly created third tier of executive command, may one day strike back and destrip the District Assembly with one stroke of pen, while the military government is off the scene by that time; thereby, rendering the whole exercise redundant.

b) Handing over of 14 subjects/departments to the District Administration right at the outset may be asking too much at that level. Would it really be possible for the District Assembly to arrange that much funds at their level to sustain and maintain all these departments. Won't it be more pragmatic to initially hand over few (50% of the presently envisaged subjects) very basic and essentially related subjects to learn handling and management of these without making a mess of the whole and leaving the remaining subjects for the Provincial Assembly so that it doesn't feel deprived of all major powers.

c) Would it really be possible for women to vie even 33 seats in the face of open competition, unless womenfolk vote for women only? Apart, granting of 50% quota now decreased to 33% right at the outset seeing the educational levels and social inhibitions, it would rather be advisable to have maximum of 25% seats initially, which could be increased with the passage of time and crystallisation of the system,

d) Election of Chief and Deputy Chief Mayors by a direct vote has great inherent dangers of old drug runners, smugglers and Jagirdars making inroads into power corridors again by purchasing the vote through the ill-gotten amassed wealth, especially in all major cities of the country where an investment of minimal of crore of rupees is required to secure these seats. Securing this seat is only a moneyed game and is totally out of the reach and scope of an honest, respectable and an educated clean man. This situation can, however, be blunted to an extent by electing the Chief and Deputy Chief Mayors through an indirect vote. Apart, it should be made mandatory for these two key position holders to be cleared through the NAB, CBR, State Bank of Pakistan and the Security Exchange to obtain a chit of cleanliness prior to taking the oath of their offices.

e) Removal of the Chief and the Deputy Chief Mayors through a 2/3rd majority of vote of no confidence is appropriate only to an extent, while its ratification by 50% of all District Councils making it mandatory would be rather counterproductive and disruptive in view of their divergence in character and invite chaos.

f) The basic snag in all elections and nominations would continue to be revolving around bradarism, wherein the jagirdars either directly or indirectly through their protégés would still be holding the strings of their puppets and a reign of terror, persecution and injustice is likely to persist with more vehemence, unless the corrupt mafia is completely wiped out by that time, which is not possible within the given frame of time.

g) No matter the elections of local bodies are envisioned on non-party basis, the party politics would certainly come into play. One apprehends confusion and conflict of interests when the representatives of local government would be playing the politics of their sponsoring party and the MNAs/ MPAs at the centre and the Provinces belonging to another party exerting their vested and vicious pressures.

At the end, it may not be lost sight of that redistribution of powers between the Federation and the Provinces needs constitutional amendments which, in turn entails a national consensus through a representative assembly and no bulldozing since it would thus be drawing grave implications and resultant national impasse. It is therefore, suggested that unless there is a constitutional guarantee for this system to continue for at least 8-10 years to get the devolved power deep routed, this exercise is not likely to pay the envisaged dividends. Under the circumstances and the time frame granted by the Supreme Court it is therefore, suggested, in all sincerity, that instead of vying for the above mentioned exercise, the need of the hour is to change the thinking and attitudes of the rulers and the ruled.