THE DEVOLUTION PROGRAMME
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.No clear cut boundary lines have been drawn on the playing field
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By SHAMIM AHMAD RIZVI,
 Islamabad

Sep 13 - 19, 2004
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The devolution programme as envisaged in the Local Bodies Ordinance, 2001 has not only failed to accomplish the goals it set out to achieve, but has, on the contrary, created so much confusion that it has adversely affected the administration in the four provinces.

The ordinance conceiving the new district government was enforced on August 14, 2001 with big fanfare and the than chief executive General Musharraf boastfully claimed that it would change the face of centuries-old district administration system and would bring the police and bureaucracy under the elected city furthers. The National Reconstruct Bureau (NRB) with General Naqvi as its head and present chief of NRB, MNA and Minister of State, Danyial Aziz, as his adviser, had prepared the Local Government Ordinance 2001 after months of deliberations and consultations. The last phase concerning the district government was completed when polls for Nazim and Deputy Nazims were held in August, 2001. The first setback to the system came when, contrary to the expectations of the autors, it failed to bring new faces expected to introduce clean policies at Local Bodies level. Majority of the people who were elected belonged to the same old class. The pride project of Musharraf government which aimed at creating new leadership in the country could not achieve the desired result.

Its biggest drawback is that it is full of internal contradictions. These have, in fact, left the Local Government Ordinance of 2001 open to various, often conflicting inter-pretations which have made its implementation exceedingly difficult. No clear cut boundary lines have been drawn on the playing field, which could delineate the relationship between the mayor known as the nazim and the bureaucratic head of a district who represents the centre, referred to in bureaucratic jargon as the DCO. And even though the ordinance has officially designated the mayor as the chief executive of the district government, to be assisted by the DCO, the latter has on many occasions ignored the former and struck out on his own.

The main stated objectives of the plan were: political devolution, administrative decentralization and the redistribution of resources to local governments. The basis issue, in the words of the president, was to "empower the impoverished, and to make the people the master of their own district". The President speech contained a few more platitudes about waiting to introduce "the essence of democracy" and not sham democracy which promotes the interests of the privileged. Devolution was going to provide the panacea, the grail on the marsh that everybody has been waiting for, "and would change the fate of the country", he had claimed.

Unfortunately, none of this has happened. The rich are still getting richer, the people are still impoverished and in the process the sham democracy which has evolved has turned the military into a fountainhead of wisdom and enlightenment. Worse still, some of the nazims have been instrumental in systematically destroying the system.

A one-day orientation workshop for district nazims was held in Islamabad last week which was attended by 35 district Nazims and almost all of them were critical that the system was not working. They were of unanimous conclusion that after more than 2 years of its introduction, the Local Government System is yet to produce the desired result and overcome the very basic problems at the gross roots level. There are inadequacies in the system due to political divides and funds are released to the Citizen Community Boards (CCBs) on the basis of liking and disliking, District Coordination Officer (DCO) of Dera Ghazi Khan Shaukat Ranjha said.

District Nazim of Dera Ghazi Khan Sardar Jamal Leghari said, "Officials of CCBs are being allured by the government departments to be part of corruption mafia through over-invoicing of the projects. If so happens, the district nazim should not be held responsible for this embezzlement, he said at a one-day orientation workshop for district nazims on formation of CCBs organized by the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD).

Nazims from at least 35 districts attended the workshop and all of them believed that the over-invoicing of the projects was being done because of absence of "strict check and balance apparatus." Contrary to the federal government's claims, they pointed out, the powers had not yet been transferred to them in real terms and provincial governments by-passed the district nazims while transferring the officials. "About 42 officers have been transferred in my district but nobody bothered even to consult me, Sardar Jamal Leghari said.

The local government representatives were of the view that their inability to deliver and solve problems of the people had led to acrimony and pessimism, with many questioning the whole process of devolution of power. While pro-government nazims are able to execute plans and projects, thanks to cooperation from the government and the bureaucracy, those who are opposed to the government are given short shrift. Their powers are curtailed and they face problems in their interactions with government officials, policemen and other key administrative personnel.

The Local Government Plan is not a new idea. Military dictators in Pakistan have used it to considerable advantage in the past, primarily as a weapon against traditional political adversaries and the well organized civil service, the last vestige of a colonial past. It has a wonderful psycholocal appeal to members of the urban proletariat and to those members of the public who are more affluent but still outside the ambit of political party influence. It also conveys the impression that the man at the helm of affairs is trying to replace a system which is corrupt, which hasn't worked and is unworkable.

In essence, it institutes lower tiers of government as a substitute for democratization at the provincial and national levels. In one sense, however, President Musharraf's plan could be regarded as advancement in administrative rectitude because it promised to vest vast political and administrative authority in the nazims by providing substantial federal and provincial grants to enable them to fulfill their objectives.

 

 

The local government experiment has been closely observed by public sector organizations in Europe and Asia. But the most incisive and subject is the one prepared by the International Crisis Group and released on March 22. There is evidence of deep investigative research and scholarship. The volume is bristling with analyses and ideas which if adopted might be able to put the derailed wagon back on the rails. ICG in its executive summary has made a number of recommendations to the government of Pakistan and to the international financial institutions and key donor governments which, if implemented, would certainly make the plan meaningful and workable.

Devolution, in fact, has proved to be a thin cover for further centralization of powers down to the lower levels of government. Despite the rhetoric from Islamabad of empowerment, local governments have only nominal powers. The point is that devolution from the centre directly to the local levels negates the normal concept of decentralization, which requires powers to be transferred to the four provinces in the first instance and from there further downwards. There are those who argue that the new local governments were instituted to create a pliant political class that will be supportive of the military's dominant role in politics and try to neutralize its traditional civilian adversaries. Despite the many contradictions and anomalies affecting its working, the devolution plan continues to be viewed by Islamabad as a key instrument of good governance. But if Pakistan's political history is any pointer, the question of devolution cannot be addressed in isolation from the more fundamental issue of provincial autonomy.