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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Devolution and beyond

Dr Shahid Siddiqui

Since independence Pakistan has been mostly ruled by the such civil and military governments that were pro-centric in their approach and were not very keen to listening to the justified demands of the provinces. The 1971 war that led to the separation of East Pakistan and emergence of Bangladesh was not triggered instantly; rather it had a long history of a sense of deprivation by the people of East Pakistan. Similarly in 1955 West Pakistan all the provinces and states were bracketed together and were given the name of One Unit. This decision prompted a prolonged movement that successfully ended on 1 July 1970 when the provincial status of four federating units was restored after abolishing the one unit.

The provincial autonomy remained there as a popular demand and became an integral part of political discourse. Some major political parties of the country supported vociferously this demand. A concrete step towards this direction was when two major parties PPP and PML (N) signed the Charter of Democracy on 14th May 2006 that promised provincial autonomy. A committee, headed by Senator Mian Raza Rabbani, was formed in April 2009 for the constitutional reforms. The committee worked for about a year and, as a result of seventy seven meetings, prepared a comprehensive document. The 18th amendment was approved by the national assembly and the senate and was formally signed by the Presidents of Pakistan on 19th April, 2010.
Though drafting the 18th amendment was considered as an important achievement, and rightly so, but the real challenge was to implement the constitutional reforms. For this purpose an implementation commission was constituted that was headed by Mr Raza Rabbini. The eight- member multi party Implementation Commission, held fifty meetings ,i.e. at least one meeting a week to sort out the dynamics of devolution. Realizing the potential challenge of financial implications a committee was set up to look into the financial implications involved in the devolution process. The committee held six separate meetings. Four meetings of the Commission were presided over by the Prime Minister and in one all the chief ministers participated.

If we look at the performance of Implementation Commission the Commission has devolved ten ministries, nine selected functions of six federal ministries that fall under the abolished Concurrent list. It has been recommended to create a Capital Administration and Development Division after the approval of the Federal Cabinet. The National Economic Council has been notified according to new composition defined by the Constitution. The Federal Board of Revenue has been advised that no taxation proposal is made about a subject that is not included in the Federal Legislative List or was part of omitted Concurrent Legislative List. During its work the Commission ensured that any legislation, activity or function, if had to be retained in the federal government had to be supported from one or the other entry in the federal legislative list or any article of the Constitution

One genuine fear was that certain employees of devolved ministries might lose their jobs. This luckily didn’t happen as none of the employee was laid off or retrenched. Rather the employees of these ministries working in the main secretariats were adjusted in other federal ministries. The Election Commission of Pakistan was informed about the new mechanism of the appointments of the Commission members. After clause by clause review relevant offices and authorities were informed about necessary action. The good news for the provinces is that office buildings, furniture, fixture, equipment and transport in use of devolved ministries will be handed over to the provinces. Inventories of moveable and immovable assets are being maintained for this purpose.

The process of devolution cannot take place unless the bureaucracy is taken on board. The Commission, realizing the central role of bureaucracy, sensitized the civil servants on the consequences of the 18th Amendment at a meeting with the Federal secretaries. The hard work put into the drafting of 18th amendment and then implementation process met various hiccups but consensus lasted for almost two years. However, some recent developments are casting shadows on the future of this historic initiative. The first set back was the decision of PML (N) to pull out from the Commission. As a result Senator Ishaq Dar, who was chairman of the Implementation Commission, resigned. PML (N)’s pulling out could be significant as it is the ruling party in the largest province of Pakistan. The other political development that could have a negative effect on the working of Implementation commission is PML (Q)’s coalition with the People’s party. This development had a serious repercussion as Senator Raza Rabbani, under protest, resigned from the position of as Federal minister.

The Civil society and the thinking citizens of Pakistan are watching these developments closely and carefully. Will the implementation of the 18th Amendment be completed July 1, 2011? If it happens on the given date, it will coincide with the date of abolition of One Unit and restoration of provincial status to the federating units. In such case I July should be celebrated every year as provincial autonomy day.

The writer is Professor & Director of Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

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