KARACHI: Devolution of power, its impact on development projects and distribution of funds were mainly discussed at a seminar held at the Area Study Centre for Europe, Karachi University, on Wednesday.
The seminar titled ‘Issues of Good Governance in South Asia under the Federal System: Devolution, Development and Democratisation, was organised by the ASCE with the collaboration of Hanns Siedel Foundation.
Critical of the powers given to nazims under the devolution process initiated during the Musharraf era, urban planner and researcher Arif Hasan said too much powers vested in the nazims was the main reason that there did not evolve any system of their accountability and no transparency of fund allocation. “The nazim took many decisions that were uninformed and did not take into account the suggestions provided by technical experts,” he said.
Giving the example of constructing signal-free corridors for which the nazims had particular gusto, he said this was because “they were taken to different countries by various funding agencies [where such road projects were constructed”.
In fact, he said, “the planners felt that signal-free roads were not needed and were a hindrance to the mass transit proposal projects”.
His other observation was that “all over Pakistan, at all levels, development was more unequal than it was when [departments dealing with the public] it was run by bureaucrats.” The nazims invested in those areas or biradaris to which they belonged and victimised those areas that didn’t vote for them, he explained.
Continuing with his assessment of the nazim’s powers, he said, they did not incorporate dialogue and would say that the people voted for them so they knew what they were doing.
Funds were another issue whereby its acquisition depended on the nazims’ and the provincial government’s relationship with the central government, he said.
However, some good things did come out of the devolution process, he said. “For instance, parks were constructed that benefited local neighbourhoods and some of the union councils changed because of the nazim’s involvement in public affairs.”
Mr Hasan was to speak on ‘Devolution in Federalism: Importance of Local Bodies’ but his talk revolved around his nearly 35 years of experience with the local bodies and his own involvement in federal and provincial projects. This came across as interesting and relevant because of the upcoming local bodies elections.
History professor Yaqoob Khan Bangash looked at devolution of power and the NFC award in the context of the Government of India Act, 1935, and the 18th Amendment.
According to him, the Act “provincialised India by devolving power” whereas the 18th Amendment is “mostly rhetoric and has created more confusion”.
He gave the example of electricity whereby the provinces could set up power plants but could not distribute it. “Only a federal government body could do the distribution.”
He also highlighted the mechanism under which revenue was collected under the Act. “The centre collected 55pc of all taxes and the provinces collected 45pc. Thus, the provinces had a huge revenue base that enabled them to finance most of their projects without the help of the central government.” Such self-sufficiency was not provided to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, he contended.
Giving a historical overview of the NFC award, he said, the distribution of money in the first NFC award was in favour of the provinces. But by the fourth NFC, “there was more centralisation”, he said.
About the criteria on which the NFC award was allocated to the provinces, he said, the earlier awards were all based on population but now other factors had been incorporated into its formula such as backwardness of the area, war on terror etc. Nevertheless, he argued that the new formula “doesn’t have a dramatic impact since the money allocation to the provinces have either marginally increased or decreased.” He said the provinces continued to crib about the NFC so much so that “an educated economist like Dr Ayesha Ghaus-Pasha [representing Punjab in the NFC deliberations] has said in an interview ‘how long will Punjab be expected to sacrifice?’”
Threats faced by autocrats
Economist Asif Iqbal’s presentation pertained to decentralisation for countering authoritarianism. The crux of it was “autocrats face two types of threats to their rule: those that emerge from within the ruling elite and those that come from outsiders within society. To neutralise threats from larger groups within the society and to solicit the cooperation of outsiders, autocrats frequently relied on nominally democratic institutions [local bodies]. They maintain institutions to solicit cooperation or to extend their tenure in power.”
Others who presented their papers at the seminar included Dr Mohammad Reza Kazimi on the ‘Historical evolution of federalism as a system of governance in South Asia’ and Sara Kazmi on ‘EU’s efforts to promote good governance in South Asia’.
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2015