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Provinces’ vital role

Updated August 16, 2018

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WITH the National Assembly and the provincial assemblies elected at the same time, much of the attention and scrutiny after a general election tends to focus on the National Assembly and the incoming federal government.

Yet, since the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, the provincial assemblies and governments are more important than ever to the delivery of a range of services to the citizenry.

From the critical sectors of public health and public education to women development, youth affairs and the environment, provincial assemblies and governments have an enormous number of responsibilities.

So, as the provincial assemblies are sworn in and provincial governments take shape, it is hoped that the elected representatives of the people at this level will bring fresh energy, purpose and direction to the execution of their constitutional responsibilities and obligations. The challenges are many and urgent improvements are needed in several areas.

Perhaps what the new provincial assemblies and governments should keep foremost in mind is the cynical lobbying by anti-democratic forces in the country to undermine and reverse the great achievements of the 18th Amendment.

The argument that the provinces are taking away too much money from the federal tier, where the centre’s priorities require greater resources than currently available, is a step in the direction of returning Pakistan to a top-down state where the people’s voices are drowned out by institutional concerns and demands.

To truly strengthen the provincial tier and further cement the legacy of the 18th Amendment, however, the provinces must look to their own patchy records this decade.

While some provinces have made progress in the public health and education sectors, it is clear that there are enormous service-delivery gaps that need to be filled. Pakistan will not make meaningful economic progress until all Pakistanis are healthier and better educated.

It is welcome that the PTI, PML-N and PPP all emphasised public health and education in their manifestos.

What the provincial tiers must also reject is a centralising tendency away from local governments. The PTI-led government in KP did enact a fairly comprehensive devolution of power to the local governments, but implementation has been uneven and slower than it ought to have been.

Meanwhile, Sindh and Punjab have local governments systems that are an affront to the constitutional imperative of devolution. Balochistan was the first province to hold LG elections, but there is a wholesale governance crisis in the province.

While the July 25 general election is controversial, it did partly demonstrate that where a government’s performance is unsatisfactory and a political alternative exists, the voter does prioritise change.

The PTI will likely form a government in three of the four provinces, but the PPP and PML-N remain formidable competitors. Five years is enough time for governments to demonstrate a commitment to genuine reform.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2018