PM’s adviser praises 18th Amendment, advocates powers for LGs

Updated April 21, 2019

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Dr Ishrat Husain speaks at IBA on Saturday.—White Star
Dr Ishrat Husain speaks at IBA on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: Abandoning the 18th Amendment is propaganda based on misinformation. But it is an incomplete devolution; complete devolution will be when powers are given to local governments.

This was said at IBA on Saturday by Dr Ishrat Husain, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity, while answering a question put to him by a member of the audience after his conversation with Dr Farrukh Iqbal, executive director of IBA Karachi, about the book The Economy of Modern Sindh authored by Dr Husain with Aijaz A. Qureshi and Nadeem Hussain.

Dr Iqbal first underlined a lesser known fact about the author. He said Dr Husain grew up in Hyderabad and obtained his initial degrees from the province. He said the book that they’re going to discuss was both depressing and hopeful. Depressing, because it outlines how a province with high potential lost its way; hopeful, because it suggests a path to a more prosperous future. He then asked one of the four questions that he wanted to ask, which was about Sindh’s relative income positions within Pakistan that declined over time.

Dr Husain said he’d like to begin by acknowledging the work put in by his co-authors Aijaz A. Qureshi and Nadeem Hussain for researching the subject and collecting data. His job was to analyse the data and write chapters. He pointed out that the challenge was to find common themes for three major audiences. The first one was the students of economics; second, policymakers; and third, young researchers looking for consistent data sets.

The Economy of Modern Sindh discussed

Replying to Dr Iqbal’s question, Dr Husain said Sindh’s economy is divided into two parts: urban and rural. There is another bifurcation of irrigational and non-irrigational areas. The averages do not show the total picture. Then there is a [social] differential of urban male and rural female: a wide gap exists between their education and labour force participation. The productivity in rural areas has been declining. Fifty-two per cent of the population of Sindh lives in urban areas, where there is higher productivity which leads to a higher per capita growth. Since the 1990s the agriculture growth rate has gone down which is why 48 per cent of the population is not earning as much as it should.

On the subject of rural economy, Dr Husain, referring to the political economy of water in the province, highlighted the problem of the power of the feudal landlord to appoint the thanedars, irrigation engineers, teachers and deputy commissioners of their own choice. Those who oppose them are either harassed by government officials or put behind bars.

On urban economy with a focus on Karachi, Dr Husain said he believes in devolution and decentralisation. People at grassroots level are the best judge of what they need and they do it in a cost-effective manner. He gave the example of some councillors he saw at Shikarpur who impressed him with their wisdom and then appreciated the work put in by former mayors of Karachi Niamatullah Khan and Mustafa Kamal for rendering services to the city for creating the infrastructure it needed. What we have done now, he argued, is that we have centralised the Karachi Development Authority, the Malir Development Authority, the Sindh Building Control Authority etc. These are the instrument of development that should remain with the local governments. We should trust the communities to empower urban and rural areas. Urban communities can generate their own revenue.

On Dr Iqbal’s fourth and final point about the fact that the health and education expenditure has increased but the outcomes have shown little improvement, Dr Husain said it is the failure of our institutions. It is the result of recruitment of policemen and teachers not on merit but on patronage.

He gave the example of a teachers’ protest outside the Karachi Press Club that he saw where when a reporter asked one of the teachers who teaches English to spell the word ‘secondary’, he couldn’t spell it. Things, however, have been improving for the last two to three years, and he lauded the chief minister of Sindh who has ensured that the recruitment of teachers is done through a test.

After the conversation, the audience was allowed to put questions to Dr Husain. Responding to a query, he said abandoning the 18th Amendment is propaganda based on misinformation. The amendment is a good thing. But it is incomplete devolution. It will be complete when the powers are given to the local governments.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2019