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Provision of social services stressed

May 16, 2004

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ISLAMABAD: Shoaib Sultan Khan is among the pioneers of participatory rural development in Pakistan. Winner of the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership , he has strong views on the complementary nature of government and voluntary organizations in bringing development to the people.

As general manager of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in 1982, he designed a framework for socio-economic development in the Northern Areas. The need was to reorient the government to adopt pro-poor planning. Previously, the government had had reservations about collaborating with NGOs because of the geographical limitations restricting their scale of activities.

When Shoaib Sultan launched his community-based development model, one of the challenges was to demonstrate to the government that public-private partnership could prove to be more effective in achieving development goals through popular empowerment.

He believes community leaders are the fulcrum on which rests the success of rural support programmes. The first step is to identify and build genuine leadership at the grass-roots level. Locals select an honest and dedicated leader from amongst themselves. They decide which projects figure highest on their priority list and undertake responsibility for their execution. On these conditions, the support organization provides financial and technical assistance.

The World Bank in its evaluation of the AKRSP verified that incomes had doubled over the first decade of the programme in the Northern Areas, outstripping the south. In appreciation of the alternative development paradigm, the government created the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP) in 1992, to replicate the model on a nation-wide basis. However, after allotting an endowment fund of $20 million, it conveniently forgot all about it.

Mr Khan said: "While the government wins laurels for its planning prowess, it suffers from a lack of credibility because of inadequate implementation."

Every government wants to initiate its own schemes. "A continuation of previous projects is synonymous with stripping yourself of the credit," he said. "They don't realize that they will get credit for their accomplishments." A myopic vision, short-term political gain and vested interests characterize governments.

MNAs are allotted development funds amounting to Rs10 million each. But a single constituency may comprise of 600,000 individuals. Keeping in touch with shifting priorities itself poses a challenge and they have to rely on their henchmen or village notables, who may drive their own agendas. Despite the fact that government presence in the health and education sectors spawns the country, service delivery is poor and engenders little confidence in the people it is meant to serve.

After 25 years in government service, Mr Khan is of the view that there is a 'manufacturing defect' in the administrative machinery due to which development planning is blind to the reality on ground. Uniform models are superimposed irrespective of local culture and conditions. Bureaucrats cocooned in their offices are unaware of people's problems and priorities. Due to lack of accountability, resources are inefficiently utilized, defeating their purpose. He quotes Akhtar Hameed Khan, "It is not a question of money, it is a question of morals."

However, Mr Khan concedes that the government allots low priority to social sector development even today as reflected in budgetary allocations. If NGOs had not been active in social development, despite the very limited scale on which they operate (most being localized community-based organizations), the poverty line in Pakistan might have been even more sharply defined. "The government cannot supplant NGOs, because of the scale and scope of development needs," said Mr Khan. NGOs are more innovative in their approach, and succeed in creating solutions to problems that elude government departments.

Organized communities are pivotal to development. Success stories in areas previously deficient in social services can be directly attributed to organization, management and accountability by the community itself. "You can get extra mileage from the rupee when you involve the people because they know their territory best," he added.

The local government system is a step in the right direction. "You have to empower the people if they are to help themselves," he concluded. Another important aspect of the devolution plan is representative participation. MoUs have been signed for the creation of community citizen boards in this regard.

Ingeborg Breines, Unesco director in Islamabad, reflecting on the government's role in development vis-a-vis the NGOs, says that provision of social services is the government's responsibility. With respect to education, the state has to ensure a core curriculum, high quality teacher training and a uniform evaluation system across the nation. Irrespective of geographical location, children should get the same education.

The UN is a governmental body, but in its recent common country assessment to prioritize social services, civil society organizations were taken on board along with the respective governments in recognition of the importance of their role in development. "On an index of one to 100, I would rate the NGOs' contribution to development in Pakistan at 30 to 40 per cent," Ms Breines said.

The government needs to focus on authentic data collection and analysis, the links between social sciences research and policy-making being very weak at present. These need to be strengthened if the policies are to be relevant for the people they are designed for. Too many policies are made on assumptions.

Currently, 2.5 per cent of GDP is allocated to education, but this should be quadrupled, if illiteracy is to be tackled head on. The right to free compulsory primary education is guaranteed in the Constitution. Education is at the core of development. "All other services are dependent on it as the research on the quality of life of educated mothers' families illustrates," Ms Breines added.