SPDC report finds lacunas in devolution system

By Sabihuddin Ghausi

KARACHI, Jan 26: Introduction of the devolution process in 2001 has failed to empower the people of Pakistan, an analysis of characteristics of the district nazims conducted by the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC) shows. The influence of tribes, families and political affiliations still hold sway, the study said.

In its annual review report for 2006-07 entitled “Devolution and Human Development in Pakistan” launched on Saturday, the SPDC researchers’ team did observe certain positive features of the system, which were greater representation of marginalised groups, especially women. It, however, focuses on “state capture” by local elite, which remains an important and persistent challenge. “Although wider representation has been given to the under-privileged groups like women, real empowerment has been frustrated by election malpractices and elite capture at the local level,’’ the study observed.

“The political culture is still in the hands of local elite,” the report states while naming Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Jamal Khan Leghari, Fayaz Chatta, Farrukh Altaf, Ahmad Yar Hiraj and Abdul Rehman Kanju — scions of a few elite families of Punjab elected in 2001 and 2005 elections of local governments.

“It will take years to overcome and dismantle the deep-rooted power structure, whereby common people could be empowered to effectively influence decisions that affect their lives,’’ says the study, which is a candid commentary on Pakistan’s socio-economic and political scene. The SPDC is a private research organisation funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), which for the last several years has been coming out with annual review documents.

SPDC report makes a forceful plea for a second generation reforms of devolution to realise the full potential of decentralisation.

Local bodies elections in 2001 and then in 2005 were held on non-party basis but voters aware of the political affiliation of the nazims and naib nazims. “Both the government and political parties have violated the Election Commission’s instructions and openly supported their representatives,’’ observed the report, pointing out that the chief ministers of the four provinces openly worked for their candidates.

“Why did the political parties violate election rules?’’ The study asks a question. The answer is that a nazim has far more administrative and financial powers than a member of the National and Provincial Assemblies.

The basic question raised in the SPDC report was whether decentralisation had contributed to the human development through improvement in efficiency, promotion of equity, enhancement in people’s participation and thereby promoting people’s involvement in matters affecting the quality of their lives.

The report said local expenditure had grown fast since 2003-04 due to larger transfers arising from a faster economic growth and improvement in macro-economic conditions rather than any enhanced priority to local allocations. Expansion in outlays of basic services is beginning to contribute to improvement in some social indicators, it notes. But at the same time, the study also found a growing inequality in access to basic services among districts in Sindh and Punjab.

The share of local governments in provincial allocable pool of resources has fluctuated between 37 per cent and 39 per cent. “It appears that the priority attached by the provincial governments to allocations for local governments has declined somewhat during the last five years,’’ notes the SPDC study. Another feature observed by the study is that the provincial governments had handed over a number of major services to local governments and their share in public expenditure has remained unchanged at 23 percent.

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