Tuesday, November 22, 2011

AGAHI: DAWN Editorial: Devolution problems | Newspaper | DAWN.COM

AGAHI: DAWN Editorial: Devolution problems | Newspaper | DAWN.COM

Monday, November 21, 2011

DAWN Editorial: Devolution problems | Newspaper | DAWN.COM

Editorial: Devolution problems | Newspaper | DAWN.COM

Devolution problems

GIVEN that Pakistan has had a highly centralised governance structure since Independence, the devolution of power as envisaged by the 18th Amendment was bound to be a complex affair. This has proven to be true, for in the year and a half since the landmark legislation was passed, there have been teething problems, such as the absorption of employees of devolved departments.

The latest issue to crop up has been of the division of assets. As reported in this paper, the federal government and the provinces seem to be locked in a tussle over financial assets worth over Rs230bn along with physical assets belonging to the Workers` Welfare Fund and the Employees` Old-Age Benefit Institution. The issue has been raised in a confidential report authored by the finance ministry and USAID.
If this and other issues that may arise are to be resolved amicably between the centre and the provinces, it is important to revisit the spirit of the 18th Amendment. The legislation was passed with the consensus of all political parties in parliament, hence its guiding principles must be respected. Particularly, the moving spirit of the law — that of democratic participatory federalism — must not be lost sight of. And to realise such lofty goals it is essential to reconcile conflicting economic interests both among the federating units and between the provinces and Islamabad. The 18th Amendment very clearly states that the shares of the provinces in federal services, including autonomous bodies and corporations, must be given to them. Hence the funds mentioned above need to be transferred without hindrance. There has been criticism of the provinces lacking the capacity to handle devolved responsibilities. But then, in certain areas the federal government has just as poor a record where capacity is concerned. Therefore, capacity building is required at both levels and should be complementary, and must not be used as an excuse to withhold powers or funds.

Workers' Welfare Fund - 
the Cash Cow
We feel that a long-term mechanism is needed to resolve such issues. The implementation commission that was supposed to oversee the process of devolution was wrapped up in June. Until all outstanding issues are finalised and devolution is complete — which may be an open-ended process — an authority is required to resolve disputes over assets and other details. Parliament is perhaps the ideal forum to do this, as it was parliament which laid the groundwork for devolution. If the implementation commission cannot be revived perhaps the Council of Common Interests can be tasked with monitoring devolution. But for this the CCI will have to play a more active role, primarily by meeting at regular intervals.

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