After the failure of three local government initiatives (1959, 1979 and 2001), Pakistan is on its way to experiment with another attempt at decentralization. The 18th Amendment and the Charter of Democracy have strengthened the demand for decentralization in Pakistan.With local government elections on the horizon, it is time to revisit the structure of local governance to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.
There are several reasons why Pakistan’s previous local governance models have failed – the concentration of power at the center, a lack of clarity in the division of responsibilities between various levels of government, lack of accountability, corruption, low community participation, and poor security conditions. That is why the basic goals of local governance, such as enhancing social service delivery and community involvement in governance, failed to actualize.
There are about 25 decentralized federal states in the world – about 40 percent of the world’s population – and there are many lessons Pakistan can learn from them. Being the closest to Pakistan, the Asia Pacific region can offer a number of lessons.
As a federation, Malaysia has been fairly successful in uniting various ethnic groups and public service delivery with its impressive economic growth. Local authorities act as service providers, revenue collectors, regulators, facilitators, negotiators and strategic integrators. However, these are appointed public officials as there are no local elections in Malaysia. Quality control is regulated by the central Ministry of Local Government. Such a regulatory authority may help keep checks and maintain uniformity of service delivery. Malaysia has independent, strong state governments which mirror the national system of governance except for the fact that the state parliaments are unicameral while the national parliament is bicameral.
In Myanmar, citizens’ representation on boards of health and education has made the delivery of these services more transparent. Thailand has addressed accountablity issues by setting up performance management and monitoring systems at local and central levels. Though in a nascent stage, these authorities provide quality and performance reports on service delivery. These reports are made public through various e-government portals to ensure community involvement and accountability.
In Malaysia, local authorities act as service providers, revenue collectors, regulators, facilitators, negotiators and strategic integrators
A fair representation of minorities and various ethnic groups helps strengthen the system and make it conflict aversive. Sri Lanka, as a multicultural, multiethnic and multilingual federation, is now trying through its provincial councils of the North and East to empower various ethnic groups in the provincial and local governments. Sri Lanka has also experimented with a number of approaches to address the development bias across the country with particular focus on rural areas. Decentralized but integrated planning and coordination can be found at different governance tiers. Policy formulation takes place at the provincial level and then implemented to the grassroots level through local government structures. Various coordinating bodies have been formed at the district, division and village level to support policy implementation. Creating such regulatory and coordinating bodies at every tier has implications on the modest finances of the country, but has helped place Sri Lanka in the High Development category in the 2013 UN Human Development Report.
Similarly, self-help organizations have played an important role in delivering services in coordination with the provincial and local governments. Such organizations have been involved in providing vocational training, basic health services, social overhead capital (sanitation facilities etc) and nursery education in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. Initiatives like that must be taken in Pakistan by inviting various civil society organizations to supplement the government in service delivery.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.