The need for decentralised governance

By: Raja Taimur Hassan

When you empower the local leaders, they come up with innovative local innovations and solutions. ILLUSTRATION: Raja Taimur Hassan

When you empower the local leaders, they come up with innovative local innovations and solutions. ILLUSTRATION: Raja Taimur Hassan

Islamabad: Today’s world is totally different from the twentieth century. The world has become transform. We have been witnessing the upsurge in the popularity of democracy around the world, the growing trend in urbanization, the increasingly interconnected world (globalization), and revolution of information and communication technologies (ICT). All these major transformations demand new patterns of government organization and more decentralize governance system.  We cannot run our modern day businesses with old practices.  We need to look at within new settings.

Many developing countries have already adapted to these transformations and have been successful in designing and implementing different aspects of decentralize governance systems in their own socio economic and political context. Some developing countries are about to join the race of develop world.

To make an understanding of decentralization, let’s have quick examples of successful practices from China, Indonesia and Brazil. You must be surprising that what is the connection of China (presidential form of government) with the decentralization (third tier of administration in democracy)? No need to surprise. Decentralization can have different shapes in different form of governments.

So, it is believe by economic experts that China’s remarkable economic growth and development is attributed to its ‘fiscal decentralization’ policy. Since 1980 and the early 1990, china implemented a series of reforms to decentralize its fiscal system, so as to provide more incentives for local government to promote economic growth. Indonesia (the largest Muslim majority country in the world), owing to months of political protests in 1998, adopted a comprehensive new ‘Big Bang Approach’ to decentralization. Under this approach, Indonesia divided into provinces, districts and municipal regions. All of among are autonomous. The central government administrative authority was all transferred to all levels, except for foreign and religious affairs, judiciary and defense, and monitory and fiscal policies. The resources were also clearly transferred from central to local government. And, Brazil innovation to growth and development are largely due to its creative decentralization policy which is called ‘Collaborative Governance’ between centre and local municipalities. Collaborative governance includes decentralization of fiscal and administrative capacity and there was ideological commitment to health policy at all levels.

Thus, the point is, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ formula for decentralization. Different countries can have different aspect of decentralization according to their own countries’ socio-political scenario.

However, a bona fide decentralization has three major components, which include deconstruction, delegations and devolution. Deconstruction is, when you setup a government office in a district. After creating a development authority, the next step is delegation of some powers to do a specific job. To exercise those powers, there is need of authority and clear provision of resources to the local level, which is called devolution.

A lot of countries claim that they decentralize their government, but in reality, they do not devolve the powers and resources to the local governments. Whereas, the fact is that we cannot have an effective and efficient democracy without genuine decentralization.

The question may arise in one’s mind that why a country needs decentralization?

The answer is that the people at local level want to take their decisions by their own and a real decentralization allows the people to decide their fate. Decentralization produces creative and good leadership. When you empower the local leaders, they come up with innovative local innovations and solutions. It increases the budget for development and reduces the corruption. Political devolution can have positive impact on the accountability of government and sustainability of democratic process. Moreover, it promotes public service delivery, increase political participation and spur the economic growth.

Pakistan has very interesting history of local governance. Pakistan has witnessed three local government systems since 1959. Every time attempts for decentralization made in the era of military governments, whether it was the time of General Ayub Khan Basic Democracies of 1959, the local bodies of General Zia-ul-Haq of 1979 or the devolution plan 2000 of General Musharaff. Military dictator’s love for local governments might be for getting larger public support to prolong their reign. However, all these attempts to decentralizing governance ended in failure, because of not clear devolution of powers and provision of resources.

The irony is that the local government system never flourished in political governments. This is perhaps due to fragile political conditions throughout 68 years of independence and dearth of political leadership. After colonial rule, we inherited strong bureaucratic institutions and weak representative institution, where public officials have limited role to play. After independence, a strong patron-client relationship between bureaucracy and military establishment also weaken the political institutions. Pakistan had almost 35 years of military dictatorship and bureaucracy ruled, where political parties dithered in Pakistan.

That is not all bad things happened, Pakistan have good stories too. 1973 constitution, 2009 National Finance Commission Award (NFC) and 18th constitutional amendment are some major landmark events which strengthen the democracy and federation. And this all happened during political governments. All these developments put the country on track and in the right direction. There are many lacunas in these developments but there are always rooms for improvement.

Further, first time in the political history of Pakistan, we had smooth political dispensation and transfer of power in May, 2013 general elections. This political stability has strengthened the democratic culture in Pakistan.

Now, Pakistan is heading towards achieving another millstone of holding local government elections, as a third tier of administration, throughout country by the end of this year, hopefully. Balochistan has taken the lead followed by Kheber Pakhtoonkhwa to hold the local body elections in Jan 2015 and May, 2015 respectively.

In a nut shell, this devolution, which should include full power, authority and resources at the local level, would definitely steer the country to next level of prosperity, growth and development. For that mobilizing political support and ownership at national level for strengthening the local government is need of the hour.

The writer is a public policy analyst and works at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad. He tweets @rajataimur786.

Note: The article is originally publish at Express Tribune.

About Social and Development log of Pakistan (SDLP)

Social and Development log of Pakistan (SDLP) is an attempt to highlights real public issues, which include social, economic and political issues, and complete policy analysis of that issues having experts opinion and analysis on it. SDLP will raise all public issues on the basis of facts and try to advocate at the highest forum which may influence the policy-makers and draw their attention towards the real problem. SDLP also welcomes contributions to our blog. For that you may send your queries/suggestions/articles etc at Twitter: or @taimur__ Facebook:
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