Pakistan has been operating with a semi-centralized system of power. This means that a majority of power and authority lies with the Center. While our government is decentralized to the extent that provincial governments have been given autonomy as well as a tri-level distribution down into districts, tehsils and union councils. However, this division has proven to be insufficient.
Over the decades, this has become a source of mistrust and disagreement between the public and the government. Many political leaders have expressed support for complete decentralization of power.
The World Bank defines decentralization as “the transfer of authority and responsibility for public functions from the central government to a subordinate or seemingly independent government organizations and/or the private sector”. Being a multifaceted concept, decentralization has been classified into four types: Political decentralization, administrative decentralization, fiscal decentralization and economic or market decentralization. In this context, we’re referring to administrative and fiscal decentralization. This refers to the redistribution of authority, responsibility and financial resources among different levels of government for providing public services.
According to another World Bank document, while Pakistan’s approach to decentralization has been proactive and extensive, the decentralization of financial and administrative framework still requires work. This includes the improvement of the system of fiscal transfer from federal to local governments, strengthening funding for local governments as well as ensuring equalization between federal and provincial transfers of funding. Lastly but most importantly, the World Bank states that decision-making powers need to be transferred to local governments.
These suggestions apply especially to Balochistan as well because good governance is of the utmost significance to improve the overall conditions in the province. According to statements by the present government, institutions in Balochistan have always failed to function properly. Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan has expressed his support for a more decentralized system of government on multiple occasions. He has said that it is paramount to good governance that governments down to the Union Council level be empowered and accredited so that development and law and order is more attainable to the public.
An example of a successfully functioning decentralized government is Canada. Even though, Canada has also been faced with an issue similar to ours; while they have established local governments, they still need to work on an equitable distribution of responsibility and finances. Granted, that there are many other factors that make Canada a successful government, including a better financial and economic state as well as it being a much more developed state.
When it comes to applying the concept in Balochistan it’s important to understand why it is a better system of government than the present one. According to a paper presented at the 2nd International Conference on Decentralization, it helps accommodate economic, cultural and linguistic differences. In a region as ethnically diverse as Balochistan, this approach would help create a balance in nation-building while giving each community the autonomy to manage its own affairs. It will also help lessen the economic disparity.
For this to be a beneficial endeavour, local governments need to be empowered and funded, within means. However, on the other hand, it is a long and painstaking process because it would also involve educating members of local governments of their responsibilities as well as putting an evaluation system in place to ensure the public’s needs are being met.
Member of Opposition Mr. Sanaullah Baloch said in an interview to Voice of Balochistan that centralization is a culture, not a system. This suggests that, despite there already being a framework in place, it would take time to break the centralized culture and create a new normal for the provincial and local governments.
Balochistan is a culturally and ethnically diverse province. Often this diversity becomes cause for conflict. However, when each district is given the freedom and autonomy to manage their affairs as they please, within the constitution, instead of widening the divide it could help lessen it.
Once in place, a decentralized system would make sure that development actually benefits its intended beneficiaries because it would start at the grassroots. When people feel like they have control over their own circumstances, they will feel like they’re being given their full rights by the government and will eventually come to trust it. The process is already underway, it is now a matter for how much and how quickly we adapt to it.