Home Global Village Focusing on provincial governments and territories – I

Focusing on provincial governments and territories – I

Focusing on provincial governments and territories – I

Dr Omer Javed |

In a federation, the provincial governments and territories play a very important role in leading the overall development process of the country, especially in the case of Pakistan after the 18thamendment to the constitution. Apart from the four provinces — Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Balochistan, in terms of population, and where Punjab being the most populous — there are three territories (listed once again in order of most populous first): Gilgit-Baltistan (previously in 1970 made a separate administrative unit and named ‘Northern Areas’, but in 2009 granted limited autonomy and renamed as indicated above), Azad Jammu and Kashmir (nominally self-governing and administered by Pakistan), and Islamabad Capital Territory (the federal capital of the country).

The very extent of physical size of provinces/territories can be compared to countries, and in turn underlines the importance each holds, whereby in terms of size the biggest province Balochistan could be compared with Germany, the next being Punjab with Belarus, Sindh with Tajikistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with Iceland, and among territories the largest Gilgit-Baltistan with Sierra Leone, Azad Jammu and Kashmir with Montenegro, and Islamabad Capital Territory with Sao Tome and Principe.

There are good regulators or independent evaluation offices producing information with minimum time lags to inform people about the performance of both public servants and public office holders.

But are they performing like countries, especially those countries that have been performing exceedingly well for their people? Indeed not; at least not to my knowledge. There is a lot that has been left wanting when it comes to how provinces and territories have performed, and how little parliamentary debate and media discussion has taken place over the issues involved, and for reaching a good solution. It is mostly about the federal level may that be the economy, or politics, and may that be parliamentary debates or media discussions.

For example, the federal finance minister is generally talked about in matters of the economy, but what about provincial finance ministers; what has been the criterion of their selection beyond political expediency, and what has been their performance? Subsequent governments have fared miserably on this account, including the current one, and questions on similar lines could be raised about the selection of ministers in general at any level of the government.

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Media too remains quite silent in discussing such issues especially at the provincial level. There is indeed a lack of (a) good decision making by governments in selecting its team, and (b) voice being provided by media to discuss issues facing the provinces, and this also means contributing to a lack of accountability. Let’s dig further to try to understand the issues and realities lying behind this glass wall of political and media indifference towards provinces, and also created by provincial governments themselves.

To start from the top, the provincial chief ministers hardly ever present themselves (or did present in the past as far as I know) for any sort of periodic question hour session in parliament. The other top positions like the cabinet ministers at the provincial level, the provincial chairmen of planning and development departments, or this department’s chief economist are almost never seen appearing in front of any parliamentary committee to explain the performance of their respective domains of responsibility.

In a federation, the provincial governments and territories play a very important role in leading the overall development process of the country, especially in the case of Pakistan after the 18thamendment to the constitution.

They almost never hold media briefings or for that matter not even are virtually ever called upon by media (print or electronic) to talk about the short, medium or long term plans with regard to outlining the objectives, how to achieve them, and how they have been performing in this regard. The federal governments want to empower the electorate by strengthening the local governments, but how can they be made more informed as voters to make the right choice in voting during elections, or to hold public office holders more accountable during their tenure, when there is not much scrutiny taking place at the provincial level.

It is not like at the same time, that there are good regulators or independent evaluation offices producing information with minimum time lags to inform people about the performance of both public servants and public office holders. Moreover, why doesn’t the media raise voice on these issues; is ratings all, and that too on the built up appetite of public over years of reporting by media on issues of macroeconomics and macro-politics.

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Why is the public not taken off of this view that they have been made to see from the top of the mountain, and not taken into the performance details down in the open, where the issues are in daily life? Somehow there has been a lack of accountability at the level of the provincial and local tiers of the government.

There seems to be an unholy alliance between media and politicians, which allows each other to scratch each others’ backs, and the mostly docile and somewhat less educated electorate overall are kept happy through a smoke screen sort of discussions on media, with no real depth and purpose to highlight the issues in detail; so that everyone is happy at the cost of electorate. Isn’t this a classic example of ‘manufactured consent’ at the back of well-refined propaganda techniques? Indeed it is.

At the provincial levels there is not much talk with regard to (a) how well are the institutions and organisations are working, (b) the extent to which the markets are performing, (c) the performance of the above three entities at the level of districts, and tehsils for that matter, including in terms of law and order, (d) the extent of contribution of chambers of commerce at the district level towards enhancing business activities and safeguarding the interests of labour and investors, (e) the performance of the chairmen and chief economists of planning and development departments, and (f) the extent and depth of listings of stock markets at the district level.

The federal governments want to empower the electorate by strengthening the local governments, but how can they be made more informed as voters to make the right choice in voting during election.

I have yet to see a government at the federal or the provincial levels that took up the task of discussing the issues at the provincial, and thereafter to the extent of district and tehsil levels. Any IMF programme will not work if our institutions, organisations, markets, accountability, and judicial system are not working properly, because programme implementation assumes well functioning systems to deliver on conditionalities.

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At the same time, for example, State (or central) Bank policy to control inflation through contractionary monetary policy will only be limited if fiscal issues of markets are not fixed. For that matter, any policy envisaged at the federal or provincial level will not work if the ‘apparatus’ — in the shape of institutions and organisations — on the ground is not in good shape to perform, and is not well incentivised and regulated.

Where is that ground plan? Did the current government do no such homework in this regard as a preparation towards taking quick decision in the case of coming into power? The clock is ticking, and the sound it makes is the cries of the majority in misery. Yet parliaments at federal and provincial levels, and among media discussion hours (and that too many) are filled with voices of less important issues; with no justification over the huge amount of time they are receiving.

(To be continued…)

Omer Javed holds Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Barcelona, Spain. A
former economist at International Monetary Fund, he is the author of Springer published
book (2016), ‘The economic impact of International Monetary Fund programmes:
institutional quality, macroeconomic stabilization, and economic growth’. This article was first published in Pakistan Today and has been republished with author’s permission. He tweets at @omerjaved7. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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