Devolution of power

The 18th Amendment is this parliament’s historic achievement. The federal cabinet has approved the devolution of the remaining seven ministries – among the 17 ministries to be devolved– under the third and final phase of the 18th Amendment devolution. Now one of its major promises, that of abolishing the Concurrent List, has been fulfilled. “It is for the first time in the country’s history that the federation has devolved its powers to the provinces to make them autonomous,” said Minister for Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan. From July 1, the provinces will be in charge while the federal government will control five subjects now, i.e. communications, defence, foreign affairs, finance and revenue. The government and all parliamentarians must be lauded for this achievement, especially 18th Amendment Implementation Commission Chairman Senator Raza Rabbani. Rabbani took on a tough task but was able to deliver. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has declared July 1 to be ‘Provincial Autonomy Day’ because back in 1970, General Yahya dissolved One Unit on this day. One Unit was a bid by West Pakistan’s ruling elite to counter the influence of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). It was a regressive and unfair policy.

July 1, 2011, will mark the end the federal government’s dominance over subjects that rightfully belong with the provinces. Now that the first step has been taken, there will be some problems on the way in implementation but that is to be expected whenever there is such a fundamental change in the structure of a system. Change is inherently an imperfect process. The government and the bureaucracy is accustomed to doing things a certain way. The provinces and their respective bureaucracies might make some mistakes since this will be terra incognita for them but with time and experience, these hindrances can be overcome. It is important for the federal and provincial governments to put their heads together for an implementation plan. Physical infrastructure is already largely present so it is not akin to reinventing the wheel. There should be some flexibility in this regard as some provinces might need more time to adapt to the new structure than other provinces where the bureaucracy is more experienced. It is important that the provinces get all the support from the federal government to make the devolution process successful.

Provincial autonomy was promised in the 1973 Constitution. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had promised to end the Concurrent List after 10 years of the implementation of the 1973 Constitution. Unfortunately, Mr Bhutto was hanged by the military dictator, General Ziaul Haq, through a judicial murder. The Concurrent List was not abolished by any government up until now. To see the 1973 Constitution return in a sense to the original intent of its framers is nothing less than a historic moment. Over the years, the smaller provinces have been demanding their just rights and provincial autonomy in a Punjab-dominated federation. Now that the 18th Amendment has finally secured considerable provincial autonomy, some of the genuine grievances of the smaller provinces will hopefully be addressed. There is still a long way to go so we should not be complacent. Pakistan is going through a tough phase on all fronts. We need collective wisdom to overcome the inevitable problems of implementation and make this historic restructuring of the state a success.

(my editorial in Daily Times)


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