By Yasmeen Ali
Looking into the very concept of decentralization, history proves, this has been a popular concept, well applied by earlier civilizations.
As early as 200 B.C., the Greeks found city states as more democratically manageable and administratively effective. An example in the recent past is the breaking away of the states from the USSR. In the context of families, we are witness to the movement from the large to nuclear families.
In a decentralized system, there is no single centralized authority that makes decisions on behalf of the provinces. Instead local representatives, make local autonomous decisions towards achievement of its local goals aimed to culminate into national good.
It is a fact that the administrative units in Pakistan (the 4 provinces besides FATA), are too large to be managed efficiently. There is a huge disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. Try seeking an audience with the MNA or the MPA of your area without a facilitator and you will learn to your sorrow that it is not possible. His constituency is too large for him to attend to individual problems. Further, the impact of steps taken by the government hardly trickles down to the grassroots level. The participation of locals in development efforts is minimal. Priorities of the central government in addressing issues of the people are more often than not, way out of sync with the actual ground realities, to say the least.
The grievances of the people are genuine. For the common man, there are hardly any affordable health facilities, inflation has sky rocketed, education that even if they can afford, offers, few lucrative job opportunities owing to the plum jobs going to the degree holders from the elite institutions, power breakdowns, problems with availing other basic amenities of life, lack of any constructive and positive avenues of entertainment and promotion of healthy activities for the youth like games, population explosion, the list is long and unending. When the leadership leans heavily towards promoting “favorites” and denies equal opportunities, people’s frustration will find a channel to vent itself. This will invariably be negative. We have seen its negative impact in the form of militancy. It can also manifest itself in demands seen as a panacea for their all ills. Like the quest for more provinces.
Distribution of funds and their allocation to different account heads, so the benefits accrue to the locals, is absolutely decisive. More often than not, we see that funds are purportedly used, without a visible indicator of them being used as claimed, or, not to the degree publicized. This creates further disenchantment amongst the people and erodes the feeling of nationhood, sinking us even further and deeply into the black hole of ethnicity.
As a result of genuine need felt, political expediency, or serving of vested interests, on various different occasions, there have been voices raised, in favor of more provinces. There was a demand for Seraiki Province. This was followed by one member of the previous Parliament raising a demand for the Bahawalpur Province, more recently, changing the name of NWFP to Pakhtunkhawa Khyber sent waves of protests in the province. Needless blood was shed in the unrest that followed. And now, there is a movement for a Hazara Province.
The major question that confronts us is, should these divisions be on the basis of ethnicity or language or tribal loyalties? Let us assume, the government gives in to the demand of a Hazara Province. Will we not be frittering our problems to ethnic levels thereby driving in the schism between different ethnic races even deeper than already exists? Will this not lead to a demand by other pressure groups for a province of their own? Pakistan came into being as an ideological state. Will more provinces born out of ethnicity tear it apart? Will this destroy, even more, the concept of one nation? All these and many more questions rear their ugly heads like Hydra, the mythological many-headed serpent. I do not question the genuine grievances of the people leading to the demand. I do, however, question their creation as demanded, on ethnic basis. Creation of more provinces on the basis of ethnicity, will only acerbate the feeling of isolation. This is a self-destruct tendency. We have witnessed this feeling and the havoc it created, in 1971. In the absence of a strong leadership to act as a bonding force, a sense of depravation, created unbridgeable wedges resulting in tearing one of them apart from the motherland.
Does the creation of more provinces, or Administrative Units that I would rather call them, allow them to generate and collect revenues at the local levels? Along with it or even without it, the authority may also be given singly or in combination, of developmental planning, implementation, administration and management.
Will creation of more Administrative Units result in better management automatically? Whereas, this may bring the rulers and the ruled closer together, whereas, it will make those governing more accountable, and whereas, the issues besieging the people, may have a better chance of being addressed in a timely fashion, the fact remains, that this step must be based on honesty of purpose .If appointments on merit become the rule rather than an exception, any system, can achieve an unprecedented success rate as merit would, nay, should, deliver. Bifurcation into smaller units without a will to serve the people honestly will be of no use. It will not ensure an end to corruption and bad governance. This task if undertaken diligently, will be a stepping stone towards solving the multitudes of problems faced by the masses. It should be a means to an end, and not the end itself.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to the will and vision of our country’s leadership, to deliver. No system can succeed and no country can progress without its leaders subscribing to the thought of FDR, when he said, “There is no higher calling than public service”.
The writer is a lawyer currently teaching in the Mass communications Dept. of Beacon House National University .Yasmeen is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker. She also owns and moderates her blog pakpotpourri