By Ajwa Hijazi*
There are several potential reasons that impeded in the way of the 18th Amendment that has still not been implemented in its later and spirit. The entrenched centralization of the authority within the federal government have created an unstable and uncertain relationship between the central and the provincial governments. And the prevailing political hysteria in the country has always disguised the development and evolution of the democratic institutions which results in the stagnation of good governance.
The centralization of power is often defined as the accumulation or the concentration of the power in one central government or the authority rather than the diluted power from the top hierarchy to the bottom tier. The political dynamics in Pakistan speak volume of this historical fact that the influence of the central government on to the provincial entities have obscured the individual decision-making capacity of the provinces and have paved the way for the perpetual unrest between the federal and the provincial governments.
Over the course of the seven decades, the manifestation of the centralized powers in the constitution of 1962 by General Ayyub, chaotic and unsympathetic political affairs leading to the fall of Dhaka under General Yahya Khan and the stubbornness along with the resistance of the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to implement the LGO in 1972 and 1975, the absolute control of the Qusai-presidential government by General Zia ul Haqq and the façade of democratic trickledown effect by the back to back democratic tenures of PPP and PML N from 1988-1999 are the roaring examples of the centralization of power by the central governments and the suppression of the provincial autonomy at the hands of those very central governments.
Owing to the penetration of this tradition, there has been the emergence of the prevalent condition in Pakistan where the legacy of the centralization among the ruling elite is the biggest hurdle for the execution of the 18th Amendment. The accumulation of power has led towards the evolution of strong influential political figures instead of the development of the institutions accompanied by the strong bureaucratic hold of the issues eventually giving rise to the feeble control of the provincial governments over their respective matters. The more in-depth guise into this issue reveals that along with the absence of the political will, the centralization of power both on the part of the federal and the provincial governments is the main stimulator behind the non-implementation of the 18th amendment.
18th Amendment provided the special apparatus of operating to the provincial governments but even after the span of nearly one decade the standard of living of the people has not been improved at all and the provincial governments have proved to be ineffective in the provision of the immediate public services to the masses.
There are two very interrelated obstructions being faced by the process of the devolution within the extent of the governance and party politics. In the political dynamics of Pakistan, the implementation of the policy decision is done by the bureaucratic administration instead of the local elected representative. Due to the urge of keeping the powers to the office of the CM or other provincial representatives, the distribution of power from that tier to the local bodies is thwarted.
Consequently, due to that, the overall aura of the governance is damaged when the typical bureaucratic hurdles become the major reason for the underdeveloped progress. One may argue that this level of the administrative centralization is done to speed up the service delivery at large but the quest of resisting the devolution in its truest form ultimately harms the real essence of the 18th Amendment. On the other hand, the trend of centralization of power within the political parties of Pakistan, absence of intra-party elections, and the continuation of major political dynasties PPP and PML (N) is in one way or the other are harming the credentials of the process of the devolution in the country. This all leads to one question that in the prevailing political dynamics of the country, what is the future of the 18th Amendment in the federal setup of Pakistan where it had been neglected and suppressed to such an extent that its implementation in its real essence has been suffered enormously over these years.
In order to implement the salient feature of the 18th Amendment related to the transfer of power to the last tier of the government, there is the immediate need to implement the Article 140-A of the constitution which states that each province is obliged under law to establish the local government system and empower them politically, administratively and financially. Recently, during the health crisis amidst the ongoing pandemic and the spell of the disastrous monsoon rains last year, especially in Karachi and lower Sindh indicate that it is high time for the provincial governments to give the authority and power to the representatives of the local governments which is long overdue.
The future of any constitutional setting or amendment depends on the outcome of the decision that is felt by the masses. Likewise, the successful future prospect of the 18th Amendment also depends on the level of service delivery and governance, which unfortunately is not satisfactory at all.
There is no doubt about this fact that the devolution of power through the 18th Amendment was a good beginning for a country like Pakistan where its history is filled with many instances of the centralization of power by the central governments and it possesses the potential to eliminate the rifts between the center and the province relationship on various policies but the onus of it lies on the political will of the ruling parties of Pakistan that can change the fate of the public by assuring the accelerated provision of services related to the social welfare.
However, the spirit of this constitutional change requires further delegation of power and so does good governance. The comprehensive and effective transfer of the due power to the local governments will eventually pave the way for good and efficient governance. And to achieve this there is no requirement of any science or the complicated political decision-making, what is needed is a political will by the government in charge to ensure the empowerment of the local bodies in the respective areas under their jurisdiction as a matter of absolute priority.
*Ajwa Hijazi is a student of MPhil-Peace and Conflict Studies in National Defense University Islamabad, Pakistan.