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Business

May 20, 2017

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Autonomy can work wonders for national economy

Autonomy can work wonders for national economy

LAHORE: National economy is on the path to recovery not only because of the consistent economic policies and reforms, but also due to the fact the provincial autonomy, granted under the 18th amendment, has started delivering after overcoming teething problems during the last seven years.

For about six decades, Pakistan was a centrally governed country. All the resources were controlled by the federal government that handed down some to the provinces. The provinces in turn managed the entire area under their command centrally. Certain powers were periodically transferred to lower level only to be withdrawn later. Former military ruler General (Retd) Pervez Musharaf did at least try to delegate resources to the lower echelons through local governments, while keeping the federal powers intact.

This transfer laid bare the lack of capacities at district and union council level. For instance the procurement of medicines for state controlled hospitals was transferred from provincial headquarters to district level. The cost increased big time as successful bidders refused to offer any discount at local level purchases, which resulted in the shortage of medicines. Subsequently, the drug procurement system was reprovincialised. These issues revealed there was a need for capacity-building at local governments’ level before giving them any responsibilities.

When the 18th amendment was being debated, the legislatures should have taken cue from the consequent disadvantages of transferring power to lower levels without enabling the concerned department to handle the tasks. Before the amendment, the federal government was used to regulate the quality and price of the medicines. 

It must be mentioned here that World Health Organisation (WHO) had been providing supplements for the fortification of wheat flour to the federal government. These supplements were then distributed it among the provinces; however, after the amendment this supply came to a halt as relevant responsibilities were moved to provinces.  Deterioration in social services accelerated on the heels of 18th amendment as provinces were not prepared to shoulder responsibilities like health regulations and agricultural input. It hurt both the sectors seriously. 

It must be added here that with an increase in the provincial capacities, these sectors are back on the track. Citizens, however, did not get any benefit from provincial autonomy as the power could not be passed on to the lower rungs of the local government.

It took some time for the provinces to increase their capacities and now they have started delivering. Almost four years after the 18th amendment the power to regulate medicines was transferred back to the federal government. It was realised after some setbacks that none of the provinces had the capacity or the resources to regulated drugs. When the provinces were relieved from this responsibility they were able to focus on other equally important issues single-mindedly.

The healthcare services widely improved in KPK and Punjab in the wake of their relief from drug regulation. The Punjab Health Foundation was formed to regulate private hospitals and clinics. The regulator visits private hospitals and ensures that all health standards are followed. In the same way Punjab Food Authority regularly raids food outlets, hotels, food processors, and heavily penalises the violators.

The sole motive behind empowering provinces was to move towards decentralised governance for the betterment of people at lower level. Delegation of power not only improves governance but also accelerates economic activities, but the autonomous provinces, refusing to realise it, continue to be at loggerhead with the lower governments. They are just not ready to accord them autonomy the way Musharaf-regime did. 

The provinces have diluted the powers of local governments and centralised power through legislation. It is high time for the provinces to realise that economic growth is linked to empowerment at the lowest level.

The decentralisation would stir the same competition for growth that can currently be seen among the provinces. After overcoming initial post-autonomy hiccups, now each province is offering incentives to the investors and improving infrastructure. 

Metro bus service project was initiated by Punjab and now Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces are following the suit. Autonomy at district level would create a healthy competition among regions within the province. Autonomy at lower level could be arranged in a planned way over a period of five years. During this period the capacities of each department in districts should be strengthened.

 

 

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