Devolution is the transfer and movement of resources, power and tasks to the lower levels of hierarchy in terms of local governments. These local bodies are democratic in essence.
Decentralization or devolution is a global trend. It is not a novel idea in Pakistan, and it has also been tried, tested and successfully implemented in various countries for many decades. Many developing countries in the East Asia, Europe and Latin America are taking up devolution as a way to improve the delivery of public services.
After the introduction of the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Pakistan in 2010 and abolition of the concurrent list that subsequently increased the autonomy of provinces, it seems a moral and constitutional responsibility of every province in the country to introduce reforms at the local level so that the real fruits of democracy actually reach out to the people.
It may have become a provincial responsibility to introduce such reforms at the local level; nonetheless, the federal government has to play its due role in the timely introduction and implementation of such reforms as well as incorporating this third tier of government into the system, as provided in the constitution through Article 140A.
These new reforms are somewhat in proximity to the devolution-of-power plan introduced by former president General Pervez Musharraf, which has been closest to the actual devolution of power for the people. The gaps in this devolution plan need to be filled apart from introducing a few other measures that are in line with democratic ideals.
There is a need to understand that actual devolution doesn‘t occur if only the administrative and expenditure responsibilities are devolved. The real backbone of this system lies in the fiscal autonomy of the local governments, where the local bodies are able to generate their own resources. The absence of such autonomy has resulted in the fact that these local governments have always been dependent on provincial and federal fund transfers for their smooth and effective operation.
Lack of such fiscal autonomy also casts doubt on how these local governments can resist pressure from political headquarters, rather than succumbing to it. Apart from this there is a dire need to introduce uniform measures for devolving all the administrative departments. Local authorities have to be independent in all aspects of their governance, so that they can effectively and efficiently function and deliver services to the people at the grassroots level.
One must remember that accountability is highest at the local level, as people are directly able to manage their local affairs. Moreover, as a stopgap measure, Provincial Secretariats keep an additional check on the local governments through the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats remain servants of the Provincial Secretariat and of the local governments.
The local-government system should be structured in such a way that it does not serve the whims of any party or any dictator. It should be made to deliver public goods in an effective and efficient manner.