The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has compelled countries around the world to implement immediate and long-term governance initiatives in order to reduce disease transmission and save lives.

The pandemic has put a real test for global governance. Every country is placing its utmost efforts to beat this deadly virus through effective governance mechanisms.

However, it is important to assess how well the global governance is responding to COVID-19?  No country in the world was ready to face a pandemic on such a huge scale. To counter COVID- 19 exposed the different global models of governance. Various strategies and governance techniques are utilized to address the issue of COVID-19. For example, China has authoritarian governance system and it was successfully able to reverse the pandemic.

On the other hand, the most democratic western model of governance failed to neutralize the challenge in an effective

way. It is important to understand and dig out that why Chinese model was successful and later was unsuccessful and this will be covered in one of my upcoming pieces.

Today, one of the common and very important aspects of governance is being exercised in most of the countries in the form of the Street Level Bureaucracy (SLB). The SLB is internationally recognized and being utilized to address the pandemic. This article is dedicated to understand the role of the SLB in Pakistan to tackle COVID-19.

Pakistan is facing the challenge of the pandemic. As of today, COVID-19 cases in Pakistan have already reached over 40000 (these figures are constantly changing) and have claimed 870 lives so far. The numbers of cases are rising quite quickly for last two weeks. Pakistan has decentralized governance structure to handle the crises with certain interventions from federal government. 

Provincial governments are responsible for dealing the pandemic. COVID-19 put immense pressure on Pakistan governance structure especially the fractured healthcare system has to face the pandemic. However, this is not only the healthcare system but the other institutions like police, district administration, civil society, and all other relevant governmental departments are equally involved to curb the pandemic.

In Pakistan the SLB is highly relevant subject to counter COVID-19 considering the decentralized governance structure in the country. Before, I come on Pakistani case it is important to understand what actually the SLB mean and from where the concept came from?. Back in 1969, political scientist Michael Lipsky coined the concept of the SLB and described as “public service workers who interact directly with citizens in the course of their jobs, and who have substantial discretion in the execution of their work”. These are frontline workers including doctors, nurses, school teachers, and police officers and so on. Their work is between policymakers and the general public to implement policy objectives. The SLB need to act urgently and it does not have much time and planning for execution of actions.

COVID-19 is an egalitarian as it attacks everyone irrespective of economic class, political affiliation, race or religion. In Pakistan, the case of COVID-19 is sharply on rise and as per the assessment of the government the pandemic will be at peak in mid-June 2020. Government of Pakistan took score of actions to mitigate the impacts of pandemic since the first case was reported on February 26, 2020. Pakistan has to face the cruelty of the pandemic with a weak healthcare system.

Pakistan has 1,279 public hospitals and 220,829 registered doctors for a population of 220 million, according to Pakistan’s Economic Survey 2018-2019. The country spends only 2% of its gross domestic product while global average is 10%.

Pakistan health system is one of the weakest systems in the region. World Bank data show that in 2016 Pakistan spent around $40 annually per citizen on healthcare in the comparative figure in India was $62, and Iran $415. Pakistan has a mixed health system that includes public, parastatal, private, civil society, philanthropic contributors, and donor agencies.

The hospitals at provincial and at district levels are mainly handling the pandemic with certain directions and help from federal government. The local governance structure is the right governmental tier that can effectively respond to the pandemic keeping in view the massive spread of virus everywhere in all localities. The local hospitals and administrations are in a better position to act immediately and trace the contacts of positive cases correctly when the spread of the pandemic is impending. This show that how important is the role of local health care system.

The local healthcare system is backed by other local institutions. The federal and provincial governments are planning to ease the restrictions and minimize the lockdown but the local police and law enforcement agencies have played and still have to play a significant role.

The local police are playing a key role for maintaining the lockdown throughout the country. The police have a presence in all areas; it is in a better position to immediately act as first responder. It is not possible for centralized or even provincial governments to enforce implementation mechanisms at local scales especially in rural areas. Therefore, local governmental institutions are driving force for the policy implementation. For instance, in my native village Bodla-a rural area in Abbottabad district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), the Staff House Officer (SHO) of police quite successfully ensured lockdown by involving the local community.

The SHO knows better how to engage and motivate local community as the official is working in the area and has familiarity of local culture and acceptability. The public in the area complies with lockdown policy set by the provincial government. This is how the local police and administration are contributing towards managing COVID-19 across the country.

The district administration is acting as bridge between policy directions set by federal and provincial governments and policy implementation at gross root level by local actors. The district administrations across Pakistan are tirelessly working not only for addressing COVID-19 challenge in collaboration with local healthcare departments but also ensuring the other administrative issues like controlling food prices, maintaining food chain, and helping civil society organizations in distribution of food to the needy masses. The financial assistance from federal government to the poor segment of the society is also being distributed through the district and local administration.

Moreover, district administration acts quite quickly to disseminate the policy decision and involves local actors for implementation within no time. This critical situation demands urgent actions and that can only possible at the local scales.

The schools, universities, and all educational institutions across the country are closed as precautionary measures for limiting the pace of pandemic spread. However, teachers are playing their role to educate communities about the pandemic especially in rural areas. It has seen that in rural areas masses are not taking the pandemic seriously but teachers are always listened as their profession is considered highly respectful in our society. Teachers have therefore promising role to motivate public through social media in order to implement the directions set by the government. For example, Dr. Abdul Mohaimin, a professor from the University of Haripur is actively disseminating information about COVID-19 on social media and he also involves his students to educate public about the severity and complexity of the challenge.

Moreover, the KPK government has also planned to call the teaching staff for helping healthcare workers and local

administration in case the pandemic situation goes worse in the near future. The role of local institutions for the policy implementation is recognized by the federal government.

In last month, the National Command and Operation Centre devised latest approach of Test, Track and Quarantine (TTQ) strategy for effective diagnosis of the COVID-19 patients to contain the spread of pandemic in the country. For implementation of this strategy, the role of local administrations and local actors are highly emphasized. On the heels of TTQ, the fight against COVID-19 in Pakistan is further extended at Tehsil and Union Council levels. The SLB is the

right platform where a state can launch effective strategies considering the local contexts and envisioning the ground realities of the pandemic.

The expanded crises demands for timely and urgent decisions that can only be possible by utilizing the local tiers of government. Evidences reveal that the SLB has a leading role globally as well as in Pakistan to face the pandemic.

However, at the same time the SLB is confronting multiple challenges in Pakistani case due to lack of preparedness, weak institutional capabilities, and lack of financial and human resources.

The pandemic outbreak is posing a serious challenge to the deteriorated medical health care system in the country. Over 500 healthcare workers so far have infected with COVID-19 in the country. This shows how they are vulnerable and they have not been provided with enough protective equipment in already overcrowded and under-resourced hospitals, and their lives are being placed at risk. The local healthcare system has never tested nor was prepared for such crises. Therefore, it is imperative to extend maximum facilities for healthcare workers and local institutions.

The SLB needs full support from provincial and federal government to further mobilize the resources so as to leverage their strengths. Institutionally capable and resourcefully equipped the SLB is not only important to strengthen the drive against COVID-19 but surely it will contribute to boldly face such challenging situations even in the future.