After the passage of the unanimous constitution in 1973, perhaps devolution of power where it belongs is the biggest constitutional challenge faced by the nation. It involves dismantling of the centuries old colonial system of governance based on control not service to the masses. Facilitation of the people was never on the cards for this outdated approach as such most countries after gaining independence dismantled the entire system and started afresh. Only four continued with the structure (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) they inherited from their masters. The results speak for themselves; while the world has advanced they remain in the pits.

The seven point reform agenda of the fourth Khaki dictator included three major initiatives for change at the grass root level (NRB, NAB, NCHD). National Reconstruction Bureau was headed by Lt. Gen Tanvir Naqvi, National Accountability Bureau was headed by Lt. Gen. Muhammad Amjad, National Commission on Human Development by an expatriate physician Dr. Naseem Ashraf. General Musharraf had the will and authority to implement his programmes yet the results were not up to the mark clearly indicating serious flaws in the implementation strategy.

General Naqvi the founder Chairman of NRB was replaced midstream with his deputy Daniyal Aziz. Both lacked competency to lead this initiative. In a seminar I asked Aziz Sahib about his credentials to head NRB, his answer was that it was a political appointment. Between politics and organisational loyalty the entire programme of devolution was mishandled.

It was around the year 2000 that I was invited by Chairman NRB for an expert opinion. The meeting took place in the Chief Executive's Office now called Prime Minister’s Secretariat. The building is an ugly monstrosity on the Constitution Avenue. The General meant business, at the onset he asked me, ’How can you help in this programme’. My answer was equally direct, ‘As an engineering and management person I think that policy and its implementation mechanism should be prepared together’. His reaction shocked me, ‘I have nothing to do with the implementation; I am only responsible for preparing the policy document. Implementation is the domain of the Chief Executive’. While still in shock by the answer I posed another question, ‘Who will implement this programme’? He said the bureaucracy. I asked him if they were fully on board, he said ‘no’ we will just pass clear instructions and they will follow, I never heard from him again. Only read about the disasters later.

The 2001 Devolution Plan was implemented with very limited homework. Even the colonial bureaucracy whose powers were being restructured was not taken on board. It was typical of ‘Islamabad Theatrics’, good plan but poor implementation. The District Nazim who was directly elected enjoyed unlimited powers to replace the Deputy Commissioner who represented the crown with administrative, judicial and financial authority concentrated in one person. District Co-ordination Officer (DCO), District Police Officer (DPO) both reported to the elected Nazim under the new ordinance. For separation of executive and judiciary the position of District Magistrate was done away with. 

The two elected governments that followed reversed the programme. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government (2008 – 2013) and Pakistan Muslim League-N (2013 – 2018) did cut Islamabad to size under the 18th amendment but instead of one seat of power executive authority was transferred to the four provinces but it stopped there. Funds were transferred under National Finance Commission (NFC) to the Provincial Finance Commissions ( PFC ) but they were not passed over to the Districts. In Punjab the money was used to set up several public sector companies to deliver the required facilities. Ordinance 2013 proved to be disastrous. All the companies are now being investigated for corruption

Imran Khan the PM has ordered his team to implement an effective Devolution Plan closer to the original 2001 ordinance by removing the unwanted changes in the 2013 version. The District Nazim or Mayor will now be elected by direct vote and will have complete executive authority. As a caution, past mistakes should not be repeated. In 2001 there was will, but the capacity to implement was missing. The elected governments that followed were not interested in devolving power as such they moved in the opposite direction. In Punjab the Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners were restored with colonial authority. Funds were kept by the provincial governments. Only in KPK funds were transferred to the District level to empower the Nazims. History was created in the province by voting back the party in power, mainly due to devolution of funds.

Devolution is an important component of our journey to freedom. After two botched attempts, it should not fail for the third time. The devil is in details together with a fool proof implementation road map. After over seven decades of so called freedom it is high time to dismantle the colonial yoke for which both will and capacity are required. Democracy works at the grass root level with complete participation of the masses. Funds belong to the districts and should be spent there but with complete transparency and accountability. Legislators should only legislate; the elected Nazims should run the districts, the Chief Ministers the province and the PM the country while the President keeps his eyes open to raise the flag. The first real cabinet of the country was formed by Quaid himself in 1947, the second by Bhutto in 1972 and now the third by Kaptaan. Both were able to deliver as they possessed the will combined with ability to serve the down trodden and suffering masses of the country. Dr Arif Alvi the incoming President has talked about the emancipation of the people; I suggest he should be tasked to oversee the implementation of the devolution plan in letter and spirit to ensure its success.


The writer is Ex-Chairman  Pakistan Science Foundation.