LAHORE - A Workshop on ‘Human Opportunity and the Decentralization of Social Services in Pakistan’ was held on Saturdaqy, which was jointly organized by the Institute of Public Policy, Beaconhouse National University and the World Bank.

The workshop brought to the surface the findings on Pakistan’s progress in coverage and equitable access to basic health and education opportunities both at the provincial and local levels by developing the Human Opportunity Index (HOI). It further widened understanding of the prospects offered after the ~ 8~ Amendment to the Constitution by throwing light on increasing difficulties, current challenges to the Government and hard policy choices available to the decision-makers.

Eminent individuals from Federal and Provincial governments, international institutions, universities, civil society organisations, donor agencies and like Mr. Riaz Pirzada, Mr. Javed Aslam, Mr. Sartaj Aziz, Dr. Hafiz Ahmed Pasha, Dr. Aisha Ghaus-Pasha, Mr. Rachid Benmessaoud, Dr. Asad Sayeed, Mr. Naved Hamid, Dr. Kaiser Bengali and others contributed to the consultation process on important issues of national concern.

The discussion took place in the backdrop of recent World Bank report on Human Opportunity Index in 20 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Report looks into equality of opportunities for children that could improve the ‘likelihood of a child to maximize his/her human potential’; it delineates the fact that in the period between 1998/99 and 2007/08, the level of HOT for education is still low in Pakistan relative to all Latin American countries and many African countries.

Although there has been progress between 1998/99 and 2007/08 in HOI in education, health and infrastructure, health opportunities related to birth (parental care) have still been relatively low across Pakistan, except Karachi. Similarly, equality of opportunity has been faster in primary than in secondary education. More importantly, Balochistan is still lagging behind other provinces in reducing inequality.

The workshop underscored the importance of instituting political accountability along with enhanced capacity building as two most important recurrent features that have emanated during research carried out on the Human Opportunity Index across several countries. While good decentralization should in principle improve technical efficiency in health and education, it is important that decentralization plans should be designed by demonstrating cultural sensitivity to local hierarchies and social structures.

Discussion also revolved around several critical issues in the context of 1 8th Amendment. A number of issues like lack of linkage between taxation and benefits at sub-national level, under-exploitation of existing and new fiscal powers at provincial level, more fiscal equalization in transfers to local governments, and need to focus on mobilization of more resources from AlT, Sales Tax on Services and taxes on real estate were identified as some of the most important emerging issues vis-à-vis recent decentralization experience in Pakistan.

The challenge for the decentralization process in Pakistan is to bring the promise of decentralized public service delivery to fruition. The new Constitutional provisions to introduce genuine federalism, responsiveness and accountability, fundamental design and implementation components have to be addressed, including realignment of finances with functions at various levels of government and the role and responsibilities of the Provincial governments relative to Local governments in delivering public services. The discussion forum facilitated in presenting options available to resolve the issues and emphasized the importance of strengthening all three tiers of the government.