Synergizing Sub-National Stakeholders on Governance and Accountability – Lessons from Pakistan

11.04.2019 | Hammad Siddiqui

With a population of over 200 million people, Pakistan is ranked as 6th largest country in the world. Since its independence from British-India in 1947, Pakistan remained under military government rule for three decades. Interestingly, military rulers initiated empowerment at the sub-national level and introduced three devolution plans in 1959, 1979 and 2001.

The devolution plan implemented in 2001 is still considered the most due to its practicality in helping develop municipalities’ powers. However, the last two democratic governments legislated significantly to re-centralize power at the provincial level. They do so by curtailing the administrative and fiscal autonomy that local governments have had for several years. So much so, democratically elected governments held local elections only after the Supreme Court’s order. These attitudes created political frictions between provincial and municipal governments and further fragmented the governance structure at the sub-national level.

“It is intentional practice of improving a community’s economic well-being and quality of   life. It includes broad range of activities to attract, create and retain jobs, and to foster a resilient, pro-growth tax based and an inclusive economy. The practice of economic   development comprises of a collaborative effort involving industry, government and myriad community stakeholders.” – International Economic Development Council, USA.

CIPE’s partner PRIME Institute (Policy Research Institute of Market Economy) started its sub-national level intervention to understand the level of competitiveness in ten of the most populous cities in Pakistan. While collecting secondary data and engaging with the three key stakeholders i.e, businesses, government and civil society, PRIME focused on the following:

  1. What would be the ideal process of achieving greater administrative and fiscal autonomy at sub-national level?
  2. Why don’t municipal governments consider their role beyond the provision of municipal services?
  3. Why are stakeholders not working collaboratively towards the economic development of their respective cities?

Right at the initial stage, PRIME learnt that Pakistani cities did not have any “Vision” and there have never been collaborative efforts for creating city visions for economic growth.

While PRIME was conducting research and organizing dialogues on the subject, a window of opportunity for more concerted efforts emerged when newly elected PTI government announced and later promulgated new local government laws in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ( KP) provinces.  New laws in these provinces are to empower sub-national governments by assigning responsibilities for thirty-five functions, and one of the top functions is Economic and Value Chain Development. Another significance is the fact that these two provinces constitute about two thirds of the country’s population and are affected by terrorism, particularly KP and Southern part of Punjab.

Other interesting features of the new law is a system of proportional representation. This will allow a direct election of Mayors from total votes by constituents, which is expected to strengthen the political legitimacy of a Mayor as a representative of the whole city. Mayors will also be empowered to appoint a cabinet comprising of elected councilors and technocrats.

Because Economic and Value Chain Development can only be achieved through a coalition of businesses, government and civil society, PRIME started working with city chambers to facilitate the process of creating City Visions of Prosperity. This collaborative effort brought together three key stakeholders for dialogues on a subject that was never in the limelight of political and democratic space.

The City Visions for Prosperity (CPV) initiative is intended to empower local-level government, private sector and civil society organizations to collaborate towards reforms in the wake of the 18th Amendment that decentralized powers from the federal and provincial levels. CPV is expected to provide a strategic framework for municipal officials to work with local businesses and other stakeholders with the goal to spur economic growth – something that city administration had never considered in the past.

In the backdrop of next local bodies elections in 2020, under CIPE program, in August this year, PRIME organized a conference to present the Municipal Competitiveness Index (MCI) findings and bringing representatives of local government, local political leadership and the business community in Islamabad.

Conference provided opportunity to stakeholder’s dialogue with Federal Government to discuss improving governance and reforms at sub-national level. The dialogue was designed to articulate the need for economic empowerment at the municipal level and engagement with the business community for the cause of economic development. The thematic areas that emerged from the conference discussions emphasized the need for a clean and green Pakistan, urban forestry development, and ecological sustainability. Participants also highlighted the importance of affordable housing, as well as creating entrepreneurial opportunities as key factors for economic growth of urban centers.

This initiative has provided stakeholders an opportunity to provide input on the future directions city governments should take aiming to enhance the economic development and prosperity of citizens. PRIME was also able to forge partnerships with UN Habitat, Urban Unity (a data driven organization established by Government of Punjab to serve as a benchmark of excellence in Punjab Cities Governance Improvement), Leading Chambers of Commerce & Industries and City Administrations in several cities.

PRIME’s efforts resulted in the Federal Government accepting the importance of a better governance at the sub-national level. In his keynote at PRIME’s conference, Dr. Ishrat Hussain, Advisor to Prime Minister on Institutional Reforms and Austerity agreed that, “weak governance structure is the main reason behind low economic growth and urban development in Pakistan.”

Pakistan is known for its fragmented governance structure, where political considerations overshadow the need for delivering to its citizens. Since the last few years, the country’s civic space for dialogue is shrinking rapidly. Nevertheless, CIPE and its partners continued providing opportunity to dialogue and share ideas on improved governance and accountability. Local elections in 2020 will be a test for political parties to meet the expectations from their constituencies.