On July 1, 2011, the same day the government announced that a large-scale gas loadshedding plan had been approved; the PPP government in full page newspaper supplements informed the nation with undisguised glee that the devolution of 17 ministries and their departments to the provinces had taken place. “Provincial Autonomy: A historic initiative of the Pakistan Peoples Party”, was the heading that appeared in The Express Tribune. And smack in the centre of the page, Sharjeel Inam Memon wrote in a terse headline “The dream of the martyrs comes true.” In the same newspaper, MA Malik let the readers know that the vision of the Quaid had been fulfilled. The most buoyant of the harbingers of the good news was, of course, Senator Raza Rabbani, chairman of the commission on the implementation of the 18th Amendment. “A long cherished autonomy dream has been fulfilled,” he said in a press conference in Islamabad, extolling the timeless craft of jurisprudence that made such a thing possible and giving everybody the impression that the PPP had just discovered the location of the Holy Grail and were about to step into the Vale of Avalon.
Now what is one to make of all this arch capering? One doesn’t want to take anything away from Senator Rabbani. He has worked hard and means well, and has a reputation for sticking to principles. In theory, devolution of powers is a splendid idea for it transfers the right of decision-making from the centre to the provinces. But the senator and his colleagues must realise that with the kind of administrative record the Sindh government has, and the stresses and strains of the ethnic tensions under which the people live, all these additional responsibilities that are being showered on it are likely to create more confusion, uncertainty and bureaucratic hurdles opening a valve for further corrupt practices. Nobody will come out of it really well.
Senator Rabbani, who of late appears to have occupied a higher perch in the PPP pecking order, rightly pointed out that there will be problems arising from the implementation of the 18th Amendment. He has requested the prime minister to set up a cabinet committee to look into the matter. As it is no longer possible to exhume and resuscitate Sir Humphrey Appleby to do the needful, the incumbent ministers will have to do. They ought to be able to get a lot of help from young hopefuls in the ministries, because the general notion among opinion moulders in the Deep South is that the bureaucrats in Islamabad are grossly overpaid and underworked.
Nevertheless, the impression in some quarters is not all that positive. While this administrative bonanza was delivered in the fashion of a Wagnerian overture, rather than as a requiem in a plaintive minor key, as is the usual practice whenever the federal government decided to raise the price of petrol, electricity or gas, cynics believe that it was implemented in an attempt to divert attention from the mess the country finds itself in. And once the gofers are fully settled, the streets will be full of more screaming police sirens, more traffic jams and more hold-ups; this would be nothing new. The city has always played host to a clutch of often violent competing political beliefs, led by a succession of proud Lucumos, all frothing with special interests and pre-presumed truths.
Some people have wondered whether devolution would help lick one of the major problems that have plagued this province — the supply and generation of electricity. Chances are that it won’t, as long as influential free loaders continue to avoid paying their bills and there are likely to be another 17 ministries to cater to. But then, as the Provincial Autonomy Day supplement pointed out, it would provide … “better service to the People”. One wonders just what that statement is supposed to mean.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2011.
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