After clamouring for decades for autonomy, the provinces, having finally achieved it, do not seem to know what to do with it. Reports have emerged that the provinces have yet to mobilise their own resources to collect taxes and remain dependent on transfers from the federal government to sustain their budgets. While teething pains were expected from such revolutionary a change as provincial fiscal autonomy, this lack of action on the part of the provinces in unacceptable. The implicit constitutional bargain struck with the eighteenth amendment was that the federal government would give up some of its powers and taxation abilities in exchange for the provinces picking up the slack. The central idea behind this arrangement is that delegating responsibility to lower levels of government would increase efficiency and ensure that more gets done to serve the citizens. But neither the federal nor the provincial governments appears to be entirely willing to do their part. For a group that was celebrating change, the current crop of politicians seems remarkably comfortable with the status quo ante.
Perhaps the worst offender in this regard is Sindh, which had campaigned the hardest for autonomy and has struck the harshest bargain with the federal government. It is the only provincial government that does not plan on allowing the federal government to collect any provincial taxes at all. But the provincial administration in Karachi has shown no inclination towards creating its own tax collection infrastructure. On what grounds do the provinces expect the federal government to give up its legislative and administrative powers to them if it has to keep on paying for everything? Having agreed upon the legalities of provincial autonomy, the federal and provincial governments should now work on the practicalities of it. It is too good a thing to waste.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2010.