What about the DMG? - Mosharraf Zaidi - Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In the haze of the 18th Amendment’s implementation, and the hullabaloo over the Higher Education Commission, some important things are entirely missing from the national discourse. Many advocates of a federal system of governance in Pakistan are propagating a post-18th Amendment scenario in which there will be lots of loose ends, and no one to tie them together. Others are arguing that an absence of capacity in the provinces is reason enough to deny provinces the autonomy to decide the best course of action for their future.

We have good reason to be deeply suspicious of centralist arguments. Centralism has failed utterly, and comprehensively, to deliver anything to the people of Pakistan. But the answer to the problems created by the military’s obsession with centralised power is not provincialism and the linguistic and ethnic divisiveness it depends on. Cheap, convenient and politically flammable provincialism cannot solve Pakistan’s problem, any more than cheap jingoistic centralism can.

The founding fathers of Pakistan and the framers of Pakistan’s constitution knew better. They proposed a federal structure because federal governance has roots, not only in the Indian sub-continent’s long history of governing diverse populations, but also in early Muslim history.

The idea of federalism is simple, and flexible. At its basics, it is a form of government that allows separate sub-national units, like provinces, to come together under the umbrella of a central government. These constituent units then cede some functions and autonomy to the centre, and in response, are given guarantees by the centre.

A typical federal structure allows the highest level of policy and decision-making, like defense and foreign policy to be done by central governments, whilst retaining most aspects of governance that have a direct link with the people. Belonging to the federation frees the energy and resources of constituent units to focus on the things that really matter – like police, schools, roads and water.

Pakistan has rarely had the chance to be governed as a federation. There are two kinds of resources that governments value – financial and human. For Pakistan to be a true federation, it has to demonstrate that provinces control enough money and people to do their jobs and to do them well.

The seventh National Finance Commission (NFC), agreed in December 2009, and announced in 2010 goes some way to address the money part of the problem. Provinces have been ceding financial autonomy to the centre, have been providing the centre with revenue, and have watched the centre take more, and more, and more, every year.

In fact, until the rather revolutionary NFC award of 2010, the central government in Islamabad had slyly manipulated the federal share, from 20 percent of the divisible pool in 1974 to as high as 67.5 percent under the interim government for which Shahid Javed Burki was finance minister (in 1996). Notwithstanding the addition of new taxes in the divisible pool, the diminishing provincial share in the Pakistani state’s wealth is the most powerful proof of the military’s vigourous centralist appetite.

True federalists would be right to celebrate the seventh NFC award as a victory, but they need to be weary of how small this victory really is. The original 1:4 formula, with provinces allowing the centre 20 percent of national revenue, whilst they spend 80 percent, the federal character may serve as one benchmark. The logic for this would be that it would return Pakistan’s federal system to the vision of the framers of the constitution. Other formulae may work, but not without compelling logic that vests itself within the concept of federalism.

Of course, quarelling over money is not new or unique to Pakistan. It is also not rocket science. Even if Pakistan were to discover and implement the perfect fiscal autonomy for provinces, it would be an incomplete and flawed federation. The real prize for true federalists in Pakistan is not the scalp of the HEC, nor the Ministry of Health. The real prize is the All Pakistan Unified Grades. Figuring out how to fix Pakistan’s powerful, dysfunctional and super-entitled centralised civil service edifice is the holy grail of Pakistani federalism.

The All Pakistan Unified Grades, is the group of three federal civil service occupational groups – the DMG, the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP) and the Secretariat Group (SG) – that have a cross-country jurisdiction and mandate. In principle, there is nothing wrong with having an APUG, in fact, an APUG is indispensible for a good, functional federation.

However, a majority of civil servants that are members of the APUG – mostly the DMG and PSP, do not work for the federal government. They work for provincial governments. What is particularly important to remember about the APUG is that it is made up of officers only (that is those civil servants who belong to BSP 17 and above). These cohorts of senior officers of the government of Pakistan – from BPS 17 to BPS 22 – make and implement public policy every day.

Even more important is the share of jobs in the provincial governments that are reserved for the APUG. In 1992, an Inter-Provincial Cabinet Coordination Committee decision stipulated that there will be fixed percentages of posts for the APUG, by grade, in the provinces. What’s more, this reservation progressively increases the share of APUG civil servants, at the expense of provincial civil servants. At BPS 17, only 25 percent of provincial positions are reserved for APUG, but for BPS 18, BPS 19, BPS 20 and BPS 21, the shares are 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent and 65 percent respectively.

In this kind of a context, provinces can have all the autonomy they like. They can also take all of the money from the divisible pool that they like. But the men and women through whose steady hands provinces expect service delivery, essentially, are all federal resources. Their qibla can never be Karachi, Lahore, Quetta or Peshawar. Their qibla is the Establishment Division of the Federal Government.

So why has there be no discussion of the reform of the civil services? Because of all the interest groups, all the rent-seekers and all the charlatans this great country gives sanctuary and succour to, none have it as good as the elite senior civil servants of the PSP, the Secretariat Group and especially, the DMG. Good and honest civil servants suffer as badly as the citizens of this country, while smooth-talking charlatans enable their political bosses to suck the life out of Pakistan’s fiscal and administrative viability.

These senior officers, mostly BPS 21 and BPS 22 are the ones that occupy the boards of publically owned companies like PIA. They are the ones who prevent reform, and reformation within Pakistan’s cancerous public administrative system. Most importantly, they have been the enablers of military interventions from the very first one this nation was cursed with. No serious discussion of a truly federal future for Pakistan can be conducted in the absence of a discussion of how Pakistan’s civil services will be reformed to tackle post 18th-Amendment public policy challenges.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. www.mosharrafzaidi.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=42570&Cat=9

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