Administrative federalism

The term ‘federalism’, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, refers to an arrangement among various levels of government for the implementation of policies through negotiations and coordination while still maintaining central integrity. Individual liberty being the central axis, its primary focus is on ‘negotiations and coordination’ to make the law and policymaking process more participatory and representative.

In heterogeneous societies where socio-cultural diversity exists, federalism provides an opportunity for local political expression and protects it by promoting localised decision-making. It is a system of government that clearly divides authority between the federal and provincial governments while focusing on integrating the federating units into a single entity.

Administrative federalism in practice translates the aspirations of a federal polity into policy outcomes. It can be termed as the defining characteristic of a federation which relates to the executive autonomy of a province and includes devolution of all kinds of administrative and policymaking authority to the provincial governments, where the latter is responsible for the enactment of laws and its implementation using its resources.

That being said, a major part of these resources is the human resource or the civil service of a province which is primarily responsible for executing these policies and decisions. In Pakistan, the 18th Amendment gave practical form to federalism and outlined the clear distribution of ‘power’ between different levels of government. This momentous constitutional development realises the need for implementing practices of administrative federalism.

In the context of legislative and fiscal federalism, the then political forces may have ceded some space to the federation because the matters were complex enough to threaten the unity of the federation and were mostly related to the entire country. However, regarding administrative federalism, no constitutional accommodation was made as it neither threatened the existence of the federation nor related to the affairs of more than one province.

The federal government, on the premise of ‘lack of capacity’, still shows reluctance in devolving the actual executive authority, and members of the federal civil service continue to manage important assignments in the provinces such as the chief secretary, administrative secretaries, inspector general of police, etc, where, counterintuitively, they are not answerable to the provincial governments. It is significant because anyone who is acquainted with the affairs of a provincial government knows how important the role of a chief secretary (CS) is as its chief administrative official, supervising an entire developmental and financial landscape.

Likewise, the role of administrative secretaries is equally important in their respective departments. Hence, the appointment of the CS by the federal government gives it considerable leverage over the affairs of the provinces, and the only justification that remains for federal civil servants to serve in the provinces, after the 18th Amendment, is to support the provincial governments in its transition-leading-to-self-governance phase. Also, it might not have been possible initially to provincialise all federal civil services, and the federal government might not have been willing to disturb the tenuous balance to avoid any constitutional and/or administrative crisis while it supposedly built the capacity of the provinces.

The spirit of provincial autonomy is barely addressed in the context of administrative positions. However, the said grounds for keeping the above ad-hoc arrangement in place are eroding fast and even resorting to legal and quasi-legal instruments such as the CSP agreement between the federal and provincial governments of 1954 and the apportionment formula of 1993 may not avert the impending governance crisis.

The provincial governments should have strengthened and expanded its civil service to include not only the district management cadre (provincial management service) but also education, health, excise and taxation, planning and development, food, police, prisons, prosecution, revenue/secretariat, communication and works, irrigation, agriculture, public health, municipal, local government and rural development and other services as its occupational groups/cadres to have enhanced its ability to take over the responsibility from the federal government, thus avoiding the present structural vacuum between the two levels of government.

Subsequently, these steps could have been complemented with building the capacity of provincial institutions such as the provincial public service commissions, mid-career training institutions, etc, thereby creating a realistic administrative structure for accepting executive federalism at the provincial level and improving the standards of public service significantly.

Also, after the 18th Amendment, neither the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) nor the federal government has any constitutional rationale to hold recruitment to the services which are now provincial subjects or post and transfer any officer from/to the province. If the federal government requires the human resource for running the day-to-day business of the federal capital or other departments, it may carry out a small-scale recruitment process or even request the provinces to fill the vacant senior positions. However, constantly ignoring the tenets of administrative federalism is indicative of the lack of intent on part of the federal government to protect the executive integrity of the provinces.

Conversely, there exists an anomaly where federal civil servants are both recruited and promoted by the FPSC on seats belonging to the provincial governments as a result of which the career progression of the provincial civil servants is slow. The Sindh government recently called this phenomenon an ‘egregious anomaly’ and the tussle between the two governments serves as an example of a province asserting its constitutional authority. Such incidents are only the tip of the iceberg and could become frequent if this ad-hoc regime continues to run the administration of the provincial governments.

It makes one wonder: how and when will the provincial governments be considered worthy enough by the federal government to be empowered to run its affairs? To what extent has the federal government supported the provinces in this prolonged transition phase since 2010 (if not 1973)? Why is this ad-hoc regime becoming a rule in itself and a hurdle in the way of implementing administrative federalism? Why is the executive integrity of the provinces up for grabs and encroached upon as and when deemed necessary? These are some important markers that will shape the future of inter-governmental relations in Pakistan.

The writer is a public policy practitioner hailing from erstwhile Fata. He tweets @syedabdullah100

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