Federalism and Provincial Autonomy
Federalism is practiced in twenty four countries of the world having 40% of world population. All large and populous countries with democratic dispensations are federations. Only four or five of the 30 plus prosperous democracies are running on a federal system. However, there is no unified theory or even concept of federalism. All countries have shaped their system according to their conditions and mutual agreement.
The Six–Point Formula that Sheikh Mujibul Rehman of the former East Pakistan gave is pure federalism is a misnomer in Pakistan. There is another misunderstanding in Pakistan whereby many parties and individuals ideal British system and want to replicate . Britain is not a federation, although it practices the parliamentary system of governance. . Germany, India, and Australia have a federal parliamentary system. These three countries should be kept in mind while trying to replicate or borrow from the external models and democracies.
Pakistan’s 1973 constitution heavily resembles Australian constitution, with the only difference that the senate members are directly elected. There is a provision of referendum in the Australian constitution, and in Pakistan referendum has been resorted to, although not being provided in the constitution. Germany has some peculiarities of Bundesrat, with provisions of parliamentary ratifications of judiciary and a few other features. India’s similar socio-economic conditions make it very useful for us to benefit from its experience. In Pakistan provincial boundaries are sacrosanct, while in India states’ boundaries have been redefined on the basis of languages, and thus more states have been added and the process continues. In Pakistan the institution and definition of provinces has been stuck to very rigidly, although recently the elections in Gilgit and Baltistan assembly indicate a new trend, along with stronger voices of Seraiki province.
In Pakistan, provincial autonomy is being perceived by many as a panacea for growth, development and democracy. Some are reviving debate on Mujibul Rehman’s six point formula. For some it is a symbol of liberation from local” samraj “, and for others it may be a recipe for disaster and disintegration. In India this issue of separation of powers has long been more or less settled and does not invite much of a debate. They have three long lists of subjects; Union, Concurrent and States. There is no parliamentary or constitutional pledge to withdraw the Concurrent List neither is there any demand to do so. Despite all this India is perceived as more plural democracy, within and outside.
Whatever be the choice of dispensation, it should be a well thought through and planned implementation and not a hasty decapitation. Government Of Pakistan should commission studies by external consultants and ask the respective ministries to submit proposals, consequences and the required arrangements that have to be made for a selected approach of provincial autonomy. In the current dispensation, most of the economic structure is centrally organized and managed. Overnight or hasty announcement of withdrawal of concurrent list without adequate preparation would be potentially disruptive and disastrous. Instead of bringing a large comprehensive package, a gradual approach may be a preferred option. Surely there maybe a few cases, where near and immediate actions can be taken such as in this case of the powers and domain of the federal ministry of Petroleum and Natural Resources, whose Baloch demand is the loudest. Government of Pakistan has already announced several concessions in the Baluchistan Package, which initiative should be sustained for further reforms. A lot of provincial disharmony and grievances may be direct result of dictatorial rule in Pakistan over a long period of time, both in pre and post1973 constitution era. Consultation and participation can sometimes yield better result than the iron-clad rules of the constitution.
Another issue is of size and capability. Already in Baluchistan most of the civil service comes from outside the province, due to shortage of supply of cadre. In North West Frontier Province the situation is not very different. An open question is the ability and capability of the smaller provinces, to practically exercise the functions and powers allocated to them under a future dispensation.
Concurrent List has been a source of contention, although it provides for an efficient and workable joint performance. The Concurrent List provides a vehicle for defining a distribution of powers, functions and responsibility without loss of economic efficiency and order. Concurrent List may have been abused in the past for which evidence ought to be studied .It should not be the excuse for federal preponderance on the subject. It may be and it may not be. Its implementation can be variously and asymmetrically exercised; different approaches and arrangements in provinces; there should be no fixation with uniformity. Although 1973 constitution provided for 25 years limit for the life of the Concurrent List, it has been successively extended by legislation. Let us put one‘s hearts and minds together towards objective determination and resolution of the subject.
On the other hand, if one examines the Concurrent List from economic or income’s point of view, out of 47 subjects on the Concurrent List only three have any potential for income which is electricity, tourism and Zakat. On electricity federation is giving subsidy of billions of rupees. Zakat, however, should be a provincial and even local government subject, as Zakat in Islam is to the close-byes. All other 44 subjects have no potential for income. It will only add to the functions and responsibility, even if expense is self –financed by the stakeholders. So if the grievance is economic, why insist on assuring the liability of expense items in the Concurrent List.
Why and How Provincial Autonomy:
The prevalent wisdom in some quarters is that road to economic justice and prosperity lies in very narrow and rigid interpretation of Federalism and it’s off shoot provincial autonomy. Although I am not opposed to provincial autonomy, but keep wondering whether majority of the world living in no-federal system are not enjoying economic growth, justice, and prosperity? Perhaps there is more to it, than it is being realized by us. Expanding provincial autonomy in a planned manner may, however, be desirable, as it would remove another escape- goat and induce us towards solving the real problems.
If at all the concurrent list may have to expanded to affect more provincial autonomy, by shifting some subjects on center’s list of the concurrent list. A case in point is Oil & Gas, where in exploitation is complained of by Balochistan. With the reforms under discussion and demands on the street on the subject, it appears that oil and gas would have to go to concurrent list, and perhaps eventually to the provinces. In almost all the relevant federations, Canada, Australia and US etc, oil and gas including natural resources are provincial subjects; In the earst-while six point era of 1960’s, Jute and its foreign trade and foreign exchange earnings was indeed the core issue along with taxation and economic policy. Today it is oil, gas and natural resources, especially in Balochistan concurrent list provides a flexible option, whereby apportioning of the roles and responsibility could be negotiated among the respective federal and provincial ministries on a daily basis and decided upon on the basic of merit, efficiency and welfare.
Out of 63 federal subjects that merit transfer to the provinces are the following.
1. Oil & Gas
2. Excise duty
3. Estate duty in respect of property
4. Taxes on oil & gas
5. Terminal taxes on goods & passengers
6. Duties in respect of succession to the property.
Out of the above mentioned six subjects, items 3,5 and 6 may be readily accepted by the federation, being of lesser consequence. Major issues of contention would be 1, 2&4. There is a trend towards maximizing revenues. Oil and Gas to the provinces, only the corporate tax is to be left with the centre. Thus negotiation is require on excise duty only. One may also like the industry to be in concurrent list, as well as oil and gas for coordination purposes and not the revenue.
Bengali Nationalism an Example:
Tracing the Bengali nationalism culminating into Bangladesh, the two provinces were so distant that a more than normal decentralization was infact a necessity and should have been conceded. They had fundamentally two grievances; firstly, jute earned bulk of the foreign exchange, while its utilization was more in the west Pakistan, Secondly, due to Kashmir problem and the consequent foreign policy agenda, military expenditure not as diverted precious economic resources, but enhanced the political power of Punjab or West Pakistan which was utilized initially passively and ultimately militarily against them. And finally all defense planning catered to west Pakistan requirements.
On the other hand, what did Bangladesh achieve as a consequence of separation; freedom, democracy, prosperity, development; none of it, except Bangla identity, which could also have blossomed within the confines of one Pakistan – federal or confederal.
Baluch should see reality:
However similar problems remain in the remaining Pakistan. Baloch nationalists feel that their oil, gas and mineral resources have been exploited by Federal Pakistan and that they may be better off without the burden of the other provinces. They are wrong on a number of counts. Exploitation is a wrong to choose. Yes, there have been mistakes, which are being corrected e.g. streamlining the oil/ gas royalty policies and repayment of Rs 120 billion as royalty dues. The case of natural resources of Balochistan is over-blown. The natural resources existing and potential are not as much as being perceived by national quarters. Had there so big, oil companies would have explored and recovered those. There is an adequate potential, may be good enough for Pakistan’s need, but definitely not in gigantic world scale. Some goes for other mineral resources. Saindak (Cu) mine has been a begging-bowl case, where in GOP has lost money for more than two decades. Regodeq deposits with 65 billion USD resource value at the surface, if exploited our-period of next 30 yrs, would mean annual sales of 2 billion USD and a royalty income of hardly 20-40 million USD per year. Take the example of other “resourceful” countries in Africa and Latin America, most are poor, under-developed and suffering; Nigeria, Columbia, Namibia, Zaire, Congo etc. Are these awfully happy and prosperous countries? However Balochistan integrated, as a part of prosperous Pakistan has much more to benefit as have the minerals supported the integrated economies of the resourceful countries such as Australia, Norway, US and others.
Individual human rights and equality:
Perhaps more important issues are of the rights of the individual human rights, freedom, liberty and democracy. It is the individual who is entitled to prosperity and deliverance from wants and disease and the fulfillment of dreams and pursuit of happiness. Province is just a sub-group, among many approaches to group-making.
Then there are problems of ethnicity and languages; there are Pashto speaking Pathan in equal proportion in Balochistan with Rushtum. Saraikis in Punjab and Mahajirs in Sindh along with old-sind his in Sindh. India partly solved its similar problems, by reorganizing its states (provinces) along linguistic lines. In Pakistan, old and existing provincial boundaries are sacrosanct.
Cultural and linguistic identities can best furnish in peaceful environments of freedom and liberty and not in narrow provincial enclaves of retrogression and hatred. Let us build a Federal Pakistan with mutual love and respect built in the foundations of democracy, freedom and liberty.
The Six Point Formula of Federalism:
Mujibul Rehman’s six-point formula was essentially for confederation, which nationalists like Mumtaz Bhutto seem to be working for. It may be interesting here to quote Mujib’s six point formula.
1. Federation on the basis of Lahore Resolution, democracy based on parliamentary form of government.
2. Federal domain to be justified to only defense and foreign affairs.
3. Two separate currencies of separate foreign exchange accounts to prevent flight of capital.
4. Power of taxation to be nested only on the federating units.
5. Independent foreign trade and foreign currency accounts.
6. Separate Militia or Para-military force for East Pakistan.
Concurrent List has been potrayed by many as anti-federalist and a kind of instrument of federal domination and exploitation. It is a common feature in many federal constitutions including India , Spain and Germany. we need to have a very close look at cooperative fedralism of Germany. the concurrent list needs to be expanded rather than bieng done away with, by transfering several federal subjects to it. lukewarm support of Baluchistan Package by the Baluch nationalists or rejection of it once again indicates that human rights requirements dominate their list of grieviences over and above the constitutional issues of a rigid interpretation of provincial autonomy and withdrawal of the concurrent list.