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Empowering local Governments to implement SDGs

United Nation’s idea of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been adopted and is being implemented by the Government of Pakistan. Yet the biggest hurdle that is barricading the socio-economic reforms across the country is the lack of authority and empowerment at the local government level. There is an absolute consensus among the District Chairmen and Mayors of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan; that there are no authorities and resources given to the local governments. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), where the local governments have been given considerable autonomy and resources, their representatives lack vision and roadmap required for its effective utilization.
Despite of a decade long uninterrupted democracy and devolution of power under the 18th amendment of the constitution, this was the ultimate outcome of the Local Bodies Summit on SDGs for the District Governments’ Elected Representatives of all four provinces that was conducted by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reforms (P&D) in collaboration with Federal SDG Support Unit and United Nation Development Program (UNDP), in Islamabad on 9th of March 2017. More than 75 representatives of the local government attended the Summit. They all supported the initiative of the Ministry for holding the Summit and giving them awareness of the different style of development path which may needs financing for the projects but it also give ideas that how can they contribute positively in their areas without finances and still marks the development activity.
‘Focus Group discussion was the core component of the entire workshop, in which all representatives were given the opportunity to comprehensively explain all their issues and concerns’, told Mohammad Ali Kemal, Economic Policy Advisor, SDG Support Unit. These ‘Focus Groups were formed on the basis of Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and keeping in mind the provincial representation’, said Schanzah Khalid, Research Analyst, SDG Support Unit.
The representatives were of the view that if we will be given ‘financial and administrative authority then we can deliver better within our own resources without asking for more from provinces’. However, as far as the Central Government is concerned, it should play its role in communication and coordination, in case of a crisis or deadlock between Provincial and District Governments. ‘I am so proud of our local government members. If they will be provided with resources then they will definitely produce results’, said Dr Asma Hyder, Member Social Sector and Devolution, P&D.
Never the less, Dr Asma explained that ‘social sector is our priority agenda but after devolution we can just work as a Think Tank and could just provide them a platform’. Also, Prof Ahsan Iqbal, Minister of P&D, emphasized on the gap between social and economic indicators of Pakistan.
He said that ‘GDP growth is not the only criteria for development. If fruits of that growth does not trickle down to all the segments then we are at loss’. Development needs and core issues of District Councils mentioned by the representatives are as follows:
Water: Every representative declared clean Water as well as overall water availability to be the most significant issue. ‘Water scarcity is severely affecting the agriculture, employment and health throughout the country’, said Nadeem Ahmed, Social policy advisor, Federal SDG support unit, Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform. Education: Representatives, regardless of the rural and urban areas, asserted over the miserable situation of Education. They highlighted the school availability, especially for females, and teachers’ absenteeism to be the main problem. Moreover, the school accessibility is also an important issue mainly Middle and Secondary schools.
Health: The representatives also regarded health as an issue of the utmost importance that is worsening every day. The availability of doctors and medicines is a huge issue. Most importantly, in the rural areas, pregnancy related issues and neonatal cannot be dealt in hospitals due to lack of facilities. ‘Rural Health Centers and Basic Health Units are available, and the doctors are appointed, but they are not functional’, added Nadeem Ahmed. Sanitation: Another issue discussed was sanitation. There are no meaningful facilities for the collection of waste and its disposal. Sewerage system is also in pathetic situation and it is causing different viral diseases among the population.
‘If given resources, I can produce and develop bio gas plants throughout Lahore’, said Mubashar Javed, Mayor of Lahore. Rural and Urban Divide: One major implication of not devolving the powers is the infusion of disparity within the urban and rural population of the country.
‘There are total 5 gas fields in Dera Bugti, that are supplying gas all over the country, while not a single house in Dera Bugti has electricity’, told a representative from Dera Bugti during focus group discussion. Referring to all the above-mentioned issues, the Local Representatives were on the same page that if we will be empowered then all these basic social problems could easily get addressed. Majority of the issues can just be resolved through effective monitoring ‘which is practically not possible for an elected representative sitting in the provincial capital’, said Zafar ul Hasan, Chief Poverty, P&D.
By monitoring hospitals, educational institutions, water and sanitation——doctors’ availability, teachers’ attendance, students’ performance, quality of water, collection and disposal of waste; can be ensured at least up to some extent, ‘which is deteriorating at an immeasurable extent due to no resources and powers at the district council level’, elaborated Nadeem Ahmed. So ‘without empowering the Local Representatives these issues by no means could ever get substantially settled’, insisted Zafar ul Hasan. Nonetheless, he believesthat ‘it is much easier for the public also to do accountability of Local Representatives’.
He further stated that ‘we have never let resource utilization and capacity building to get devolved’ and this is our biggest dilemma. Rana Sikandar Hayat, District Chairman of Kasur requested Provincial Governments, in focus group discussion, to give us’ administrative and financial powers for one year and evaluate their performance’.
Additionally, Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Director SDPI, raised the point that ‘Provincial Governments are always forcing the Center to review National Finance Commission (NFC) Award on yearly basis, while they do not themselves announce Provincial Finance Commission Award’. Furthermore, he told that ‘if administrative control is given then not financial’, and ultimately grassroots public functionaries does not know how to manage the things. For instance, ‘a Primary School Principle has no clue what budget will he get and whether he will be able to manage his requirements within the provided budget’.
Dr Vaqar also pointed towards the prospects of SDGs and mentioned that ‘before SDGs we adopted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), what about them? Why we did not achieve them in 15 years?’ ‘This particular activity took place with the funding and support of UNDP on the recommendation of P&D, instead, P&D itself especially the provincial P&Ds should have taken this initiative. It’s not UNDP’s responsibility, it is rather the duty of Provinces’, added Dr Vaqar.
On the other hand, Asad Umar, Member National Assembly Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI), told that ‘Local Governments’ powers are negligible, therefore, I have submitted a bill in the National Assembly, addressing this particular issue, which will be put shortly in the Assembly session for approval’. Regarding KPK, he said that ‘about 30% of the total provincial budget has been allocated to the Local Governments, even up till the Village Council Level’, however, ‘as far as the question of their capacity building is concerned, that is a valid issue which needs to be addressed’.
In terms of SDGs, Asad stated ‘previously we opted MDGs and now SDGs. We failed on every single count. Unlike MDGs, this time we have not shed any deadlines to it’. ‘We do support the basic idea of MDGs and SDGs, as they prioritise the core issues of developing countries’, but just adopting a model is not enough, ‘we have to address the real issues’, added Asad.
All the Elected Representatives participated in the Workshop, in the end, unanimously, signed a Declaration that shows their political will and determination: ‘We, the local leaders are convinced that by giving specific attention to the localization of all goals, the new agenda will trigger an important transformation in our joint act.’
It also stated that ‘We, the local leaders call for effectively empowering to local governments (administrative and political) and resources (human and financial) require to carry out our acknowledged role in implementing the SDGs.’
On top of everything, Ahsan Iqbal, announced that ‘such activities will be conducted in all the provinces. This would lead us towards the development of National Implementation Framework of SDGs’. He pressed over the importance of all the seventeen goals and elucidates significance of all goals and targets we want to achieve by implementing it in Pakistan. Since’all these goals are aligned with the Federal Government’s Vision 2025’, added Ahsan Iqbal.

Jaswal, Ali. Empowering local Governments to implement SDGs. Pakistan Observer, March 19, 2017.

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