- Use the CCI to fight the virus with unity
Amidst the global fragility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the havoc that it has wreaked in our country, a tussle over resource division and realms of responsibility continues to grow between the Federation and its units. The Centre has been criticised for revisiting the 18th amendment and the devolution of powers, and for contemplating the imposition of additional fiscal burden on the provinces through the 10th NFC Award. The federal government, on its end, has stressed upon the provinces’ inability to deliver in this health crisis. As a result, despite the National Action Plan for COVID-19 recognising the significance of a well-coordinated approach against the novel coronavirus, all calls of harmony have echoed hollow at the national and provincial levels in Pakistan.
The disease does not respect political boundaries, and the disharmony in central and provincial approaches has paved way for the virus mushrooming across the country. This is in stark contrast to the nation-wide solidarity exhibited by China when the pandemic first broke out in the province of Hubei. A “one province helps one city” policy was announced by China’s Cabinet, and various provincial-level administrations were activated to assist the virus-affected cities of Hubei. The strategy of pairing one province with one city proved to be fruitful since each city’s individual needs were met by utilizing the resources of the partner province. In this manner, a network of partnerships was created demonstrating the resolution of the central leadership, and the cooperation of the provincial authorities. The goal was simple and devoid of political disagreements: “defeat the virus”. The partnerships were a vivid embodiment of the commitment of the Chinese people to “a community of shared future”- something Pakistan’s government and its citizens have been unable to fathom.
The Centre has been criticised for revisiting the 18th amendment and the devolution of powers, and for contemplating the imposition of additional fiscal burden on the provinces through the 10th NFC Award.
The problem does not lie in the absence of relevant fora, but, rather, in the absence of the will to mobilize them. In a public webinar conducted by the Joint Action Committee for People’s Rights, when asked about the absence of a well-coordinated national strategy against the coronavirus, Mr. Afrasiab Khattak remarked that the lack of strategy was not due to the existence of any hurdles per se, but the lack of a federal will to formulate one. In doing so, he pointed towards Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan’s decision to not attend parliamentary sessions dedicated to COVID-19. Irrespective of whether Minister Shibli Faraz’s justifications that the PM was otherwise occupied were correct, a coordinated and well-thought-out response to this crisis is paramount.
In this regard, the potential role of the Council of Common Interests (CCI), and its secretariat, the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (MIPC) is critical. Amongst others, the MIPC is mandated to promote uniformity in the formulation and implementation of policy among the Provinces and the Centre in “all fields of common concern.” This pandemic is, justifiably, a matter of ‘common concern’ that deserves to be addressed.
Back in 2018, the CCI demonstrated no hesitation in tackling the issue of rapid population growth, and issued clear directions to the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination (MoNHSRC) to prepare an action plan for population control. The National Action Plan spelled out financial modalities for operationalizing the CCI’s recommendations after consulting relevant stakeholders. The MoNHSRC, after a series of discussions, prepared a plan identifying the actions required to implement each of CCI’s recommendations along with the intended timelines, respective budgets, and the body responsible for effectuating them. A Federal Task Force was created to monitor the performance of the plan, ensure funding, and encourage partnerships among private and public stakeholders. Therefore, a recent precedent exists where attempts were made to build a national narrative with the aim of achieving a countrywide consensus on a matter of public significance. Conversely, the current action plan to tackle the pandemic is unclear and has generated confusion. It is, therefore, essential for the CCI to convene and issue achievable recommendations. An identification of the jurisdiction of individual entities operating in the field of healthcare in Pakistan is essential. Benchmarks need to be set, and in order to function effectively, these entities need sufficient budgetary allocations.
The goal was simple and devoid of political disagreements: “defeat the virus”. The partnerships were a vivid embodiment of the commitment of the Chinese people to “a community of shared future”- something Pakistan’s government and its citizens have been unable to fathom.
A mature central leadership that takes into account the provinces’ individual needs and allocates to them their due share can engender a shared vision and ensure uniformity in the fight against this lethal disease. The federal government would do well to cut down on the expansive superfluous expenditures that exist in the form of unnecessary ministries and loss-making enterprises; to mobilize the CCI and the MIPC to fulfil their obligations in such a time of crisis; and to not expect the provinces to contain the disease without appropriate funds. These steps are crucial since the veneer of Pakistan doing ‘much better’ than the rest of the world has clearly come undone, and the only rank we have recently managed to achieve is to feature among the ten countries reporting the highest cases of COVID-19.
Disclaimer: This research was conducted by the CCLS and was supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF) Pakistan. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of LUMS or HSF.
Khadijah Ahmad is a Research Associate at the Centre for Chinese Legal Studies (CCLS), SAHSOL, LUMS.