Rebuilding towards a deeper, richer democracy in Pakistan.
|Photo: Marcin Bondarowicz|
In mid-August 2010, this writer was part of a five-person international delegation that travelled to Multan to conduct an assessment of the effects of the severe flooding and the subsequent relief efforts in southern Punjab. The team spoke to a wide range of local stakeholders from the private sector, grassroots organisations, relief beneficiaries in camps for the displaced, international organisations and the District Coordination Officer’s (DCO) office. One of the main findings from the assessment was pervasive scepticism of the civilian authorities’ capacity to fairly and effectively provide rescue and relief services to the affected populations. According to a group of industrialists from Multan and Muzzafargarh, the district and provincial civilian authorities’ management of the situation was ineffective and lacked transparency. They therefore decided to channel private contributions through the military authorities or through their own personal efforts.
The assessment team found similar pessimistic sentiments among grassroots NGOs and many other actors. Few people and organisations seemed to have knowledge about the civilian authorities’ flood-relief efforts, and almost everyone suspected malfeasance on the part of the government. In general, the assessment team concluded that one of the root causes for the wide-ranging distrust of the civilian authorities was that the DCO’s office was not engaging with grassroots organisations, nor did it have an explicit public communication plan that would make deliberations and efforts transparent and widely known to the public. The lack of engagement with the public was feeding the public scepticism of the civilian authorities.
Pakistan today stands at a critical juncture, faced with a unique opportunity in dealing with the reconstruction efforts necessitated by the flooding of 2010. Democratic reformers within both the government and civil society are faced with the possibility of rebuilding not only the physical infrastructure affected by the floods but also the ‘social infrastructure’. Ultimately, this process could do much to strengthen democratic transparency, accountability and representation.
The fundamental principle of democracy is that it provides legitimacy to decision-making processes, since it includes those affected by decisions in the decision-making process. In Pakistan, which is often beset by ‘clientelistic’ politics – whereby material favours are offered in return for political support – obstacles for most sections of society to participate in the political process are high. One way of mitigating clientelistic systems is through what is called ‘deliberative democracy’, which asserts that democracy should include a process of collective problem-solving, giving great importance to the accumulated wisdom – and differing views – of local communities. The end results might not satisfy all actors, but at least all concerned accept and respect the results because their views have been taken into consideration.
A widely supported approach to putting deliberative democracy into practice is a community-led planning approach to development. Development programmes around the world have used community mobilisation since the 1960s, from vaccination campaigns to housing construction. Soon after its inception, it became apparent that such an approach had a much larger impact beyond immediate project results, serving also to promote social cohesion and deepening democratic practices at the grassroots level. In essence, community-led planning introduces deliberative democracy at the community level by strengthening citizen organisations, allowing citizens to communicate their needs and policy preferences, and increasing their support for transparent, accountable and effective government processes.
As described elsewhere, the 2010 monsoon season caused severe flooding, playing havoc with vulnerable communities across Pakistan, eventually affecting more than 20 million people. In the aftermath, one potential response approach that is specifically based on the principles of deliberative democracy is known as the Integrated Community-led Rehabilitation Model (ICRM). As the name indicates, ICRM is a community-led planning structure, characterised by continuous interaction between community members and representatives from the government, private sector and civil society as they plan long-term relief and rehabilitation projects. This approach aims to ensure the effectiveness of reconstruction efforts by creating open lines of communication and the potential for open, constructive and democratic community dialogue and empowerment.
The cornerstone of the ICRM is a diverse collection of local stakeholders that would make up a community-level working group. This body would be tasked with, first, identifying the community’s key relief needs, development opportunities and resources. The working group would then go on to prioritise and coordinate rehabilitation and development projects via pre-approved channels – NGOs, construction companies and suppliers that have been vetted by a steering committee made up of national and regional stakeholders.
In Pakistan, while the working groups operate at the local level, a steering committee would sit at a national or provincial level. Assuming the former, it could be housed within the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which could host a multi-stakeholder, non-partisan, steering committee made up of representatives from all the political parties, provincial governments, major international donors, the private sector and civil society. This body could then oversee the channelling of reconstruction resources.
The steering committee would be charged with making key decisions and providing high-level directions. In particular, it would need to come up with a list of development projects from which working groups can select in order to address local needs; create a pool of vetted implementing partners; and continually review performance and financial reports regarding reconstruction activities, to ensure that implementing partners are satisfying their performance and financial commitments. Additionally, the steering committee would make an explicit effort to ensure that all information, and the entire decision-making process, is publicly available via the media, press releases and the NDMA website. The idea behind this explicit mandate is that decisions and resource allocations can be tracked by the public to hold government decision-makers accountable.
The explicit goals of the ICRM are to ensure effective communication and information sharing, democratic interaction between citizens and government representatives, and overall community inclusion in decision-making processes. At the local level, the working group would define the rehabilitation and development agenda for their areas by prioritising projects, potentially from a pre-identified ‘menu’ of development projects. The working groups would then produce a proposal that the steering committee would use to select an implementing partner from a group of pre-qualified contractors. To facilitate the process, the steering committee can develop a list of potential reconstruction projects from which the working groups can select. The key idea behind this process is that the local working groups will be the ones identifying the areas that are of most importance.
After an implementing contractor has been selected, it would have to liaise with the working group and solicit input and signoff by the working group before proceeding. The working group would also be conducting monitoring during implementation, and reporting back to the steering committee on how well the implementing contractor is doing. This approach will ensure that the local working groups are at the centre of all flood-reconstruction efforts.
To ensure that the working groups are as representative as possible, they would need to be based at the Union Council level, and have representatives from both the districts and tehsils. Furthermore, to ensure that each working group functions properly and receives the needed logistical support, an external facilitator from a Pakistani NGO – perhaps the Pakistani Red Crescent Society, the National Rural Support Programme or the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund – would need to be part of the working group. This NGO representative would then be tasked with providing initial training and guidance to the working group, facilitating any impasse during discussions, and preparing monitoring reports that evaluate the contractors’ performance. These reports would be presented to the entire working group for approval before being sent to the steering committee.
The importance of the working-group facilitator cannot be overstated. In addition to providing training and facilitating discussion, the facilitator might also be tasked with developing project proposals, undertaking procurement actions to identify implementing partners, and taking the lead in performance monitoring and liaising with the steering committee.
Promoting democratic culture
The proposed ICRM is an ambitious, time- and resource-intensive strategy to address the many challenges that flood-affected areas are continuing to face. But the magnitude of the disaster merits such a comprehensive approach, in order to help affected areas rebuild and improve upon their pre-flood physical, social and political conditions. Moreover, the ICRM presents many opportunities to promote the rebuilding of affected areas in a coordinated way that incorporates and is led by the communities and other key local actors. This approach would help to identify the key reconstruction and development issues, opportunities and resources in the community, and guide resources to these projects. The community can also be empowered to decide the reconstruction and development agenda, and to monitor performance to ensure that implementers are actually following the community-identified priorities.
Development agencies have increasingly recognised the importance of inclusive planning and decision-making processes. That is why, in today’s Pakistan, many such agencies are calling for community-led planning. For instance, according to many of the Pakistani NGOs that participated in the United Nations ‘cluster’ system to help coordinate flood-relief efforts, the cluster structure provided a project framework that strongly encouraged grassroots agencies to use a participatory process to come up with a list of those affected, and to distribute aid accordingly. From independent conversations with several NGOs, it seems that the majority of NGOs recruited community members to help to vet the government’s list of those affected – to develop a ‘clean’ list. Many NGOs formalised this participatory methodology by creating community organisations to conduct needs assessments and structure distribution of assistance.
This approach was tried in Muzzafargarh district, one of the worst hit areas. There, NGOs worked closely with community organisations in planning and implementing many flood-relief projects. At one project to distribute food vouchers, beneficiaries were provided PKR 12,500 (USD 147) in vouchers, with which they could buy food from participating vendors. The local knowledge of the community organisation was critical to identify the neediest beneficiaries, potential local vendors, and to validate transactions at the point of distribution.
Since the early days of the flood-relief efforts, many of the participatory and transparency elements of the ICRM have indeed been adopted by the civilian authorities. Local DCOs are cooperating in the UN ‘cluster’ system, where they are sharing information about their efforts and receiving input from grassroots organisations. At the government level, the federal government has empowered the Council of Common Interests (CCI), a non-partisan group of Pakistani elder statespersons, to formulate a reconstruction-and-rehabilitation strategy to aid flood areas. Despite continued public doubt, these measures, if nothing else, have helped to increase the public’s awareness of the civilian authorities’ flood-relief efforts, and have helped to ameliorate some of the criticism aimed at the government.
Still, more is needed to build support for the civilian authorities. In particular, more empowered non-partisan institutions (akin to the CCI) are needed to develop reasoning-based development strategies; strengthened oversight mechanisms need to identify and prosecute government malfeasance; and explicit public-information mechanisms need to keep the public well informed of government deliberations. Most importantly, mechanisms are needed that can unambiguously include the public in local-level decision-making processes. These measures are imperative to actively combat the public cynicism aimed at civilian authorities in Pakistan, and to effectively rebuild the physical infrastructure affected by flooding – along with strengthening democratic transparency, accountability and representation.
--Edward Gonzalez is a political scientist working with USAID in Pakistan.
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