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Decentralization and Devolution: Educational Implications of the
Praetorian Interpretation


Baela Raza Jamil
Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi Public Trust
September 2002

Decentralization and Devolution: Educational Implications of the
Praetorian Interpretation

Pakistan has a diverse ethnic population of 142 million people, with 32.2 percent people living below the poverty line (I-PRSP, 2001). It is a federation with four provinces and four federally administered territories[1]. For three decades the country experienced a process of increasing centralization in decision-making, resource management and service delivery. During that period, governments were set up under Islamic Socialism, martial law, experiments with democracy by eight governments, and another military take over. Democratic institutions and service delivery eroded at each reconstruction of the state. To offset poor governance, a process of devolution has been initiated through establishment of local governments across Pakistan. The principle of inclusion through political decentralization was meant to provide institutional entitlements for voice and action. Direct elections were held at the union council level (encompassing a population of 25,000, covering 5-7 villages or more settlements) in 2000 for 21 representatives. As the result of a countywide mobilization drive thirty-three percent seats were reserved for women, an unprecedented accomplishment in Pakistan’s history. In addition, six seats were set-aside for workers and peasants and one for a representative of a minority group. The latest attempt at decentralized governance and local government has ironically been implemented under the supervision of the military, which abruptly ended civilian rule on October 12, 1999. In the enterprise of state survival, the military and bureaucracy have taken turns as major and minor partners (Siddiqui 2001). Seeking legitimation through local government has been a recurrent pattern adopted by the military, as evidenced in Pakistan’s history. In 1959, Field Marshall Ayub Khan passed the Basic Democracies Order for Local Government reforms, devolving representation to the village level to serve as an electoral college. In 1979 the local Government Ordinance was promulgated by General Zia ul Haq to activate local government. That moves followed Bhutto’s experiment with Islamic Socialism in which nationalization led to centralization and dilution of local councils. In 1999, the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) was set up as a central authority to formulate and implement devolution under the Local Government Plan (LGP). The NRB devised the Devolution Plan in 2000 and by August 2001 all district governments were in place, mediated by sub-district and union council teams and headed by district, sub-district and union council nazims (mayors). The LGP adhered to the principle of moving comprehensive authority to autonomous units as conceived by NRB. It is within the framework of political decentralization that education decentralization is located. All modes of decentralization (deconcentration, delegation, devolution and privatization) currently operate within the devolution design under implementation. The praetorian initiative is not coincidental. The martial guardians have intervened four times since 1947 for prolonged periods, taking over civil society’s management and restructuring of the Republic of Pakistan for protection of its best interests. The praetorian imperative to bring civil order and reform logically flows from the military’s urgent need to seek legitimacy for intervention in dysfunctional democratic processes, where accountability had been severely undermined and policies had become anti-development and anti-people. The recent drive towards decentralization through a comprehensive devolution design has implications for efficient and equitable service delivery.

The decentralization story in Pakistan in its recent carnation is a complex one. It merits a narrative that locates the problem in a wider evolving political context. This chapter has five major sections. Section I covers the context for decentralization in Pakistan. Sections II highlight the key features of the Education Sector Reforms Action Plan 2001-2005 and responses to devolution. Section IV, focuses on the emergent public private partnerships and the new policy environment to address equity. Finally, emerging mechanisms for financing decentralization are addressed in Section V.

I. Background: Contextualizing Decentralization in Pakistan The need for decentralization in education was initially discussed as a strategy for meeting Education For All goals after the government of Pakistan sought recommendations from the UN Inter-Agency experts in 1995 (UN Mission 1995; PMSP, 1997; Department of Education, Punjab 2000). The UN Inter-Agency mission statement articulated the need for education reforms in this area and suggested: Moving the organization and management structure of basic education from one of a highly centralized and government –managed operation to one that supports a true partnership of the government, communities, non-governmental organizations and private sector and brings more of the decision making to the schools/villages and the districts. (UN Inter-Agency Mission, 1995, p. 2)

However, an institutional approach to administrative decentralization, as suggested by the UN Mission, was bypassed. Instead, the focus was on the creation of School Management Committees/PTAs for local governance in education at the school level. In some provinces, elaborate analyses of comprehensive decentralization were undertaken (NWFP and Punjab 1997; 1998). In Punjab, active measures for creating “district education authorities” were taken, but implementation was ad hoc (Department of Education, Government of Punjab, 1997 and 1999). The piecemeal interpretation of decentralization was clearly not sufficient to produce tangible results. Responsibility and authority were not always aligned and decision rights remained centralized at the provincial level. Public sector shortfalls in education, in spite of 160,000 government institutions (ESR, 2002), led to the emergence of a robust private sector. It is estimated that the private sector provides 28 percent of all education in Pakistan, with this number rising to more than 40 percent in urban areas (World Bank, 2001; FBS, 2001). From a completely nationalized and closed system of 1970s, the government incrementally adopted a laissez faire approach towards private sector, NGO, and community initiatives. This provided multiple spaces to multiple partners. The stage has been set for various individuals and groups in Pakistan with a vested interest in education to form partnerships that address the delivery gap in education. The policy environment, emerging institutional arrangements, financing, and partnerships in education present a unique and comprehensive opportunity for education. Improving education service delivery is therefore one of the core objectives of this comprehensive exercise. In Pakistan, the devolution exercise is underway against such a complex backdrop. The country has been engulfed in prolonged legitimacy and fiscal crises. These are embedded in the history of the state, which has in turn triggered the crises of democracy, participation and distribution (Ahmed, 1998). The current praetorian set up aims to put in place “good governance” and in turn create legitimacy for its actions. There have been four broad responses to the multiple crises of the state which were initiated simultaneously soon after October 12, 1999. The four concurrent strands are: 1. Economic revival through debt rescheduling, macro-economic reform, and accountability. 2. Poverty alleviation as set out in the Interim Poverty Reduction Paper (I-PRSP). The strategies for achieving this include governance reforms, revival of the economy, asset creation, social safety nets, and improved human development. 3. Good governance through social sector reforms, including the Education Sector Reforms (ESR) Action Plan 2001-2004. 4. Political reform through devolution, as outlined in the Local Government Plan 2000, which calls for the devolution of decision making powers to local levels.

Handpicked task forces designed the above initiatives. These comprised of a cross-section of experts drawn from civil society and government in the last quarter of 1999. By 2001, these programs were fully integrated in the I-PRSP[2], which has become the macro policy, program performance and resource mobilization document for the Government of Pakistan.

II. Education Sector Reforms – Action Plan 2001-2004 The state of the provision of education in Pakistan has frequently been critiqued in studies, surveys, and site reports. Those assessments emphasize that a lack of demand is not at issue; instead, problems relate to the sub-optimal quality and quantity of the education supplied (Kardar, 1996; Gazdar, 1999; Khan,, 1999;MSU 2001). In December 1999, a National Education Advisory Board was created and given the responsibility of outlining measures for improving education at all levels. In July 2000, the Board presented a list of proposed education sector reforms to the President (then Chief Executive) as an action plan. The Education Sector Reforms Action Plan 2001-2005 was designed through an inclusive strategy of mobilizing private sector and civil society partners, reinforcing the idea that the government should not serve as the sole provider of education. Contributions from these partners included innovative approaches and resources for meeting demands for public goods, such as, education, health, sanitation, and security. The ESR is an action plan rather than a new education policy[3]. It focuses on universal primary education, literacy, technical education at the secondary and post secondary levels, madrassahs (religious schools), higher education, and quality across all sectors. The plan is anchored in sector-wide framework, public-private partnerships (PPP), and poverty reduction through education entitlements. The Education Sector Reforms (ESR) highlights the state’s responsibility to reach out when private sector options are inaccessible to the poor. There is also an implicit acceptance “quality education for all” must be regarded as a fundamental human right. All institutional and financial arrangements for implementation of the ESR must be negotiated within the recently installed devolution plan. The district governments, which have been in operation since August 14, 2001, are currently undergoing a transition phase, adjusting to new rules of business within district-based realities. The ESR programs pertaining to all sub-sectors up to the secondary and college levels must now be implemented through district government mechanisms. This is a radical shift from previous arrangements whereby all decision making was settled at provincial headquarters. Devolution thus carries major implications for education with new arrangements at national and sub-national levels. Key institutional characteristics of devolution are outlined in the Local Government Plan 2000, with the legal operational framework. The four provinces also follow their own governance documents, called the Local Government Ordinances 2001, approved by their respective cabinets, which detail roles and responsibilities at all tiers. The devolution plan is a comprehensive attempt to restore legitimacy to the state through a bottom up system of governance by mobilizing civil society through direct elections at the union council level, the tier closest to the beneficiaries. It is conceived as a counterpoint to the colonial structures where bureaucracy and local governments were juxtaposed in an adversarial hierarchy.

The Local Government design is based on five fundamentals: Devolution of power, decentralization of administrative authority, deconcentration of management functions, diffusion of power-authority nexus, and distribution of resources to the district level. It is designed to ensure that the genuine interests of the people are served and their rights safeguarded. A coherent integration of these principles and application in various sectors is a major challenge. (NRB, 2000: 1)

Elections for local governments were undertaken from December 2000 and the process was completed in July 2001 in 97 districts. Councilors, nazims (mayors), and naib nazims (deputy mayors) have all been elected. In all districts, governments are now organized around political and administrative teams. According to the devolution manual, the Local Government Ordinance, and the District Rules of Business, each district is composed of eleven departments that function as separate entities. Each of these departments (including education, literacy, and information technology) is managed by an Executive District Officer (EDO). Like all EDOs, the EDO-Education’s line managers are, the District Coordination Office (DCO) as the direct administrative head and the district mayor or Nazim as the political head. The federally administered areas are awaiting devolution transformations. The EDO must also respond to the demands of his/her provincial line department manager, or the Secretary of Education.

Structures and Functions

Education decentralization in Pakistan is evolving as a negotiated and iterative process, aligned with new national directions. Decentralization, as stated earlier, is not merely confined to the education departments of the provinces and district governments but is part of macro level efforts for civil service and fiscal reform. Both personnel and resources have been devolved to the local level to improve decision-making. This exercise may be seen as a gigantic “architectural effort” of decentralization, whereby form must follow the function of people-centered development. On January 24, 2002, the President of Pakistan, addressing the Pakistan Human Development Forum, expressed his political will for good governance and the role of education in national reconstruction. The President enunciated three gradations of change: improvement, reform and restructuring. Pakistan, he stated, has opted for the latter. He was categorical in his view that Pakistan’s future lies in its ability to restructure for human development, stating, “Human development is the anchor of my economic revival policy, which will focus on education, health, and poverty alleviation” (President of Pakistan, January 19, 2002). The colonial administrative pyramid guided by the paradigm of bureaucratic control for managing dissent and mobilizing resources, consisted of well-structured geographical tiers. The colonial arrangements persisted for fifty-four years in Pakistan.
Figure I

Pre-Devolution –Administration Post –Devolution Classical Pyramid Flattening

Federal Government Federal

Province Provincial Government


District Tehsil/sub-district “Markaz” Union Council


As Figure I illustrates, the Local Government Plan 2000 for devolution eliminated “Division” and “Markaz” from the administrative hierarchy, mediating the tiers within the district by Village /Neighborhood Councils, Citizen Community Boards and PTAs/SMCs. Whilst the latter two are emerging and ongoing, the Village/Neighborhood councils have yet to be formed. In 2000, the Ministry of Education (MOE) approached the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) with a list of concerns to be addressed in the devolution plan (MOE, 2000). That list included the following issues: protecting the budgets for education in district government; establishing mechanisms for implementing the Compulsory Primary Education Acts; integrating special needs within Education Departments; rethinking the separation of the education and literacy departments, and declaring the SMCs/PTAs as legal identities (MOE, 2000). Although not all of the proposals advocated by the MOE were adopted, some significant changes were made. For example, matters related to special needs were placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Education and the NRB agreed in principal to legally designate the SMCs/PTAs as Citizen Community Boards (CCBs). Some of the key contrasts between pre- and post-devolution structures are outlined below:
Figure II
Fiscal, Planning, Administrative and Personnel Arrangements in Pre & Post Devolution Periods
Pre-Devolution Post Devolution

Fiscal centralization, federal level Fiscal decentralization to provincial & district levels in a phased manner over 3 years.

Planning centralized to federal level Planning decentralized at district level

Administrative centralization at provincial level Administrative powers devolved to district level
Administrative powers with Commissioners and Elected Representative, Nazim(Mayor) as head, District Commissioners at Divisional and District assisted by a bureaucrat, DCO & 11 Departments.

Planning, posts & transfers with line departments & planning decisions/targets at district & Union
Secretaries at provincial headquarters. Council levels. Positings up to scale 15/18.

Provincial cadres – District level up to District based cadres emerging for local transfers Scale 9 (Primary level Teachers) & postings up to Scale 20. Current responsibility for postings & transfer up to Scale 15.

Training or Human Resource Development Training is still centrally managed by at provincial level the provincial level, but efforts under ESR to Revive district level training institutions to serve HRD and capacity building needs.

The traditional offices of the education departments remained more or less intact at the tiers that have survived devolution, such as district, sub-district and union council. However, as a result of the formation of district governments many new officers have been added to the district government level for the subjects that have been devolved. In urban areas the departments of education under municipal authorities have been merged as one under district governments. Administrative decentralization followed political decentralization. New organizational structures have been designed. The functions and responsibilities at different levels have been articulated. Assets and facilities were reassigned and put in place. Staff assignments are also in process. New functions and responsibilities for different levels have been developed. In terms of implementation, there are provincial differences, administrative issues and personnel matters that will need attention in due course. For example, there has been a lack of uniformity among provinces with respect to the implementation of certain provisions. Due to a lack of skilled personnel, many provinces are having difficulty finding enough skilled staff members to carry out the functions and responsibilities recently assigned to them. These problems need to be revisited by the provincial governments soon after completion of the transition phase of devolution. In the workshops held in 2001, field practitioners expressed numerous concerns about problems they felt were inevitable. Those concerns are outlined in Table III below.
Table III

Government authorities have acknowledged that skills need urgent attention if decentralization is to prove worthwhile for education development in Pakistan. This requires: (i) massive capacity building of all stakeholders; (ii) proper orientation of communities; and (iii) a reorientation of elected representatives (MSU, 2001). Pakistan is not following a single standardized decentralization plan. There are variations from province to province based on differences in history, education trends, topography and local culture. For example, in Sindh and Punjab, the decision has been to devolve colleges to the district level but in the other two provinces that devolution has not progressed beyond the secondary level. In the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), district-based cadres are adhering to their ancient tribal practices of more egalitarian approaches to social organization. Whilst Punjab and Sindh have accepted the division of education and literacy as separate departments, NWFP has actively resisted that move. These variations are a healthy sign that structures and functions are being organized to suit the needs of provinces. The process towards devolution and comprehensive decentralization has been uneven. That is primarily due a pervasive mood amongst the elite bureaucracy that this phenomenon is “illegitimate,” “transitionary,” and “politically volatile” because 2002 is an election year. The assertion of the new political bosses as district heads (in the form of nazims/mayors) was resisted through organized protests at the federal level by senior bureaucrats, who felt subordinated to elected representatives. Ironically, it was these senior elite bureaucrat cadres who were given the responsibility of initiating administrative re-organization to fit the devolution design. They were not willing leaders in an exercise which they felt was bound to fail. However, civil servant recruits at the district level have expressed other views. The Pakistani situation illustrates how messy decentralization can be, especially when it involves pockets of resistance within institutions.

III. Responses to Decentralization

Responses to decentralization initiatives in Pakistan have varied in response to time thresholds, attitudes, and practices. I organize the evolution of those responses into three groups: resistance to devolution, compliance, and accommodation/adjustment. In this section, I will review each of the three periods and describe the major events that occurred during each phase.

Phase I: Resistance From December 1999 to January 2001, all provinces resisted the onset of devolution. Primarily the bureaucrats, who had the most to loose in terms of status and authority, led the resistance. Since the bureaucrats had to lead the pre-devolution transition process, they themselves became the primary blockers of the idea. The most concrete example occurred in the province of Punjab, which on the one hand was perceived to move faster than the emerging NRB blueprint on devolution, whilst on the other ruffled the bureaucrats by making them identify the shortfall of their system and remedies which would significantly undermine an edifice which had solid colonial foundations. In December of 1999, the governor of the province, assisted by his Minister for Information, formed a Task Force on Social Empowerment and Institutional Reform. The group comprised of ministers, senior civil servants, and civil society experts and activists. The scope of work on rethinking government was comprehensive, engaging all departments. An energetic Minister galvanized reluctant bureaucrats to pre-empt devolution and feed into the Local Government Plan at the center being prepared by the NRB.[4] The professional civil society groups worked voluntarily in the sprit of national reconstruction and redesign, producing a thoroughly researched and well-debated document entitled “Devolving the State: A Model for Empowering the People” (2001)[5]. An intensive exercise was undertaken on “Functional Devolution – Education” with implications for political and administrative decentralization. The Governor delayed action on the recommendations of the report. For all practical purposes, the report was shelved, both by the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) and the provincial government, including the department of education. Disappointed and frustrated, the resigned in protest. Whilst the effort mobilized a wide cross-section of bureaucrats and civil society groups to become proactive on issues of governance and its remedies, the fact that the recommendations were not carried through reinforced the bureaucrats’ thinking that devolution was premature--just a whim of the current praetorian regime, designed to justify the take over by the military watchdogs. Many bureaucrats felt that the Devolution Plan 2000 undermined the traditional authority of the bureaucracy. There was an implicit belief that devolution would not be implemented and the local elections scheduled for December 2000 would not be held. Release and utilization of budgets was slowed, a trend that continued for years. Little proactive work was undertaken to rationally determine the key features of a decentralized set up for education. In the provinces of NWFP and Punjab, a minister mobilized bureaucrats and civil society members to create a base for implementing decentralization reforms. In Punjab, valuable efforts for mapping out preparations for devolution were abandoned, disappointing numerous civil society professionals. The government was labeled as opportunistic, and criticized for undertaking a serious activity with lukewarm efforts at implement ability of recommendations, only to pacify public opinion vis-a-vis army rule[6]. Although the report by the Punjab Government in March 2000, Devolving the State (a precursor to the Devolution Plan 2000) was shelved, many of its recommendations from the education chapter were incorporated into education sector reforms and the new decentralized structure in an attempt to provide “Quality Education For All.” Some of the representatives engaged in the Punjab exercise were co-opted as members of the National Education Advisory Board, which had a strong influence on the policy and structures of governance and social reforms. Whilst there is no evidence of “dumping” governance on local organizations, the resistance phase certainly interfered with detailed planning. The bureaucrats in charge of executing decisions, backed by financial resources, squarely led the resistance.

Phase II: Compliance This phase occurred between December 2000 and August 2001, triggered by preparations for the first local government elections. The MOE acted as a catalyst for expediting the process towards decentralization. In February 2001, the MOE initiated a series of national and provincial workshops on “Devolution and Implications for Decentralization in Education.” The department of education of NWFP, influenced by the provincial health department’s early measures in health sector reforms, was the first province to begin the devolution process. In January of 2001, NWFP initiated an exercise to bring the education department in alignment with the emergent principles of devolution. Other provinces formally initiated the decentralization process in February 2001, using some principles from the Decentralization and School-Based Management Guide Resource Kit, published by the World Bank, as a guide. In June 2001, the first blueprints for administrative and functional decentralization were prepared (MSU, 2001). However, some difficulties did surface. Some of the arrangements regarding the role of the provincial headquarters and the federal ministry were unclear; new job descriptions for the decentralized system were not well defined. Also, education facilities that had previously existed under departments of education and local governments had to be merged to form district governments. Many of the people involved did not find this integrated approach acceptable. There was considerable resistance toward devolving power to the districts. Nevertheless, the blueprints were put into effect on August 14th, 2001, when new district governments were established in all 97 districts of Pakistan. In all provincial capitals, the large divisions and districts around urban metropolitan areas were amalgamated as “city districts.” In the case of Karachi, five districts, including a rural district, were merged into one decentralized mega-city district. Each provincial education department articulated a vision statement about decentralization (reproduced below), suggesting some internalization of the plans for change.

Provincial Vision Statements


Principal goal is to devolve decision-making for quality education through decentralization of powers from Provincial Education Department to district and union council levels closest to end users… where stakeholders can have a productive collaborative partnership among themselves. To recreate the missing link between teachers and students (Task Force on Social Empowerment: Punjab 2000 & Special Secretary Schools, Government of Punjab, 2001).


Building on the opportunity provided by and in accord with the spirit of Devolution of Power to the District Government, the Education Department is proposed to be restructured by decentralizing its implementation functions and introduction of procedures to ensure work efficiency, performance, accountability, and development of professionalism in the Education service for improving the Literacy, Access/Enrolment, Quality of Learning, and outcomes at the Schools, Colleges and technical & Vocational Institutions levels by involving parents and Community in the service delivery (Education Department, Government of NWFP, 2001) .

Our Mission is Quality, Retention and Access (Education Department, Government of Sindh, 2001)

Devolution is aimed at shifting the decision making process from provincial headquarter down to the district government for promotion of education, quantitatively and qualitatively through an effective, efficient and accountable mode of governance (Education Department, Government of Balochistan, 2001)

Phase III: Accommodation and Adjustment The most vibrant phase is the current one, which began after August 14th of 2001. At the time of this writing, many changes regarding roles, responsibilities and authority regimes, at the district, provincial, and federal levels are underway. Whilst most education managers at the district level believe that district-based planning and decision-making is ideal, there is concern that the EDO-Education has very little autonomy. With respect to new programs and decisions, the Mayor and the District Co-ordination Officer (DCO) reign supreme as decision makers. The tension is apparent in all districts. One EDO remarked, “ I am not of any use, simply engaged in posting and transfers rather than real work on education planning and quality . . .. This is not decentralization, we are re-centralizing . . .. I would like to go back to my college where I had done wonders as a manager” (EDO – Sheikhupura, April 15, 2002). District education functionaries believe that the “bureaucrats will not give devolution a chance,” as they have the administrative skills for executing decisions, but do not have the will to do so. In most of the districts there is evidence of adjustments in posts, roles and responsibilities, indicating that the organization charts will undergo many changes. The district mayors are filled with enthusiasm about education, wanting to change many arrangements. Many would like to see authority over the elementary schools devolve to the union council level, where they would be managed by the mayors and their teams (District Mayor Lahore District April, 2002). When informed that such action could lead to the politicization of education, one mayor admitted that this issue merits “due consideration.” At a meeting on “Improving Education Through Civil Society Participation,” it was decided that a District Education Board should be formed. Although all admit that there is a need for administrative presence at the union council level, there is inertia about taking measures to make it happen. It is envisaged that the third phase will be completed by June 2003, once the newly elected government and its representatives have settled in after the elections, which are scheduled for October 10, 2002. By mid 2003, fiscal devolution should be in place at the district level endorsed by the new, democratically elected government to be installed in October 2002. The President, as the chief praetorian guard of Pakistan, obtained the mandate through a controversial national referendum in May 2002 for remaining in power for five additional years so as to implement the proposed national reforms. The Constitution, which stands abrogated since 1999, will have to be changed. It is now undergoing rapid changes with a semblance of consensus to accommodate the centrality of local government and ascendancy of a praetorian-civilian President. This political arrangement presents a challenge to continuity and sustainability of the reform processes. It is possible that another cycle of change, resistance, compliance, and accommodation could set in motion after the elections, undermining the much needed decentralization process for improved service delivery. The Pakistan case study certainly demonstrates that decentralization is a complex process, not just administratively, but politically and legally as well. Diverging from the blueprints for devolution, educational decentralization has been led by provincial authorities, with some assistance from the federal government. The implementation of educational decentralization hinges on public, private and NGO delivery options. There have been uneven opportunities for civil society stakeholders to participate in the process, both on account of old habits of selective consultation for managing “dissent and noise” as well as poorly defined protocols for collaboration between the public sector and civil society partners. The cabinet recently approved (February 27, 2002) an incentive package for promoting public-private partnerships. Each district government has to contend with these multiple players in education in creating opportunities for education development. As described above, the decentralization process is fully at play in Pakistan. Its variations may be seen in the form of deconcentration, delegation, devolution and privatization including public private partnerships.

IV. Public Private Partnerships: Government Shifts from Provider to Facilitator

Education in Pakistan, over the past thirty years has moved from the domain of state provision to one of multiple delivery system. Increasingly, public and private are not separate entities but are seen to lie on a continuum to meet national targets of non-formal, elementary, technical and higher education in terms of quality and access. (Baela R. Jamil 1999: 6)

The terms privatization and decentralization[7] are commonly conflated, used inter-changeably within the “good governance” discourse. Privatization is often subsumed under decentralization (Woodhall, 1997; Bray 1986; 1994). Woodhall argues that conceptual slippages between decentralization and privatization occur with particular frequence in the areas of finance, delivery and control (Woodhall, 1999: 4). Decentralization has often been conceptually and practically deconstructed along a continuum, spanning from deconcentration to privatization. The political economy of education has been the main determinant of these new arrangements. It is therefore essential to locate movements towards public private partnerships within a framework that illustrates the evolving linkages as well as tensions. There are three broad periods with respect to the mobilization of private sector education in Pakistan. These trends coincide with shifts in political arrangements.

During this decade, the military government reclaimed authority over the education sector after the debacle of mass nationalization in 1972-73. Government officials decided that it was in the best interest of state and society to release control over schools and allow private sector to participate in education delivery. That strategy was designed to provide legitimacy to the military rulers who were allowing not only options and choice for schooling, but also helping the government in times of fiscal stress. In addition to reinjecting the private sector into the process of educational outreach, the 1979 National Education Policy mobilized other partners in attempt to increase non-secular education options. During this decade, the number of madrasahs also mushroomed, and their diplomas were made equivalent to those from public institutions.

Influenced by the call for “Education for All” made at Jomtien in 1990, multiple democratic governments in Pakistan attempted to broaden participation in education through mobilization of NGOs and communities. The focus was on issues of access (particularly for girls) and quality. Numerous pilot programs were initiated in hopes that model programs would be created and implemented on a larger scale. Although community support often depended on government and donor financing, the private sector began to play a more active part at all levels of the education spectrum. Public policy in education began to consider the possibility of utilizing decentralization, privatization, and equity to “correct” the runaway state (sometimes also referred to as the “failed state”).

Post-1999 After the military take over in 1999, there were two broad responses to the multiple crises of the state: 1) devolving power to local levels through the initiative of the Local Government Plan 2000; 2) mobilizing private sector and civil society partners for additional resources and improved management arrangements. The private sector expanded rapidly from the early 1980s through the 1990s. There are now almost 30,000 primary and middle schools, 41% of which are located in rural areas (FBS, 2001). The recent wave in soliciting partnerships for education seeks to legitimize and formalize institutional arrangements that were successfully implemented between 1989-1999.[8] The state has assumed the role of the facilitator, negotiating partnerships with the private (profit and non-profit) sector. Education Sector Reforms (ESR) has set targets of 3% increases in private sector enrollments at the secondary level, and 5% at the higher education level. The “new” state as a facilitator is emerging with many options for public-private partnerships. This has created the potential for increased resources, better service delivery, and more choices in the kinds of goods and services available to consumers from non-elite groups. The possibility of using vouchers to expand schooling options available to poor families is also being explored (MOE 2002; & World Bank 2002).

Private Sector Options and Equity The ESR has thus put on the map a key role for the private sector and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Many experiments for bringing in private sector into public sites are currently underway to address equity and quality. Partnerships for education have emerged along the multiple spaces in a loosely layered environment of laissez faire management. If the government focuses on access without making entitlements and quality its key objectives, public policy may suffer. The government has taken its role as a facilitator and an arranger seriously, providing incentives to the private sector and encouraging civil society organizations to promote education (see Appendices I & II). It is actively seeking capacity building opportunities for itself and its partners in private and civil society sectors through donor and local government support. Efforts are currently being made to mobilize for capacity building initiatives in governance, planning, democracy and participation as well as civil society mobilization. However, there are concerns that the public sector may continue to operate sub-optimally, drifting towards privatization without challenging its own personnel and systems to extend quality education to disadvantaged groups. Although the ESR expanded the resources available to improve public sector facilities, several institutional and administrative decisions have not yet been taken. For example, many of the rules that teachers and administrators are required to follow are in need of revision; the roles and responsibilities assigned to district level managers (at EDO-Education) are not clearly defined. Lack of attention to these matters continues to pull down performance by public sector facilities. The vision for reform and decentralization needs to be accompanied by both systemic and attitudinal changes, which have to be acknowledged and acted upon. Both take time, as is the evidence with decentralization processes in any other part of the developed or the developing world. District-based governments must contend with private sector and public-private partnerships as they attempt to meet the goals and targets established in the ESR and the EFA. The challenge for the district governments is to increase their level of understanding and skill in implementing the policy reforms. They are attempting to create opportunities for engaging with communities, public-private partnerships, and the private sector, so as to meet the goals of equity and the ultimate national objective of people-centered government. What type of progress has been made? At this early stage, the evidence is just beginning to emerge. There are several concrete examples of progress: • Creation of District Education Plans through stakeholder exercises and facilitation by NGOs in the districts of Kasur, Sheikhupura and Chakwal in Punjab • Designation of PTAs/SMCs as Citizen Community Boards (CCB); • A formalized “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoA) calling for civil society organizations to adopt local schools for improvement and work with District Governments; • Calls for the private sector to run afternoon classes in public school buildings.
It appears that the center is making up for deficits in the skill level and “belief-attitudes” among district-level authorities by expanding the scope of “clients” and “service providers,” with whom they may legitimately work. Almost 4000 public secondary schools have been equipped with IT facilities and more than 6000 primary, middle and secondary schools have been upgraded to middle, secondary and higher secondary levels in the provinces of Punjab and NWFP, thereby creating substantial savings for the government in brick and mortar expenses. The central government is cognizant that expanding delivery options under decentralization must be supported by increased financial support through decentralized financing instruments, which are accessible to public sector, civil society and private partners alike.

V. Financing Decentralization: Fiscal Space and Fiscal Opportunities

A major challenge for effective decentralization is that of fiscal devolution to the district level. Over the past three decades, financing became completely centralized in Pakistan. However, plans are currently under way to create a partnership between the Ministries of Finance, Planning, and Education for rethinking how resources for education can be generated and disbursed. The goal was to create new fiscal opportunities at the district level. Financing was reconceptualized in the ESR from a conventional deficit oriented approach to a more robust, multi-dimensional one. Four dimensions were involved in the modified approach: multiple level resourcing, poverty reduction strategies, institutional mechanisms of additionality and disbursement, and new budgetary mechanisms for financing education. Convinced that devolution required alternative options, an innovative instrument called the Letter of Agreement was designed by the Ministry of Education (MOE 2001).
The Letter of Agreement is a performance-based funding mechanism that provides all providences with generous subsidies[9] determined using a performance-based formula set by the National Economic Council (NEC). According to the stipulations of the Agreement, civil service organizations must be involved in those projects and 50% of all funds must be allocated to girls/women and disadvantaged groups. The Letters of Agreement were signed in January and February of 2002. That was almost seven months into the financial year. Many districts had trouble switching to a performance-based expenditure system so quickly. Some district level arrangements remain in a state of flux. The districts are attempting to take on new responsibilities but must rely on personnel who may lack necessary skills. In addition, the EDO-Education does not have direct access to these funds, which are currently under the control of the District Coordination Officers (DCOs). In many cases, the DCOs perceive of the EDOs as officers with little capability or imagination. Many district governments are apprehensive about sharing their resources with the CSOs. They are worried about being held liable for ineligible expenditures. Although the Letters of Agreement were enacted in the spirit of financial devolution, they clearly provoked anxiety and confusion at all levels of the government in the initial phase, but have been since acknowledged as the lever for direct resource injection to the district level without being subjected to complex controls and approvals at higher provincial and federal levels. The NRB has facilitated “bottom up” financial planning through Citizen Communities Boards (CCBs), which operate at the village and union council levels. The CCBs are composed of non-elected citizen volunteers who come together as an organized body (See Appendix III). Access to funds is through a matching grant scheme, whereby the CCBs must provide 20% of total funds in cash to receive 80% of approved budget. The praetorian managers require all registered civil society organizations, including PTAs/SMCs, to re-register as CCBS if they want access to district funds (NRB, 2002). In addition, CCB projects must go through a complicated nine-step process to receive grants.[10] The NRB has resisted providing alternate funds to the CSOs (such as conditional grants from provincial and federal sources) for fear that doing so will undermine the new praetorian diktats for mainstream democracy. The Ministry of Education initiated work on guidelines for CSO participation and private sector access to ESR funds. It also successfully oversaw the completion of a complex agreement between the Ministries of Finance, Planning, Comptroller General of Accounts and the NRB. This financing instrument will support decentralization through local civil society organizations by providing sufficient fiscal space, not only to mobilize resources but also flexibility to utilize this as per priorities of local needs and opportunity, thereby aligning policy with implement able systems and procedures.

Conclusion This case study of decentralization is situated within the larger framework of national reconstruction and the political economy of education in Pakistan. Recently, the government has been led by a praetorian regime, undertaking broad-based political, social and economic reforms. In implementing decentralization reforms, the military government adopted an eclectic mix of persuasion, consultation, and coercion. The public is not yet sure if the reforms have been undertaken for the public good, or to add legitimacy to the military government so that it may remain in power. During the resistance phase of the devolution, the bureaucrats, who were rivals to the praetorian guards, allowed only minimal release of funds. However, just six months prior to the formation of the district governments, the NRB flexed its muscles and ensured the implementation of the Local Government Ordinances, which specified the powers that would be transferred to local administrative levels. It is important to note that drafts of the Local Government Ordinances were not made public by the praetorian pragmatists, who feared that the process would become complicated with too many opinions. When this scribe requested a copy of the Ordinance in December 2000 from a senior local government officer in Punjab, the response was: “This is a document with restricted circulation.. .Under instruction from NRB … .We have deadlines to meet!” (Local Government & Rural Development Department, Punjab 2000). Although one general blueprint guides the devolution of the education system that is being overseen by the NRB, there are variations on how each province is organizing its decentralized education structures and functions. These depend upon the availability of human resources, the educational infrastructure, and, to a critical extent, the “vision” of the champion(s) of reform. Federal authorities recognize that such variations should be addressed in a flexible manner. Only if such an approach is taken can underdeveloped provinces, such as Balochistan and rural Sindh, address equity issues. Funding formulas must factor in need, population, and poverty levels. This issue is currently under debate. In Pakistan, several challenges must be met if educational decentralization is to produce positive outcomes. The most critical of those challenges are: • Linking district realities with national restructuring efforts • Continuing to advance the decentralization agenda after the election of October 2002 • Devolving powers and authority to district managers and local governance partners in the communities • Providing the union councils with administrative and financial powers so that recentralization trends will be resisted and decision can be made in a timely way • Designing an efficient indigenous capacity model that will promote good governance • Ensuring the participation of private and civil society sectors in meeting district targets for education

It will take time before decentralization structures that are suited to the emerging and shifting political and administrative landscape of Pakistan can be put in place. The public and private sectors are now working together to support good governance of education, with the government playing the role of facilitator. This is necessary for equity reasons. However, the cultures of the two sectors remain distinct. The public sector mindset offers the toughest challenge to continued decentralization. Bureaucrats often resist the move from the traditional adversarial relationship to one of collaboration and trust with civil society organizations. On the other hand, there are asymmetries in the schooling options offered in the private sector, especially in terms of equity. Objectives related to equity require fundamental shifts in ownership, distribution, and capacities of various groups in society. There is an underlying tension, however, between the goal of pursuing equity and those associated with privatization. Privatization requires the state to display advanced technical capacities, and to show continuous vigilance as it manages a demanding reform agenda. Initially, the role of the state will be increased rather than reduced. Governance for quality in education depends upon the capabilities of stakeholders and managers. Currently, that quality is uneven at all levels and across provinces. Community participation may appear as a proxy for ensuring equity through collective action, but groups such as CBOs and NGOs currently have minimal negotiating power with the government and little control over their destinies. The convergence of administrative and financial devolution through the ESR Action Plan created a vibrant setting for reform in Pakistan. Only if institutional and fiscal issues are addressed simultaneously, however, can recently adopted reforms meet their goals. If decentralization reforms are successful, they will lead to the improved delivery of public services--the only options available to the average citizens of Pakistan, 33% of whom who live below the poverty level. Thus, the cornerstone of educational democracy remains the primary challenge for the Pakistan government. The private sector, local communities, and school management committees on their own can only be seen as proxies to effective decentralization in education. There is a thin, but powerful dividing line between governance and participation. The deciding factor must surely be if current decentralization reform efforts are for the people or for the state. The martial, administrative, and political groups who have traditionally wielded the state in Pakistan need to clarify their role vis-a-vis civil society, and modify governance practices/structures accordingly. In the education sector, such a transformation needs to create opportunities for everyday citizens to become involved in school governance and decision making. If those plans are translated into action, we should see evidence of reform at the level of learning sites (the schools, NFE centers, colleges, universities etc.).


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Bray, M. (1994). ‘Centralization/Decentralization and Privatization/Publicization: Conceptual Issues and the Need for More Research’, International Journal of Education Research. Vol.21. No.8: 817-824.

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[1] Provinces: Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and NWFP. Federal Areas: Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Northern Areas (NA), Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT).
[2] I-PRSP, although homegrown, is a pre-requisite to qualify for IMF’s Poverty Reduction Growth Facility (PRGF), the replacement to Structural Adjustment Program (SAP).
[3] The latest Education Policy in operation is that of 1998-2010.
[4] It is only pertinent to note that both the Governor and the focal person for the Devolution Plan(both retired generals) at the National Reconstruction Bureau(NRB), marginalized the provincial efforts.
[5] The exercise covered comprehensively, a Conceptual Framework, District Government, Elections, Local Dispute Resolution, Police, Land Revenue Administration, Education, Health, Financing and Residuary functions of the State (ibid.).
[6] On September 19th yet another Think Tank was formed for Education with four groups to address issues of quality and relevance across four sub-sectors. The civil society participants at this national meeting, openly shared their reservations about such initiatives which are not translated into actions but to address some other objectives (September 19,2002).
[7] Decentralization has been explored vigorously since 1983 as a public policy option for education, examining the role of the state and the locus of ‘control’. The debate has been growing in face of poor performance of the state to deliver basic services. See: Lauglo, J & M. McLean (1985), The Control of Education: International Perspectives on the Centralization-decentralization Debate. Heineman, London.
[8] Adopt A School programme, Using under-utilized public sector sites for Fellowship and Community Supported Schools (community managed), opening low cost private sector options in rural areas on government sites and with support from Education Foundations.
[9] A total of 3.4 billion rupees (approximately 55 million dollars) was allocated to the provinces to fund Education Sector Reform development projects at the district level.
[10] The nine steps of that process are: need identification, project preparation, submission, clearance by the council of proposals, approval, deposit of share, release of first installment, implementation, monitoring and project progress reports.



Union Council
Village/Neighborhood Councils
Citizen Community Boards
PTAs/SMCs/School Councils

Issues Highlighted by Provinces:

• There is need of proper orientation and capacity building of all stakeholders about their particular roles and responsibilities towards the system as well as towards each other • A number of managerial staff are former teachers. They should be provided with necessary managerial training • Inter-district transfers to be made with the consent of the concerned EDOs • Public representatives should refrain from creating unnecessary interference with education officials • Clear job descriptions be laid down to ensure better and focused performance • Administrative and financial powers are too limited • The Rules of Business aren’t clear enough, especially the financial aspects need more clarity • A solid physical infrastructure is not yet in place • The staff strength does not match the responsibilities assigned to the district educational set-up • The communities have to be provided proper orientation as to how they can play their role in enhancement of education levels and standards

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