Pakistan’s government service delivery system is a colonial holdover. It is managed by civil servants who concentrate power in one office, and then move matters upwards so that decisions are made by just a handful of people. These civil servants are not held accountable to the citizens they serve as no feedback system exists to determine their performance. Such a system disincentives service providers as their service delivery is established with their superiors in mind, rather than the citizens. However, several countries have adopted accountability mechanisms that have improved government service delivery, strengthening the system and increasing the transparency in public functioning.
The UK’s House of Common’s report published in 2007-08 recommended clear, precise, and enforceable statements of entitlements guaranteed through public services — advocating a rights-based approach of delivering time-bound public services. The Indian state Madhya Pradesh became the first state in South Asia to enact the Right to Service Act covering various public services. This was followed by similar legislation in almost 20 states in India, under which various public services are slated for effective and timely delivery.
In Pakistan, most political parties have adopted slogans that highlight the importance of good governance and reforms, especially in the wake of the 18th amendment. In the 2013 elections, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) claimed a majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and embarked upon various good governance reforms, including laws on transparency, conflicts of interest, and guaranteeing public services in the province. Influenced by the governance model in India, the PTI government introduced the KP Right to Public Services Act (RTSA) 2014, which guarantees every citizen the right to time-bound delivery of public provisions and services and the redressal of grievances. The RTSA also endorses Section 5 of Objective Resolution which states, “Equality, democracy, social justice enunciated by Islam shall be fully observed”. It also reinforces the fundamental rights (Article 8-28) and Principles of Policy (Article 29-40).
The KP RTSA 2014 provides:
- Time-bound delivery of public services to citizens.
- Holds government functionaries accountable in case of failure to provide services to citizens in a timely, equitable and transparent manner.
- Compensation to citizens for not receiving legitimate services within the prescribed time limit.
The KP government formed the Right to Public Services Commission (RTSC), a statutory body established by the Provincial Assembly. The commission is headed by a chief commissioner who is assisted by two commissioners plus supporting staff. To date, the commission has regulated 41 services in various public departments, including revenue, health, excise and taxation, education, security, licenses and municipal services. The commission operates through district monitoring officers (DMOs) in each district. Focal persons for each department, district and division are also nominated.
Under the Right To Services Act, an eligible person can file a complaint to the appellate authority and the commission, as both have the powers of the civil court. Fines can be imposed on delinquent designated officials and disciplinary proceedings can be initiated. For better coordination and devolution of powers, the divisional, district and sub-divisional steering committees of the RTSC are constituted under the chairperson of commissioners and deputy commissioners. These committees are mandated to supervise and report on public service delivery, issue guidelines and create awareness amongst constituents. District and sub-divisional integration forums of up to 50 members are also established including non-government organizations (NGOs), communities, political leaders, ulema, and elders to ensure the inclusion of citizens’ voices in decision processes.
In its quarterly report, the commission recorded variations in availing services, delays caused by service providers, and appeals to the appellate authority. Unfortunately, there are no reliable or scientific studies on the act’s implementation in KP. Governance experts, including the iLOGIC Network, have stressed the need to generate more robust data and information from government departments, capture people’s perception on the provision of services, and analyse the role of the appellate authority and the commission.
There is not much movement on implementing the Punjab Right to Services Act 2019, thereby stripping residents of their lawful right to time-bound service delivery.
In 2019, the government of Punjab also enacted a similar law to guarantee public services for its citizens. Punjab is also led by PTI and the party has initiated good governance reforms similar to those in KP. The Punjab government passed laws on transparency, guaranteed pubic services and conflicts of interest. However, the Punjab government has only operationalized the Transparency and Right to Information (RTI) Act by establishing an RTI commission and designating officers in public offices. There is not much movement on implementing the Punjab Right to Services Act 2019, thereby stripping residents of their lawful right to time-bound service delivery.
Punjab should leverage the PTI government’s experience of implementing Right To Service in KP. The bodies established at various district and division levels in KP would help stakeholders in Punjab better understand and efficiently adapt to their own local environment. Civil society should also compile comprehensive research on the implementation of the KP RTSA to identify best practices to make local public services accessible to everyone in a timely manner.