Balochistan has suffered disproportionately in terms of development and governance over recent years. In the face of adversity, people in the rural district of Balochistan, with the help of National Rural Support Programme, have organised themselves to have a voice in governance and an improved standard of living. Here Zahra Rao (Rural Support Programmes Network, Pakistan and LSE Alumnus) explains the power of such programmes.
Pakistan, like many of its fellow young democracies is facing a growing crisis. Despite decentralization in 2002 (whereby three new tiers of local governance were introduced), and then the devolution of government departments at the federal level (which transferred power from central to regional governments to make governance responsive to local needs in 2010) the national government continues to perform its most basic function of delivering services and protecting the rights of the poorest poorly.
This is especially true in Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan by land and also the least populated. The literacy rate in Balochistan is 46 per cent, meaning 2.3 million children in the province are not in school, and over 50 per cent of the residents live below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is currently 4.09 per cent and the province is listed as the worst province in terms of female education in the country.
As citizens of Balochistan have been living with such adversities for decades, they have become deeply mistrustful of the state and its ability to deliver. They also have little faith in the transparency of the electoral system. This situation therefore has created the desire for people in Balochistan to become more empowered and to take their fate into their own hands. By thinking of the ideas of social accountability, the citizens of Balochistan can help fellow citizens in this part of the country switch from the passive “vote” to the more active “voice” by demanding accountability and good governance outside of the electoral cycle. Upon my visit to the region (specifically the village Shahrak, in the south of Balochistan) as a monitoring and evaluations officer for BRACE, I came across an example of these ideas in practice. My discussions with the residents of Shahrak highlighted the power of holding government departments (local service providers) accountable despite living in difficult conditions.
Located in the south-west of Balochistan, the district Kech shares a border with Iran. It has a population of 909,116 people, 66.7 per cent of which is rural. A group of people of the village, Shahrak in Kech, Balochistan have formed a network of social institutions with a large membership, to organise themselves politically.
In this community, the EU-funded Balochistan Rural Development and Community Empowerment Programme (BRACE) is working to support this community-driven development approach, aimed at mobilising communities and enabling them to voice their needs collectively in an organised way. The BRACE Programme is designed to support the Government of Balochistan in its attempts to reduce the negative impact of economic deprivation, poverty and social inequality, environmental degradation and climate change. In turn it aims to transform these challenges into opportunities by building and empowering resilient communities participating actively in socio-economic development activities on a sustainable basis in partnership.
How BRACE works
Social mobilisation of the rural poor aims to build a social pillar to complement the pre-existing administrative pillar, comprising the service delivery government departments like the police and the political pillar, comprising national, provincial and local political representatives. The bottom-up social pillar organises citizens right down to the household level. It is made up of three tiers: Community Organisations at the household level, Village Organisations at the village level and Local Support Organisations at the Union Council level. The groups of people at these three levels help their communities organise, carry out activism and advocacy to help themselves connect with the local government to demand efficient service delivery. The BRACE Programme is making use of this social pillar to provide the rural poor with other interventions. The BRACE Programme realizes that poverty exists at household level and so it creates a micro-investment plan (MIP) for each household to identify its available resources and needs for an income generating activity. The collective development needs of the village are recorded in a Village Development Plan (VDP) and these are consolidated into Union Council Development Plans by LSOs. This way, it is ensured that development is need-based and the initiative and effort comes from within the community, making it sustainable.
Social mobilisation and social accountability
A recent national report by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute identified the lack of social mobilisation as one of the main obstacles to social accountability. Pakistan has a vast network of organisations called the Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) working to organise the rural poor in different regions. The RSPs are working to remedy the lack of social mobilisation in different regions of the country. The EU-funded BRACE programme is implemented by two Rural Support Programmes: the National Rural Support Programme that works in the south of Balochistan, and the Balochistan Rural Support Programme works in the north and centre of Balochistan.
Both these RSPs have so far organised 141,580 number of households and a population of 1,822,566 in two years of BRACE. Not only have they enabled and helped citizens to organise themselves, they have also supported the government and other stakeholders in building a policy framework highlighting the needs of the people.
The village of Shahrak in the district Kech of Balochistan is a dry area with an acute shortage of water, and dust storms. It has a population of a little over 5000 people. With the help of the relevant RSP, the people of Shahrak formed an LSO and named it Rashun. The members unanimously identified unannounced electricity cuts as a major issue of their region. They stated that the last unannounced electricity cut lasted for three days – a big inconvenience which disrupted their everyday routines. The members of the LSO, used the social pillar to gather, organize for transportation and visit the local authorities to complain about this issue. They further plan to include this in their Union Council Development Plan, which is discussed at Joint District Development Committees (JDDC) before representatives of local authorities, local government and beneficiaries. This committee is notified by the government and is headed by the top-level officers of the civil service at Tehsil and District level. I believe this is an excellent example of how the poorest of poor come together to engage with the government, express their concerns and demand results.
Local government and social accountability
Access to knowledge is integral to the process of social accountability. BRACE has capacitated the citizens of Kech to understand their rights on the State. This information, along with their new engagement with a wider and diverse community (in the form of exposure visits, JDDC meetings at district level with different stakeholders etc.) has allowed the citizens to broaden their horizons. During my discussions with the LSO members, some women explained that they limited mobility in the past due to the cultural norms of the region. However, they were now able to persuade and negotiate with their family men to have better mobility. “In order to convince our family men to not restrict our mobility we tell them to look at where the world is and where we are”, said one of the beneficiaries. She explained she was able to make this analogy after she saw a new side to Pakistan in Gwadar on one of BRACE’s exposure visits. The struggle to increase mobility is worth the efforts being put into it; it can lead to citizens demanding more access to information on governance.
Given how social accountability is based on ideals of participatory action and ownership by the people, it is especially well-suited for sustainable development in developing countries. The following suggestions will allow for the provincial government to guarantee a more rigorous and effective framework of social accountability.
To ensure that government officials take ownership of the social accountability framework, the provincial government should hold awareness raising sessions and arrange exposure visits to countries like Tajikistan where the model has matured enough to show its benefits to State-Citizen relations in society. The media must be looked at as an ally to governing bodies; its ability to shine a light at the plight of an average citizen can be utilized to create a more rigorous framework of social accountability.
An informed community is a prerequisite to an active citizenry, campaigning for its rights. For this, it is imperative to encourage a more transparent and accessible bureaucracy, void of red tape and secrecy. Balochistan must replace the 2005 Freedom of Information Act with the Right of Access to Information Act 2017. This will empower citizens to know and take ownership of their government and its budgeted activities.
Lastly, the Joint District Development Committee (JDDC) meetings can serve as an ideal platform to bring all stakeholders together, offering a safe space for confrontation and planning. The provincial government should ensure their representatives take JDDC meetings seriously through regular attendance.
This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the South Asia @ LSE blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Image: Female members of a village-level Community Institution come together for their monthly meeting to discuss challenges faced by local women and their possible solutions. Credit: Assad Abbas Malik.