Right to Public Services Act in Pakistan: The Path to Accountability, Transparency and Action
The Right to Public Services Act passed in January 2014 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan promises provision of time bound services to its citizens and attempts to raise service delivery standards and responsiveness of the service providers and implement effective enforcement mechanisms.
GULBAZ ALI KHAN
Public Laws: Introduction
Guaranteeing time-bound public service delivery has shown encouraging impacts in countries where laws have been enacted to promote transparency and accountability. There are examples from history on the implementation of Public laws like that of United Kindom to suggest affirmative results. In UK, when John Major introduced reforms in 1991 known as Citizen Charter, it allowed service users to receive services under a mutual agreement. It raised service delivery standards and responsiveness of the service provider. The debate generated around weak service delivery and usefulness in UK, led the House of Commons to publish its 2007-08 report on ‘Public Services: Putting People First’. It recommended clear, precise and enforceable statements of entitlements through public service guarantees. Thus, the administrative guarantees got converted into legal rights.
The Citizen Charter movement from the UK spread across the globe and to different countries, including Belgium (1992), Canada (1995), Australia (1997) and India (1997). This has led to countries adopting a rights based approach of guaranteeing time bound public services.
The Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is the first state in South Asia to enact and implement various public service provision departments. This enactment was followed by successive legislations in almost 19 states of India, under which various public services are enlisted for effective and timely delivery.
In Pakistan, a big change came in electioneering slogans, where transparency, accountability, and good governance were mentioned as pivots to the well-being of the general masses.
The Right to Public Services Act passed in January 2014 provides time-bound public services to residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, strictly imposes penalties on government functionaries for not providing services within a stipulated time.
Most of the political parties adopted slogans, which highlighted in their political manifestos the importance of good governance and reforms. The efforts towards devolution of powers brought about by the parliament through the 18th Amendment added strength to these political slogans.
These positive developments have changed the style of governance in provinces where provinces are governed by different political parties and their allies. The PTI-led political coalition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa took legislative steps and tabled, debated, and passed more than 30 acts, including the Right to Information, Local Government Act, and Accountability Act. The Right to Public Services Act was passed in January 2014.
The Right to Public Services Act in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa The Act provides time-bound public services to eligible residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP), strictly imposing penalties on government functionaries found not providing services within a stipulated time, grants, compensations to citizens who are affected by service deficiency/denial. It places a strong enforcement mechanism bringing people first.
In the first phase, the provincial government notified five key public services. Now the citizens have the right to receive services a) issuance of fard in 7days b) registration of birth/death certificate in 2days, c) approval of residential building plan in 30days d) registration of FIR/daily diary instantly and e) domicile in 10days. Recently, the provincial government has added three more proceeding services, a) examination by a doctor in Out Patient Department (OPD) in District Head Quarter (DHQ)/Tehsil Head Quarter (THQ) Hospital Rural Health Centre (RHC), and Basic Health Unit (BHU) in 2hours, b) examination by the medical officer in 30minutes and c) issuance of drug license in 10days.
Proposal for Expansion
The provincial government is planning to expand the services by including provision of municipal services, distribution of zakat, issuance of driving/arm license, and education services in public sector institutions. Consultations are in process with different stakeholders to reach a consensus for time-bound delivery for each service.
Hanif Orakzai, Chief Commissioner, RTS Commission in a training workshop in Pakistan Academy of Rural Development revealed that the commission conducted extensive consultations with all the stakeholders, including the front line service providers before finalising the time-lines for each service. He also quoted the example of OPD services in hospitals where the commission did consultations with the management of all hospitals in Peshawar and agreed that two hours are enough for a patient to be served in the outdoor. Similarly, provisions of emergency services in hospitals are also time-bound with consultations of CEOs of tertiary hospitals. However, the same time has been fixed for RHC and BHU OPD services as well which is conflicting to what the government has already approved in its Primary Healthcare Standards:
Standard 2.4 states that priority will be given to extremely ill patients first, including elderly and children. Similarly, sick patients/ the elderly will be treated within 15 minutes at service outlets.
Standard 2.6 says that at BHU/RHC, waiting time is fixed at no more than an hour.
Orakzai added that Information and Communication Technologies-based feedback system will help the commission seek continuous feedback from users, building a communication between provincial government and citizen and improve trust over public service delivery. This is despite the fact that the provincial government has enacted this law in haste and has not prepared much before looking into what it really requires for its implementation.
Supporting initiatives and recommendations for effective implementation of the Act
Implementation of supporting initiatives is important to make this law effective in KP:
Firstly, it is important to conduct extensive consultations with departments before notifying the services to be time-bound. Consultations must be done with all the stakeholders, including policy makers and service providers. This will help assess readiness of the departments in implementing the law.
Secondly, in most of the cases, frontline service providers are not provided with computers and allied accessories to properly digitise applications and then allow citizen to track it until its approval.
Thirdly, training and capacity development must be implemented for all service providers, to inform them on the new law and its effectiveness.
Fourthly, educating citizens about its use through a massive awareness campaign and specifically focusing on the illiterate to access information for their use and benefits. In this regard, the existing community committees, including the Parent Teacher Council (PTC), Primary Care Management Committee (PCMC), and Water User Committee (WUC) can play a catalytic role in making this law effective at the frontline provider level.
Lastly, the civil society and media should monitor its implementation and help raise the awareness levels of citizens for its wider use.
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ABOUT AUTHORS Gulbaz Ali Khan is Senior Manager- Governance and Capacity Development, Citizen Engagement for Social Service Delivery (CESSD), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. He holds a masters degree in Economic Development & Policy Analysis from University of Nottingham, UK and he is a social accountability practitioner in the primary education, basic health and rural drinking water sectors in Pakistan. He is the author of “Pro- Poor Growth: Cross Country Analysis Focusing on South Asia.” He conducts trainings, delivers lectures and writes in English newspapers on social accountability, budget analysis and transparency and local governance.