The provision of basic services like health and education were guaranteed in the reform agenda of PTI’s manifesto. This happened in the last elections when the common people moved away from traditional slogans to good governance, open and transparent government, and anti-corruption strategies.
To what extent these promises have been fulfulled at this critical juncture by the provincial government is worth looking into. Provision of public services certainly empowers the poor communities at the grassroot level.
In this connection, the recently approved "Right to Public Services" binds the public authorities to provide time-bound services to citizens of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Under this legislation, every citizen has the right to time-bound delivery of services of public provision and redressal of grievances.
There are question marks though about how this system will work in an environment of corruption and slackness, making it an intersting experiment.
To start with, the law confers right to a) access, b) timely delivery, c) transparency, d) accountability, and e) penalty to offenders and compensation to complainants.
The legislation ensures transparency by making public service delivery processes and procedures open and visible to all public. This law binds public authorities to issue notification from time to time, which specify the time within which the services will be provided by the designated officer to the citizens.
It also spells out that how the citizens will be informed timely about the process, procedures, and timeliness of public services, which requires the display of information for citizens at a prominent place.
Imprortantly, the recently promulgated RTI law empowers the citizens for maximum disclosure of public information and also upholds pro-active disclosure by displaying information on an official website. The information on public services will also go online on the provincial government as well as the department’s website within 60 days from the date of commencement of law.
It provides information to citizens on the filing of information, its rejection, delayed and/or denial of public services. It will also clearly elucidate the reasons behind the delay and/or denial of any public service to the complainant. The status of the application can also be viewed online maintained on a web portal.
All the public authorities are required to display information on the prominent place and on provincial government and concerned departments’ website. It will help citizens to access responsible authorities within the system to hold public officials accountable. In case a citizen’s complaint is not redressed properly and/or not satisfied with the provision of public service, he/she can lodge complaint to Appellate Authority within 30 days of the decision.
Also, it is made obligatory on the Appellate Authority to dispose off the appeal within 45 days of presentation of grievance. The Appellate Authority can levy fine of an amount not exceeding Rs25,000/- on the concerned public official and direct the designated to pay compensation not exceeding an amount of Rs17,000/- to the aggrieved person. In case an aggrieved person is not satisfied with the final decision, he/she can file an appeal to Grievance Redressal Commission (GRC).
The law also penalises the designated public officials in case the provision of services is delayed, deficient, and/or denied. The designated officer will pay Rs1,000 per day and/or Rs25,000 in case of delay.
In case, the Commission is of the view that Appellate Authority has failed to decide within stipulated time and can impose a fine of more than Rs1,000 but less than Rs25,000. This legislation endorses accountability by providing critical information on the system, penalises those who create distortions in the system and putting in place citizen centered grievance redress mechanism.
It imposes a legally enforceable timeframe for service delivery and grievances through the mechanisms of appeals and reviews. All the public officials are time bound to dispose of the files and obligated to time schedule provisioned in the law. The Commission can levy fines of Rs500 per day extendable to Rs10,000 to the public official deductable from salary. However, Chief Secretary shall be the final authority for fine imposition.
Under this law, the government will also notify the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Grievance Redressal Commission comprising Chief Commissioner and two Grievance Redressal commissioners. The appointment of Chief Commissioner will be dealt in through close consultation with the leader of opposition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly.
The other two commissioners to be appointed will be a) former Supreme Court judge or Peshawar High Court and/or District and Sessions judge with 10 years and b) a former civil servant of BPS 21. The Commission is tasked to a) hear appeals against Appellate Authority, b) speedy disposal of grievances, c) payment of compensation for delayed delivery of services and d) directly receive complaints against public services.
In India, for instance, about 18 states have legislated and implemented time-bound service delivery mechanism. The legislation in Indian states provides an example to the public authorities in Pakistan on how to prepare and make effective use for improved social service delivery.
So, what needs to be done here? Among other steps, it is imperative to draft and place robust implementation focusing on process simplification, citizen awareness and capacity development. The existing service delivery structure also requires addressing critical issues of both physical and human resource constraints at the service delivery points.
In rural areas, for instance, vacancies have been vacant for years. A spirit of competetion needs to be created amongst service delivery units.
If everythning goes according to plan, this legislation will enable citizens to create pressure on the service delivery units for timely provision of services. It will help in bridging the state-citizen trust gap and reduce the level of corruption.