Where is the local government? (I)


Gulmina Bilal Ahmad

It is so unfortunate for us Pakistanis that even after spending so much on local body elections in all four provinces and the capital, the local government system has not yet started to show its benefits. Although local body elections had been conducted in the country in the past as well, but the exercise under a democratically elected government has been conducted for the first time in the history of the country. However, the reluctance in handing over political power to the grassroots is incomprehensible, especially when the process of decentralisation of power is considered as the ultimate goal of a democracy.
Federal, provincial and local governments are three important tiers of a government anywhere in the world. Although, same is the case in Pakistan but the local bodies system have not been successful in establishing itself as an important tier of the governance system in the country. Unfortunately, most of the local government systems in the country were established during military regimes with the aim of directly connecting to the grassroots by skipping the two other tiers of government. The democratically elected governments, on the other hand, have never focused on establishing a viable local bodies system in the country. The present government at the federal and provincial levels have also concluded the local bodies’ elections, yet the delay in mainstreaming the system is not understandable.
While listening to a petition, Chief Justice of Pakistan Honourable Anwar Zaheer Jamali opined that the local bodies are worthless in the absence of relative laws and policies. He asked the representatives of the governments of centre, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan reasons for not transferring power and finances to the elected local governments. The representatives of the Balochistan government replied that the bill for transferring power and funds was awaiting approval in the assembly for the past several months.
Similarly, the representatives of the Punjab government told the honourable Chief Justice that the elections for selecting the mayor, deputy mayor, chairman and vice chairman could not be conducted because the Local Government act had been challenged in the Lahore High Court.
To be continued
Chief secretary of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa told the court that the local government system of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had been divided into three tiers, which include district, tehsil and village levels. He further informed the court that the powers and funds had already been provided to the representatives, and they had started working.
Therefore, with the exception of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all the other provinces including the capital have not transferred powers to the locally elected representatives of the citizens. Balochistan, which holds the distinction of holding the LG elections before others, is lagging behind every other province in transferring real power to the grassroots. This is a sad state of affairs for Balochistan, because despite being the largest province area wise it is lagging behind in human development from all the other provinces. Yet the political representatives are not serious in transferring power to the grassroots, which can bring about the real change that the province requires.
Punjab being the largest province population wise needs the local government representatives more than others. There is a series of challenges for the upcoming local government in the province. Access to education, health, clean drinking water, sanitation, infrastructural development and emergency services are only some of the issues that need to be addressed by the local government representatives. Although the provincial government has initiated a number of projects for welfare of citizens, it is important for the Punjab government to realise that Punjab is not limited to Lahore, Rawalpindi, and other major cities of the province. Those who have voted for their government representatives in smaller cities also deserve to be heard.
The local bodies have been elected in Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh. Moreover, Karachi has elected its mayor and deputy mayor as well. However, the elected representatives have not been given the chance to prove their worth. Karachi has seen a number of well-reputed and hard working mayors in the past. Therefore, it remains to be seen if the newly elected mayor is able to deliver or not.
Last but not the least, the capital Islamabad has also elected its representatives, including the mayor and deputy mayor. However, so far, people of Islamabad see their mayor occasionally, and that too on billboards and banners put across the city, inviting them to one festival or the other. What happened to the rest of the representatives? Nobody has a clue.
As mentioned earlier, the local government is the third and perhaps the most important tier of government because it represents the grassroots. Citizens of Pakistan with the exception of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are so far not benefitting from the local body elections. They fail to understand why the local bodies system is not working, or is not being allowed to work. The federal and provincial governments must provide an answer to the citizens.