Stymied pow­ers

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Mud­das­sir Rizvi

EM­POW­ER­ING cit­i­zens through their lo­cally elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives with re­spon­si­bil­ity, au­thor­ity, re­sources and ca­pac­ity to ad­vance democ­racy and pro­mote so­cial and eco­nomic growth are ideally the ob­jec­tives of any de­vo­lu­tion of power from cen­tral to lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

The pur­pose, es­pe­cially in a coun­try with more than 180 mil­lion peo­ple, must be to im­prove gov­er­nance and ease the pres­sure on the cen­tral hubs of power which are far away from the peo­ple, and there­fore un­able to de­liver on the sim­plest of ba­sic needs such as health­care, education, se­cu­rity, etc.

But this is cer­tainly not the case in Pak­istan, where the provinces and the Is­lam­abad Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory, un­der di­rec­tions of the Supreme Court, be­grudg­ingly en­acted their re­spec­tive lo­cal govern­ment acts, which nei­ther em­power the lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives nor de­volve ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and au­thor­ity to them, as re­quired un­der Ar­ti­cle 140-A of the Con­sti­tu­tion. The court or­ders might have been im­ple­mented, but the con­sti­tu­tional obli­ga­tion has yet to be ful­filled. Ex­cept for Balochis­tan, where elec­tions were held in De­cem­ber 2013, the other provinces, ICT and 118 can­ton­ment boards held lo­cal elec­tions un­der their re­spec­tive laws dur­ing 2015. Th­ese elec­tions cre­ated an elab­o­rate in­fra­struc­ture in the shape of lo­cal coun­cils com­pris­ing around 137,886 mem­bers elected di­rectly or in­di­rectly - 58,084 in Pun­jab, more than 670 in ICT, 42,907 in KP and 23,025 in Sindh. As a re­sult, more than 10,000 lo­cal coun­cils have come into be­ing. Un­like the sys­tem in­tro­duced by Mushar­raf in 2000 that had clearly de­lin­eated pow­ers to lo­cally elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and placed more than 10 line de­part­ments un­der their di­rect su­per­vi­sion, in­clud­ing the high-pow­ered district com­mis­sioner and district po­lice of­fi­cer, the newly elected lo­cal coun­cil­lors are de­void of any such pow­ers. The provinces have shied away from de­volv­ing power to the lo­cal level, keep­ing the district-level bu­reau­cracy com­pletely in­su­lated from the new lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Take the Pun­jab Lo­cal Govern­ment Act 2013. In ad­di­tion to restor­ing the ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide ap­par­ently to fa­cil­i­tate the per­pet­u­a­tion of power by tra­di­tional elites and their pro­tégés, the law has not de­volved any line depart­ment to the lo­cal govern­ment. Even func­tions as ba­sic as pri­mary, sec­ondary and higher education, non-for­mal education and adult lit­er­acy have been en­trusted to district education au­thor­i­ties, which are to be cre­ated by the pro­vin­cial govern­ment and will func­tion out­side the con­trol of the lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

Sim­i­lar struc­tures are to be cre­ated to man­age health­care ser­vices in the dis­tricts. This will en­hance pub­lic dis­trust in the abil­ity of demo­crat­i­cally elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives as they will be un­able to re­spond to pub­lic needs in the ab­sence of any au­thor­ity.

In­ter­est­ingly, there is a long list of func­tions as­signed to var­i­ous types of lo­cal coun­cils, but the rel­e­vant line de­part­ments have been kept out of their con­trol. For ex­am­ple, the La­hore Metropoli­tan Cor­po­ra­tion has been en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing, man­ag­ing, su­per­vis­ing, op­er­at­ing, main­tain­ing and im­prov­ing mu­nic­i­pal in­fra­struc­ture and ser­vices. How­ever, most of th­ese func­tions fall within the purview of the Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Au­thor­ity and the La­hore De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, which do not come un­der the con­trol of the metropoli­tan cor­po­ra­tion. Par­al­lel struc­tures will cre­ate rifts and con­fu­sion.

Al­though the Pun­jab law spec­i­fies the cre­ation of a lo­cal govern­ment cadre, it will not be man­aged by the lo­cal coun­cils but the Lo­cal Govern­ment and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment of the pro­vin­cial govern­ment.

The govern­ment has also re­tained the power to re­ject, re­view or redo the an­nual bud­get ap­proved by the lo­cal govern­ment. Sim­i­larly, it can re­view the de­ci­sions of the Pun­jab Fi­nance Com­mis­sion, which is to be cre­ated for re­source dis­tri­bu­tion to dis­tricts from the Pro­vin­cial Al­lo­ca­ble Fund, which is a nar­rower pool than the Pro­vin­cial Con­sol­i­dated Fund. This com­mis­sion will not in­clude any elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives of lo­cal gov­ern­ments, com­pro­mis­ing the spirit of trans­par­ent and rep­re­sen­ta­tive de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

The laws in KP and Sindh are bet­ter than Pun­jab, ie there is greater space avail­able to lo­cal gov­ern­ments for de­vel­op­ment and their in­clu­sion in the pro­vin­cial fi­nance com­mis­sion. How­ever, the law in Sindh is as ret­ro­gres­sive as in Pun­jab, and re­in­forces the ur­ban-ru­ral di­vide be­sides giv­ing ar­bi­trary pow­ers to the pro­vin­cial govern­ment to sus­pend the con­trol of lo­cal gov­ern­ments over any of the legally en­trusted func­tions. A chief ex­ec­u­tive as­signed to ev­ery coun­cil will work un­der its gen­eral su­per­vi­sion, but will tech­ni­cally not re­port to it. The case in Is­lam­abad is no dif­fer­ent. Un­der the ICT Lo­cal Govern­ment Act, 2015, the cen­tre will ap­point a chief of­fi­cer who will be re­spon­si­ble for all ex­ec­u­tive func­tions. The mayor may just be cer­e­mo­nial if the chief of­fi­cer is more as­sertive. Sim­i­larly, the fed­eral govern­ment has re­tained the power to re­view the an­nual bud­get ap­proved by the Is­lam­abad Metropoli­tan Cor­po­ra­tion. But Sec­tion 93 of the act says it all: "The govern­ment may is­sue di­rec­tions to a lo­cal govern­ment and the lo­cal govern­ment shall be bound by such di­rec­tions." The re­cent protests by coun­cil­lors in parts of Pun­jab, Sindh and KP must be seen against this back­drop. Per­haps un­der the il­lu­sion of the de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion model in­tro­duced by the Mushar­raf-led govern­ment, the new coun­cil­lors were hop­ing for sim­i­lar roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties af­ter be­ing elected. Lit­tle did they know, they did not even have a place to sit to con­duct their of­fi­cial busi­ness.

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