Pow­ers for LGs

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Sha­hab Usto

PRIOR to the 18th Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment, the provinces had been de­mand­ing au­ton­omy from a pow­er­ful fed­er­a­tion that had mo­nop­o­lised leg­isla­tive, ex­ec­u­tive and fi­nan­cial pow­ers. The amend­ment not only abol­ished the con­cur­rent leg­isla­tive list and de­volved sub­stan­tial pow­ers to the provinces, it also in­serted Ar­ti­cle 140-A that made de­vo­lu­tion of political, ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and au­thor­ity to the lo­cal gov­ern­ments (LG) manda­tory.

Now the lo­cal gov­ern­ments want au­ton­omy and re­sources from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments. But while Part V of the Con­sti­tu­tion lays down an elab­o­rate frame­work for the dis­tri­bu­tion of leg­isla­tive, ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial pow­ers be­tween the fed­er­a­tion and provinces, the Con­sti­tu­tion leaves it to the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tures to reg­u­late re­la­tions with the LGs.

In­ter­est­ingly, recog­nis­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the LGs and an­tic­i­pat­ing the pos­si­ble fric­tion be­tween them and the state on mat­ters re­lated to the dis­tri­bu­tion of pow­ers, the In­dian con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides a de­tailed scheme on LG-state re­la­tions in Part IX and Part IX-A. But here, LGs haven't re­ceived such sig­nif­i­cance. In fact, be­fore the 18th Amend­ment, LGs were not manda­tory, only de­sir­able. Ar­ti­cle 32 that only 'en­cour­aged' the es­tab­lish­ment of lo­cal govern­ment in­sti­tu­tions was not even jus­ti­cia­ble, be­ing part of the 'Prin­ci­ples of Pol­icy'.

More­over, the civil­ian gov­ern­ments per­ceived lo­cal gov­ern­ments as a ploy that mil­i­tary rulers used to ac­quire a political base and rep­re­sen­ta­tive char­ac­ter.

But now, the LGs have con­sti­tu­tion­ally as­sumed the sta­tus of the 'third tier' of govern­ment. Pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tures can no more avoid a new and work­able con­fig­u­ra­tion of pow­ers to ac­com­mo­date and en­able LGs to per­form their statu­tory func­tions and en­joy their con­sti­tu­tional man­date.

But un­for­tu­nately, the ex­ist­ing pro­vin­cial LG laws haven't passed muster, par­tic­u­larly in Sindh and Pun­jab. The laws are con­sid­ered to be skewed in favour of the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments. Luck­ily, the rul­ing party in Pun­jab may tide over the op­po­si­tion on the strength of its ma­jor­ity rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the fed­eral, pro­vin­cial and lo­cal leg­is­la­tures. But in Sindh, the SLGA 2013 may face a tough op­po­si­tion, if not out­right re­jec­tion, at the hands of the MQM that has swept the LG polls in the ur­ban ar­eas.

In fact, ac­ri­mony, if not bad blood, is al­ready sim­mer­ing on the political land­scape of Karachi where the MQM is de­mand­ing more pow­ers for its mayor. Ob­vi­ously, the MQM aims at re­claim­ing the same un­tram­melled pow­ers for its mayor as it en­joyed dur­ing the Mushar­raf-era lo­cal gov­ern­ments. But the PPP govern­ment may not cede power to that ex­tent for many rea­sons.

One, in 2012 the pre­vi­ous PPP govern­ment had also passed an LG law as a re­sult of a power-shar­ing agree­ment with the MQM, giv­ing the lat­ter equal say in the ur­ban ar­eas. But it had to be with­drawn when a broad-based op­po­si­tion al­liance, led by Pir Pa­gara, launched a move­ment in Sindh. Two, dur­ing the Mushar­raf govern­ment, the pow­er­ful naz­ims, par­tic­u­larly in Sindh, ut­terly failed to de­liver in terms of good gov­er­nance or trans­parency.

Three, Karachi's fast-chang­ing de­mo­graphic and political land­scape re­quires a uni­fied but de­cen­tralised LG sys­tem. True, the city flour­ished un­der pow­er­ful may­ors - Nia­mat­ul­lah of the Ja­maat-iIs­lami and Mustafa Ka­mal of MQM - but then some of its ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly Lyari and Malir, were vis­i­bly ne­glected al­legedly on political grounds. Fi­nally, there is a view that the Mushar­raf-era 'one-party rule' in Karachi in­ten­si­fied eth­nic ten­sions and the so­cio-political di­vide, pro­duc­ing turf wars and the mil­i­tari­sa­tion of political par­ties.

The pro­po­nents of a pow­er­ful mayor (or, for that mat­ter, of pow­er­ful LG in­sti­tu­tions) ar­gue that Karachi needs an ' ef­fec­tive' mayor who could play a piv­otal role in plan­ning, ex­e­cu­tion, co­or­di­na­tion and su­per-vi­sion. They con­tend that if the mayor is not as pow­er­ful as that of New York or Lon­don, then he shouldn't be a fig­ure­head like the mayor of Mum­bai ei­ther.

Both views carry weight. True, the pro­vin­cial govern­ment stands at a higher pedestal in fed­er­a­tion, and hence, is sad­dled with many rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. But LGs are also vi­tal "to pro­mote good gov­er­nance, ef­fec­tive de­liv­ery of ser­vices and trans­par­ent de­ci­sion-mak­ing, through in­sti­tu­tion­alised par­tic­i­pa­tion of the peo­ple at the lo­cal level". But how to break the tie?

Re­cently, on a ques­tion as to why the framers of con­sti­tu­tion en­trusted the pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tures with the task of de­volv­ing pow­ers to LGs, the Supreme Court ob­served: "Be­cause they [framers of con­sti­tu­tion] were con­scious that political pro­cesses are evo­lu­tion­ary in na­ture. In­sti­tu­tions take root over time. They draw strength from a con­tin­u­ous con­sti­tu­tional di­a­logue be­tween the peo­ple and their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives".

What is re­quired is a con­sti­tu­tional di­a­logue be­tween the pro­vin­cial and lo­cal gov­ern­ments to forge a com­pos­ite sys­tem that should en­able both to act in tan­dem, rather than at cross pur­poses. Just as the provinces en­gaged the fed­er­a­tion in a con­sti­tu­tional di­a­logue and fi­nally suc­ceeded in re­ceiv­ing con­sid­er­able au­ton­omy, LGs should do the same.

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