Discrediting local bodies

Daily: The News
Date: 29.07.11

Flexibility and tolerance constituting democracy are a life line for the federation based on
diverse ethnic and linguistic units. In the post-independence period, introduction of a
unitary kind of system of government debilitated Pakistan democratically and endangered
its unity. Hardly did one understand that in decentralisation was hidden the strength of
federation.

In fact, decentralisation is still elusive. In this post-provincial autonomy phase, a question
needs to be addressed: is a province entitled to practise centralisation and deny devolution
of authority and finances to the local level?

In the 18th Amendment, Clause 1 of Article 270-AA repeals the Local Government
Ordinance (LGO) of 2001. The Ordinance came into force by Legal Framework Order
(LFO) which was the Chief Executive Order No. 24 of 2002.  Further, while Clause 6 of
Article 270-AA validates provincial autonomy by omitting the Concurrent Legislative List
(CLL), the Amendment also introduces Article 140-A to the Constitution. Interestingly,
however, Clause 1 of Article 140-A is a ditto copy of Article 140-A mentioned in the LGO
issued by General Pervaiz Musharraf in 2001.

Clause 1 of Article 140-A enjoins on each province to “establish a local government
system,” and not to re-introduce the archaic commissionerate system. Secondly, the clause
makes it mandatory on provinces to “devolve political, administrative and financial
responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local government,” and not
to centralize authority at the provincial level. In effect, Clause 1 of Article 140-A (in both its
pre- and post-Amendment forms) makes establishment of the local government system a
provincial subject. Clause 2 of Article 140-A (new insertion under the 18th Amendment),
however, empowers the Election Commission of Pakistan, which is a federal body, to hold
elections to the local governments in provinces.

What is missing in Clause 1 of Article 140-A is the word ‘legislate’. If this word had been
inserted before the word ‘establish’, interpretation of the Article would have been easier as
‘each province would be empowered to legislate and establish the local government
system.’ Existence of the word ‘establish’ alone in the said Article invites a controversy
whether to ‘establish’ also means to ‘legislate’ or not. During the Musharraf era, it was the
National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) which proposed the design of the local government
system later on established by provinces. Further, the LGO issued by General Musharraf
was re-enacted by provinces to give the local government system devised by the NRB a
legal cover. That was how the word ‘establish’ in the said Article got justified.

The local bodies elections, due by September 2009, did not take place. In April 2010,
parliament passed the 18th Amendment and, in July 2010, the incumbent government
dissolved the NRB. Now, there is available no exact blueprint for the local government
system to be established in provinces. Secondly, the centre is not enacting any law or
issuing any ordinance to be re-enacted by provinces. Thirdly, legislation on the local bodies
issue is not being made by provinces and, consequently, local bodies’ elections are not
being held. The situation creates a void of democracy at the local level.

There can be understood existence of a few problems in the local government system
(LGS) introduced in the era of General Musharraf and practised for eight years (2001
-2009).

First, Nazims got elected through non-party based elections (wherein the Nazim had no
declared political affiliations) while the provincial and national assemblies were constituted
on the basis of party-based elections. This situation created a sort of mismatch in
provinces. The access of Nazims to the grassroots level was more than those of the elected
provincial and national politicians. Political parties anticipated that they would get
dependent on Nazims for influencing the voters and ensuring success in elections.

Secondly, in the office of district Nazim, the LGS created a new power centre in a province.
The LGS enjoyed political autonomy and the system worked independent of the provincial
and national governments. Consequently, the balance of power between the district and
the province got disturbed. Nazims became powerful as they were responsible for social
work in the areas of health, education, and infrastructure. Further, they held sway over the
district administration and the police. This situation shrank the political space for political
parties and rendered the elected provincial politicians powerless.

Thirdly, the LGS had the benefit of fiscal autonomy in levying taxes and collecting revenue.
Further, the system had the power to incur expenditure on development of the area
concerned. This aspect made the system independent of the influence of the province.

Politicians (and their parties) may be harbouring more grievances against the LGS than the
aforementioned ones but the point is centralisation of power at the provincial level is
stoking up discontent with the performance of provinces and hence is invoking the voice for
the division of provinces. The presence of local bodies is a solution for the problems of
intra-provincial disgruntlement expressed frequently in ethnic and linguistic terms.

Another set of problems is with people, the masses, who do not value democracy and do
not raise their voice to have local bodies around. A very few people have so far agitated
against the absence of local bodies. It seems that people are not ready to slough off their
habit of putting undue reliance on their fate: people tend not to take their destiny in their
own hands. Nevertheless, Karachiites showed the way to the rest of Pakistan by performing
public works and how destiny can be changed.

The need of the hour is to introduce any kind of LGS to let people find democracy serving
them right at their doorstep. Once people get introduced to democracy at the local level,
they would prize democracy at the national level too. Only in that way can flourish the
culture of tolerance and co-habitation in society. Therein lies a salvage for Pakistan.

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