We in Pakistan have a permanent local government issue. The political and civilian governments are committed to devolution in theory but are wary of putting a local government system in place. The military governments are inherently opposed to democracy and yet have no qualms in holding elections at the local level, even if on a non-party basis. The rationale for the loyal constituents thus created for the man at the top is traced to the period when the British colonisers introduced the system in India.
The push towards local governments in Pakistan in recent years has come from international financial institutions. The military governments have relented to this demand more readily than the civilian governments. This time it was the Supreme Court of Pakistan that forced all four provinces to put the system in place.
As of today, the provinces have fulfilled the promise. Each province has held the elections under its own law, the members have been elected and yet there are a host of problems in actual devolution. The latest development has come about in Punjab, where all or most powers are said to be lying with bureaucracy instead of the elected representatives.
Even without this, the province has put in place a number of authorities which will hugely curtail the powers of the local governments; there will effectively be nothing left for them to do. Similar problems are being identified in the Sindh local government system.
In today’s Special Report, we have tried to sum up the entire debate, from top to bottom so to speak.
Read also: Our local government problem