With the heads of local governments in Punjab taking oath of their office on December 31, 2016, the process of establishing the third tier of government has been completed all over the country. In other provinces, the local governments had already been functioning and all eyes were set on Punjab where the election of the heads was facing delays.
Ideally, the purpose of establishing local governments is to simplify things for people at grassroots level and help them get their issues resolved at their doorsteps. It is believed that the local representatives, who they have elected, will be easily accessible to them round the clock and duty-bound to solve their problems and serve them in the best possible way.
But if one looks at the local government systems put in place, especially in Sindh and Punjab, one finds there is very little for the elected representatives to do as their powers have been curtailed to a large extent. Besides, there are many functions that though fall in the domain of the local governments are being performed by the provincial governments. The respective local government ordinances that define the scheme of things have several clauses that deprive the local governments of the powers they should ideally have.
For example, the Sindh Local Government Act 2013 while explaining functions of local governments states that “no Corporation shall undertake such functions as are assigned to and performed by anybody, agency, authority, department or person established by or under any law for the time being in force.”This clearly implies that the local governments will not be allowed to intervene in the affairs of the departments regardless of the fact whether they pertain to their scope of work or not.
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Similarly, the Punjab Local Government Act 2013, calls for establishment of district education and health authorities and puts them under the control of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to be appointed by the provincial government. Though the local government bodies will have a presence on the board, it is obvious that the provincial government through its CEOs will be calling the shots.
Anwar Hussain, Executive Director, Local Councils Association of Punjab (LCAP), states that in Punjab the provincial government is running affairs through dozens of authorities, companies, commissions and project management units. As these entities will exist side by side with the local governments, it is not quite clear what functions will the latter perform, he adds. LCAP is a non-government body that works with the Punjab government and the federal government on local governments and has many former local government representatives among its members.
Hussain says to name a few there are the Punjab Food Authority (PFA), Lahore Development Authority (LDA) with the chief minister as its chairman, Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA), Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC), Cattle Market Management Companies, Punjab Agriculture and Meat Company (PAMCO), Punjab Metrobus Authority (PMA), Punjab Saaf Pani Company and so on. These entities, he says, are getting substantial funds from the provincial governments through the director generals and chief executives appointed by the government.
Citing the example of cattle market management companies, he says these have been established by the provincial government just to get hold of the revenue generated at cattle markets. He shares that the top leadership of the Punjab Saaf Pani Company has been suspended by Punjab chief minister because there were corruption charges against them and the company had not even installed one water filter throughout the year. “How fair it is to give full control this project with a total outlay of around Rs 300 billion to a company rather than distributing it among local governments of all the districts in the question,” he questions.
In Sindh also there are serious concerns about the effectiveness of the newly established local government systems in the presence of a powerful provincial government. For example, MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi has expressed fears that Karachi’s mayor will be so weak that he will not even be able to order a cleanliness drive in the city.
The critics say it was expected as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led Sindh government will try to concentrate powers with itself and limit those of the Muttehida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that has strong following in urban centers. However, what made the all powerful Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif, with PML-N backed local government heads in almost every district of the province, take protectionist measures is still a mystery.
The situation in Sindh is that the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) has been given under the Sindh Government control through a bill and the Minister of Local Government, Housing Town Planning Department has been made its head. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) also falls in the domain of Sindh government and unfortunately the mayor has no authority over the local governments’ revenue collection, building controls, collection of solid waste and even the food inspection department.
The Lyari Development Authority (LDA), Malir Development Authority (MDA), the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) and Sindh Sanitation Board are also out of the administrative control of the local governments. The provincial government has also set up the Sindh High Density Development Board to manage the construction of high-rise buildings in the port city Karachi.
It was the PPP government that had set up the SSWMB and put it under the control of Sindh chief minister and made him responsible for collection and disposal of garbage across the province. The readers would not have forgotten how former Sindh chief minister Qyaem Ali Shah was mocked on conventional and social media for failing to cleanse the city of garbage.
PPP Punjab President Qamar Zaman Kaira agrees that both the Punjab government and the Sindh government were reluctant to hold local government elections and did that on the pressure of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP). However, he claims that the system in Sindh is far better than that in Punjab where project-based model of governance and developed is being followed. He says every other day, project committees and units are formed and linked directly to the Punjab CM secretariat without taking the concerned departments on board. It is the same mindset at play that has limited the functions of the local governments in the province, he adds. The million dollar question at the moment, he says, is that what will the local governments do with wings clipped and resources curtailed?
Leader of the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly Mian Mehmood ur Rasheed states that the PML-N government has taken the province back to 1861 when the British rulers introduced the deputy commissioner (DC) to control the ruled. He says it is a pity that under the newly introduced ordinance the DC of a district has been empowered to seek report from an elected mayor and even disapprove the development budget presented by the concerned local government.
He predicts that local government representatives will be given tough time by their voters because they will not be able to help them out the way they could in Musharraf era. He says for example if people approach them now to get their streets cleaned of garbage, they will have no capacity to help them out. “Even this task has been given to a Turkish company that operates on a commercial basis.”