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Local leadership

Opinion

April 1, 2017

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As I addressed the Local Bodies Leadership Convention in Lahore on March 27, I had the satisfaction of having presided over the establishment of a local government system across all tiers in Punjab. The inclusion of the youth in Punjab’s local government (LG) institutions presents an amazing opportunity to step up to the plate since it establishes a new benchmark of public service.

As someone who has made his way up from street level politics, I know how crucial the role of LG institutions is in addressing the problems of the public. It will not be wrong to say that democracy draws its legitimacy and ownership from the support extended by the people. These people do so if they are secure in the thought that their immediate problems are being taken care of by the first tier of democracy. One can safely assume that LG institutions are a harbinger of real change and a means to usher in a revolution of prosperity at the doorsteps of the people.

I perfectly understand that for local governments to perform and come up to expectations, they need to be equipped with both resources as well as requisite powers. There is no denying the plethora of problems that will give the elected chairmen, deputy chairmen, mayors and deputy mayors a run for their money.

Given the unique nature of these challenges, capacity-building is a sine qua non for efficient service delivery. It is with this in view that the Punjab government has arranged training courses for the elected local leaders, giving them a thorough understanding of their powers, mandate and functions.

In order to fulfil the prime minister’s vision of a shared and participatory development at the grassroots, the conferment of resources and powers has to be followed by an institution of a system of self-accountability. In the absence of a system that can hold public office-holders to account, the demons of the past are likely to haunt again.

During the tenure of the military dictator Gen (r) Musharraf, not even a single financial audit was allowed to be conducted despite the fact that it was a legal requirement under the law. When the matter was pressed, Musharraf summoned the ‘errant’ officials to Governor House Punjab and snubbed them, saying that he would not allow anyone to undermine the system as it was his ‘electoral college’.

During my incumbency, I have been at pains to make sure that merit and transparency are the hallmark of the selection and recruitment process in Punjab. Thousands of teachers, police officials and lady health workers have been recruited in Punjab over the past few years. I did not make a single recommendation or, for that matter, allow anyone else to do so. Merit alone has been the criterion of selection.

The local governments are expected to adhere to these principles in the conduct of their affairs. Funds will be disbursed on the basis of performance and vice versa. Being a vanguard of the prime minister’s mission, a lot will depend on their showing in public office.

In Punjab, we have undertaken some amazing projects that will herald a new beginning for the province. Under the Khadim-e-Punjab Rural Road Programme (KPRRP), Rs90 billion have been spent on the repair, rehabilitation and construction of rural roads across the province. At the cost of Rs12 billion, 20,000 schools of far-flung areas are being put on solar power. At least 36,000 additional classrooms are being constructed and billions are being spent on the provision of missing facilities in the schools. Under the Punjab Educational Endowment Fund, 175,000 scholarships worth Rs11.5 billion has been distributed among the deserving students to date. Moreover, Rs150 billion has been spent on the Metro Bus projects in the province to provide dignified, affordable and efficient transportation facilities. The Prime Minister’s Health Insurance Scheme has initially been launched in four districts of South Punjab. Its scope will be extended to 36 districts of Punjab at the cost of Rs12 billion soon.

Forty DHQs and THQs hospitals are being upgraded and the number of beds in state-of-the-art Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in Muzaffargarh is being increased to 500 beds. The Saaf Pani Project is being launched in all the 37 tehsils of South Punjab. Work in this regard will start in a couple of months.

The Punjab Safe City Project proved its efficacy when the footage captured by one of its cameras led to tracking down the main person accused in a suicide attack at The Mall. We have planned to extend this project to six major cities of Punjab in the coming months.

The government has given Rs100 billion package to farmers in an effort to uplift and sustain the agricultural sector from recent setbacks.

The prime minister based his electoral campaign in 2013 on the promise of ridding the country of the scourge of loadshedding by 2018. With energy projects nearing completion, this promise will soon be realised and power outages will become thing of the past.

I remember that in one of the meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Energy, I mooted a suggestion of initiating power projects outside the ambit of the CPEC. This suggestion was based on the fear of CPEC being derailed as a result of political agitation like threats of sit-ins and lockdowns. The idea was to have a fallback option. The whole house strongly opposed my suggestion. It was the prime minister alone who agreed to my proposal. His political wisdom and sagacity reflected itself in the initiation of work on the construction of three RLNG-fired power projects of 3600 MW cumulative capacity.

One hardly comes across any such example of efficiency and transparency in the last seven decades when projects of such magnitude might have been completed in such a short span of time. The Neelum-Jhelum Hydropower Plant is the worst example of nepotism, corruption and lack of commitment. The project cost which was Rs84 billion in 2002 has shot up to about Rs500 billion.

The purpose of sharing details of public welfare projects with the local government leaders is that they should get involved with these projects and create their ownership among the people. I have given clear instructions to the bureaucracy to work with the elected leaders as one team in the pursuit of shared development and prosperity. The Punjab government is ready to extend every kind of assistance and support. We have already empowered LG institutions, both administratively and financially, which is manifested in the increase in budget from Rs17 billion to Rs53 billion.

I am ready to sit with their nominated representatives to explore further ways for more empowerment. The Punjab government will set up a dedicated cell which will address all the needs of the local governments to ensure that they perform to the best of their capabilities. The local governments have a golden opportunity to excel in performance, making people believe that their trust in them was not misplaced.

 

This article has been excerpted from the keynote address that the chief minister delivered at the Local BodiesLeadership Convention in Lahore

on March 27.

 

The writer is the chief minister of Punjab.

Facebook.com/shehbazsharif

Twitter: @CMShehbaz

 

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