Thursday August 18, 2022

Let devolution work

By Editorial Board
June 26, 2022

With the approval by the Punjab cabinet of the Punjab Local Government Bill (PLGA) 2022, the province is set to have yet another mechanism of local bodies. The new bill has, among other good measures, enhanced the quota of reserved seats for the youth to empower young people, and also introduced better representation of women at the higher tiers of local government. Nine metropolitan corporations are envisaged in five large cities. Under the PLGA-2022, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Lahore, Multan, and Rawalpindi will have metropolitan corporations with restored town administrations. Metropolitan corporations will also be created in four divisional headquarters: Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Sahiwal, and Sargodha. The Punjab government is also planning to establish 14 municipal corporations in fast growing cities such as Burewala, Chiniot, Ferozewala, Hafizabad, Jhang, Jhelum, Kamoke, Kasur, and others. These rapidly growing cities deserve better local bodies systems and that is possible only if they have their own well-established and functioning municipal corporations.

At the moment, there is a disparity in basic municipal services not only in various cities of Punjab but in the rest of the country as well. A major problem with the local governments introduced by successive governments is that the provincial assembly and bureaucrats strive to retain most of the departments that should be the domain of districts. Per the new LG bill in Punjab, at least 10 provincial departments will experience devolution to the district level. Some of them are arts and culture, civil defence, primary and public health, primary education, family planning, etc. The proposed system has also enhanced focus on women’s representation. Traditionally, women have not had their due share in local government and administration across the country at all levels. Now they will get one-third representation in the higher tiers of local bodies Punjab. There is also a provision for the establishment of the Punjab LG Commission to settle disputes and act as a guardian to protect the autonomy of the local bodies setup.

Other provinces have also been facing difficulties in their local government affairs, with political parties holding provincial power reluctant to devolve matters to the local level. It is time to finally stop messing with the local bodies system in all provinces. After the elections, let them work with their constitutional and legal autonomy. Nearly all provinces have been experiencing one hurdle after another in the establishment and functioning of their local administrations. Provincial assemblies and the bureaucracy must realize that, other than conducting audits, they are not supposed to meddle with local affairs at the cost of locally elected representatives. Violation of LG laws is not in favour of the provincial public administration. Strengthening of the administrative and technical capacity of the local government should be a priority in all provinces and public service commissions must function independently and without any interference from provincial authorities. Other provinces should also learn a lesson from Punjab in terms of abolishing excessive number of toll plazas. With higher inflation and increasing transport costs, citizens are already reeling under tremendous financial pressure. In all this, provincial governments must remember that our constitution mandates that power be transferred from the provinces to elected local bodies, since the closer a representative is to the voters the better they will be able to serve their needs. This is a right that needs to be upheld throughout the country.