Local government platforms can provide trained leadership for provincial and federal tiers
here is a huge and growing body of literature and evidence that supports the argument that effective and representative local governments improve the standards of living of the people they serve and contribute in economic, social and political growth.
The constitution has mandated the establishment of local governments under Article 32 and 140-A. According to superior court judgements, it is mandatory for the provincial governments to establish local governments in their areas of administrative jurisdiction, and decentralise the government as mentioned in the Article 37 (i).
Although some areas of Pakistan – like Lahore - have had some form of local governments since during the British Raj, such as Lahore, the idea of local government has gone through several stages.
Local governments have been the poster boy of the military regimes. Possibly for this reason, representative governments are associated with weak local governments and centralisation of administrative authority at the provincial levels.
It is sometimes alleged that provincial governments do not want to share their authority and resources with local governments. As a result several municipal functions have been assigned to development authorities, such as the Lahore Development Authority and the Water and Sanitation Agency, set up and funded by provincial governments. However, land development, planning and basic services like water supply and sanitation remain local government functions.
The provincial governments are also accused of continuously changing the local government laws. Many provincial governments have thrown away the laws enacted by the previous governments and then started developing new legal frameworks. None of the provinces has succeeded so far in making elected local governments a permanent and stable feature.
While some of the factors in the failure of local governments in Pakistan are rooted in its this non-permanence, others spring from the ambiguity in the constitution about the scale and scope of the local governments. Some experts say that time has come for a constitutional amendment to guide the provinces on making elected and representative local governments a permanent feature of local governance.
Also, there is a need to add a schedule that lays down some basic municipal services devolved to the local governments. We understand that this is a difficult task and the idea of local governments has both allies and opponents.
Local governments are training institutions for politicians who can learn about civic services and develop their abilities to connect “local and global” aspects of modern-day issues like climate change actions.
Some of the opponents come from the institutional arrangements that have traditionally managed governance in a vertical hierarchical fashion and have had command over revenue and expenditures. However, some political parties and local government representatives have developed interests - specially the smaller regional parties – in empowered local governments. The point is to move forward with a constitutional amendment whenever it is possible.
Research on effectiveness of local governments has found that despite a variety in electoral systems, local and regional governments are of paramount importance in delivering economic growth and social development. In fact, modern economic development and growth strategies are unambiguously embedded in city development and local government effectiveness. If we look at China, alongside firms, their local governments play a significant role in design and implementation of trade and industrial policies.
At the same time, local governments have a huge role in human development-related interventions, such as the provision and management of high-quality education and health services. Around the world, local governments support and manage many functions at schools to improve educational outcomes while ironing out local level problems to ensure enrolment and retention.
Primary and preventive healthcare services are also managed at the local levels with clear roles in vaccine coverage and growth monitoring for better community health. An important governance function is collection and management of demographic information that is a key ingredient in development planning and distribution policies. Local governments play a very useful role in managing birth, death, marriage, migration related information and assist in long-range development planning.
International development agencies including the United Nations system argue that climate action also requires local implementation while thinking has to be global. This is why they have shown a great amount of interest in local and regional solutions and emphasised the importance of community-based responses for climate change related adaptation and mitigation strategies.
In Pakistan, people talk about various capacities that are essential and needed to make representative governments function better. It can be argued that much about the effectiveness of local governments depends on their legal and institutional capacities in planning, budgeting, contract, project and financial management.
One must note that these capacities can be enhanced both through on-job training and hiring of local and relevant human resources. Central and provincial governments can help local governments with specialised grants, and empower the local governments to generate revenues and profits.
Last but not the least, local governments are training institutions for politicians who can learn about civic services and develop their abilities to connect “local and global” aspects of modern-day issues and solutions, such as climate change actions.
Local government platforms can provide trained leadership for provincial, federal, and international politics. It is right time for Pakistan to move towards the constitutional amendment and have effective and representative local governments.
The writers are associated with CPDI (www.cpdi-pakistan.org)