A case for empowered local governments

December 10, 2023

Salman Abid’s book presents a vision for good governance through effective local governments in Pakistan

A case for empowered local governments


n Pakistan, local governments appear to thrive under dictatorships while encountering significant challenges within representative frameworks. Autocratic regimes strategically empower local bodies to consolidate authority, concealing a darker reality often fuelled by ulterior motives and the erosion of democratic principles. The challenges local governments face in democratic setups are markedly different. The commitment to genuine decentralisation can vary among democratic leaders, resulting in inconsistencies in empowering local bodies. At times, the third but most important tier of government, representing local authority, remains relegated to the periphery of effective governance.

In his Urdu-language book, Maqami Hukumaton Ka Muqaddama, Salman Abid, a political analyst and policy advisor, confronts this paradox while highlighting the importance of a robust local government system. He masterfully dissects the dynamics enabling local governments to prosper in autocratic regimes and become instruments of centralised power. In a nuanced exploration, he also delves into the intricacies of political interference, shifting priorities and power struggles within democratic setups, shedding light on the challenges that often hinder the effectiveness of local governance. This examination lays a foundation for comprehending the intricate dynamics at play.

Salman Abid’s insightful analysis offers readers a profound understanding of the multifaceted relationship between governance models and the effectiveness of local governments. His exploration prompts a thoughtful reflection on the evolving role of local bodies in different political landscapes in the world and South Asia, urging readers to critically evaluate the factors that shape the success or failure of local governance structures, whether under autocratic regimes or within democratic frameworks.

The importance of a robust local government system cannot be overstated, particularly in the pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals. Abid emphasises how local governments function as vital intermediaries, bridging the gap between national policies and localised needs. He aptly highlights how deficiencies in local governance structures impede the efficient delivery of public services, hinder community engagement and compromise the responsiveness required for SDG achievement. The absence of decentralisation leads to a disconnect between top-down policies and the realities on the ground, underscoring the imperative of a responsive and empowered local governance system.

Contributing well to the discourse on governance in Pakistan, the book meticulously examines the challenges faced by local governments, offering a roadmap for reform and advocating for the transformative potential of an empowered local governance system. The author’s exploration is not confined solely to the issues at hand; he enriches the narrative by delving into the historical context, providing readers with insights into the evolution of various local government models in Pakistan.

Abid’s call for decentralised governance aligns with the need for agile decision-making that responds to the specific needs of different regions.

The recommendations presented by Abid are a cornerstone of his work, providing a comprehensive framework for restructuring the local government system. One proposal calls for a constitutional cover, aligning with successful models such as India’s. Abid suggests amending Article 140 of the constitution to mandate timely local elections, penalising delays and guaranteeing sufficient resources for local governments. This constitutional recognition would safeguard against interference, fostering transparency and accountability.

Other recommendations put forth by Abid include federal oversight of local governments, synchronised election timelines, clear formulas for resource allocation, and direct elections with enhanced women’s representation. These proposals collectively address local governments’ multifaceted challenges, emphasising the need for continuity, coherence and citizen participation.

A robust local government system, as envisioned by Abid, emerges as a critical factor in building resilience and fostering sustainable development. Under the looming shadow of climate change, Pakistan finds a potential ally in empowered local governments to tackle these challenges. Local bodies can be pivotal in climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies. They are well-positioned to implement localised initiatives such as afforestation, waste management and community-based disaster preparedness, essential components of a comprehensive climate action plan.

As weather extremes become more frequent and severe, local governments can serve as frontline responders, coordinating emergency response efforts, providing relief to affected communities and ensuring swift recovery. Abid’s call for a decentralised governance structure aligns with the need for agile decision-making that responds to the specific needs of different regions, which is crucial in the face of diverse climate-related challenges.

The governance crisis in Pakistan, characterised by political instability, corruption and administrative inefficiencies, finds a potential remedy in an empowered local government system championed by Abid. Local bodies, being closer to the ground, can enhance accountability and transparency in public administration. They can provide checks and balances to centralised power, fostering a governance culture responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people.

Salman Abid’s book is a comprehensive and insightful exploration of the dynamics between governance models and local government efficacy in Pakistan. This work is a clarion call for transformative reforms, urging policymakers, academics and citizens to engage in a dialogue that can shape the future of governance in the country. It offers valuable lessons and recommendations applicable to diverse global settings grappling with local governance, climate change and crisis management complexities. As Pakistan navigates these challenges, Abid’s proposals, if implemented, have the potential to catalyse positive change, fostering resilient communities and sustainable development.

Maqami Hukumaton Ka Muqaddama

Author: Salman Abid

Publisher: Idea Publications, Lahore, 2023

Pages: 392

Price: Rs 1,500

The reviewer is a print, broadcast and online journalist associated with Jang Group of Newspapers as Editor, Special Assignments

A case for empowered local governments