There’s still a smokescreen on how the PTI government is going to change the existing local government system
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s will be the first ever civilian government in the country’s history to make a serious effort to devolve powers to the third tier of the government. In the past, this had been the exclusive domain of the military regimes, though they always did so to bypass the political forces in the country.
It has been reported in the media that the high level meetings which considered introducing a new model of local governments also took into account the possibility of holding the local bodies’ elections on non-party basis, a la the military government of General Ziaul Haq.
PTI party leaders claim they would make the third tier of the government most effective by devolving powers to the local government. The famous 18th amendment devolved the subject of local bodies to the provincial governments and gave them the power to devolve whatever powers they like to the local officials.
Constitutional experts say that in the wake of the said amendment, most provincial governments thought it best to keep all the powers with themselves, thus defeating the very concept of decentralisation or devolution of power to the lowest tier of government.
Prime Minister Imran Khan apparently believes that the local government introduced by the PTI government in KP is the only model that achieved the ideal of and that led to actual development in remote localities of the province.
The KP model of local government is not without its critics though. Experts say the system PTI government introduced in KP was akin to the local governments introduced by Musharraf’s military regime that led to the erosion of power of district administrations, paving the way for lawlessness, especially in parts of KP bordering tribal areas.
Apparently, the PTI leadership wants the public to believe they are introducing a system which would perform as an independent entity. This, however, is hardly the case. In the words of KP officials, the previous government of Pervez Khattak kept on issuing directives to the local government throughout its tenure and threatened the local Nazims of removal from office if their directives were not followed.
There doesn’t exist a consensus within the ruling party over the KP model of local government. In the first week of October, the PM held a meeting with party leaders from Punjab over whether the KP model could be introduced in Punjab. Party insiders say Governor Punjab, Chaudhry Sarwar, opposed the idea.
After the meeting, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry was quoted as saying that the PM had held a detailed discussion on new local government system and finalised three basic principles: the LG system should be simple, hold direct elections, and ensure empowering elected representatives to serve the masses at the grass root level.
"As the village councils’ experiment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had rendered results, the Prime Minister wanted to resize union councils in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan," Chaudhry said.
"A village council is a smaller unit catering for 2,000 to 6,000 people while each union council in Punjab covers around 30,000 people. The question is whether village councils should be created or the size of a UC be reconsidered," he explains.
Besides, "there is the question whether direct election of mayor should be held at tehsil or district level," he says.
The Punjab leadership of the PTI is opposing the idea of resizing the union council or devolving power at the village level. Those opposing the KP system at the meeting argued that the administrative cost of the village council-based LG system would be very high. Therefore, they said, it would not work in Punjab.
The main argument is that Punjab is a densely populated province as compared to KP and it will not be possible to create an administrative unit which doesn’t already exist in Punjab and where administrative structures are non-existent.
Independent developmental experts like Zaigham Khan agree with this view, saying that administrative units don’t exist at the village level and it could cost the government a fortune to create new administrative structures, "We have administrative units in the shape of provinces, followed by divisions and districts and then tehsils. Is the PTI government trying to create new administrative units? We don’t know what they mean by it. They haven’t given us any definition," says Khan.
The prime minister wants to introduce the office of a powerful mayor in the big cities of the country based on the model of the London Mayor. The PM has repeatedly referred to the London Model of mayorship as an ideal for Pakistani cities, "Powerful mayors are a worldwide trend. Cities are areas where business takes place, where investment takes place and where crimes have to be checked," he adds.
An official handout issued by the Prime Minister’s Office quotes the prime minister as telling the participants in the October meeting that the PTI believes in transfer of power to the masses at the grass root level. The people could make their own decisions only through an effective and strong local government system," it says.
Experts say the London Mayor model will hardly solve problems in Punjab, which is facing unplanned urban expansion, "Small towns are emerging throughout the country and they don’t have any management, planning or city government structures," Khan points out.
The KP model also apparently has a system where police comes under the village council. The system also calls for monitoring and inspection of all government departments in the village by the village council. PTI insiders say which model would be eventually introduced in the country has not yet been finalised.
Raoof Hassan, a political analyst, says the basic difference between the KP model and the system in Punjab is that the KP government devolved financial powers to the village council level, while in Punjab the government of PML-N didn’t devolve any power to the local government, he says.
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There are two basic problems with the KP model. There is no consensus within the PTI over whether the KP model could be planted in Punjab. Many PTI leaders in Punjab are strongly opposing the KP model.
Secondly, the PTI government could easily implement the KP model in Punjab through legislation as they enjoy a comfortable majority in the Punjab Assembly. However, in Sindh this will not be possible, "My information is that they will request Sindh and Balochistan governments to introduce the KP model in their provinces. The Balochistan government is likely to accede to the request, whereas the Sindh government will not," says Hassan.