Last update: Tue, 09 Feb 2016 06pm

A step closer to LB polls

In its verdict on a petition moved by the Election Commission of Pakistan challenging the Sindh and Lahore High Courts' respective decisions to allow provincial governments to carry out delimitation of wards for local governments elections, the Supreme Court has authorised the ECP to undertake the delimitation process. The court has ordered the federal and provincial governments to make necessary legislation within five months. After that the ECP is to complete delimitation work within 45 days, and ensure that the announcement of schedule and the process of holding LG polls are completed by November 15 in Punjab. Balochistan is the only province to have gone ahead to fulfil its responsibility. It is unclear whether the November 15 schedule is to apply to Sindh and KPK as well. But the court has declared its intention not to accept any further delay.

Ensuring compliance will be a challenging task, indeed. Despite a constitutional obligation to hold elections to this third tier of government, provinces have avoided taking that step for nine long years. In April 2012 the apex court finally took suo motu notice ordering all the provincial governments to hold local bodies elections same day in June that year. Still, they kept postponing the exercise on one pretext or the other. If at first it was non-completion of voters lists, Punjab postponed last December's polling schedule citing delimitation related issues. Now that the apex court has laid out a proper schedule for delimitation and polling, things should move forward. It will not be enough to hold the elections, though, local governments must also be duly empowered to deliver service in an effective and efficient manner. They should be able determine their own priorities based on socio-economic concerns and implement relevant development programmes.

That would require financial and administrative autonomy. The National Finance Commission award resource distribution formula should be replicated in deciding resource allocation to district governments. The model can best help address the problem of uneven progress, like the relative underdevelopment of Punjab province's southern region. And as we have been pointing out in these columns before, district service cadres need to be created along the lines of federal and provincial civil services cadres so that district level public servants have an abiding interest in the uplift of communities they serve. Equally important, school teachers and healthcare staff should be selected from among the residents of districts of their appointment as people tend to be more responsive to local needs. There is no point in having local governments unless they are empowered to make their own decisions about issues that affect everyday lives of the people. Political parties ruling in the provinces must overcome their urge to control, letting democracy flourish at the grass roots level.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2014