EDITORIAL: Federal Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry used his visit to Karachi recently to lay into the Sindh government’s failure to implement Article 140-A pertaining to the Local Governments (LGs) system and its attendant devolution of political, administrative and financial powers to these bodies. He called upon the Supreme Court (SC) to ensure implementation of Article 140-A to address the ‘constitutional crisis’ of Sindh. His justification for invoking the SC’s intervention was that there was no room in the Constitution for Governor’s Rule in the province, nor was this a solution to the problems of Sindh. The rest of his press conference and statements repeated the litany of charges against the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Sindh government ranging from misusing development funds, stoking the politics of (ethnic?) hatred in the province, destroying the healthcare system and denying Sindh’s complaints of not receiving its due share of water. As expected, the PPP Sindh government’s spokespeople too responded with vitriol based on the fact that Fawad Chaudhry had the gall to call the Sindh government to account on the LGs’ issue whereas the PTI federal, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) governments had dissolved or failed to hold elections for the LGs. In the Centre, the five-year term of the LGs ended in February 2021 and despite the fact that fresh elections had to be held within six months, for which fresh delimitation was required at least three months before the polls, nothing had been done in this regard. In KP, the term of the LGs is four years but these have been dissolved by the PTI government without fresh elections so far. Not only that, even the freshly merged districts of the erstwhile FATA have yet to see LGs in place. But the real masterpiece has been Punjab, where the LGs were dissolved before their term ended (no doubt because they were dominated by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), a decision struck down by the SC, whose order to reinstall the LGs office-bearers is being resisted by the PTI Punjab government. Given this track record, it is the height of hypocrisy, if not an expedient case of the pot calling the kettle black, for the PTI to aim what turns out to be a double-edged sword (or argument) against the Sindh government on the LGs issue.
While one may have issue with Fawad Chaudhry’s anti-Sindh government or anti-PPP stance, one cannot but agree with his statement that LGs are critical for service delivery at the citizen’s doorstep. Not just that, they constitute the first rung of the structure of any democratic system. Provincial and national legislators cannot adequately deal with local grievances and problems. Nor is this their job. If memory serves, it was Gen Ziaul Haq’s military regime that instituted a party-less (selected) parliament and handed local finances and functions to its members as a bribe. To top that, every elected civilian government since, and there are hardly any exceptions across the board, has appeared hesitant if not resistant to the devolution of power to the LGs, on the assumption that this would weaken their hold on their constituencies. Perhaps it is not an accident, given this continuing lapse, that neither legislation, which is the responsibility of the parliamentarians, nor local issues that are the remit of the LGs, have been well served by this institutional failure. Irrespective of the party in power in any province or at the Centre, LGs should be installed and supported through the devolution of political, administrative and financial powers in order to allow these ‘missing’ institutions to serve the citizens better. It would be desirable that the constitution be suitably amended to ensure the functioning of elected local bodies as well as distribution of adequate resources to them through a constitutionally-mandated ‘provincial finance commission’ on similar lines as National Finance Commission(NFC).
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021