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EDITORIAL: The concept of devolution of power to the grassroots does not sit easily with major political parties in this country. Shirking their constitutional obligation, elected governments in the provinces have kept delaying local governments (LGs) elections on one pretext or another despite repeated directives by the apex court.

Currently, only Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan have the LG system up and running.

After much dilly-dallying, under Supreme Court order, Sindh is half way through the electoral process having completed the first phase of the polls while the second has been postponed on account of the flood catastrophe.

In Punjab, the previous PTI government made lofty promises about installing duly empowered local bodies, and yet prematurely dissolved the existing ones –- dominated as they were by the PML-N — in April of 2019 replacing them with a commissionerate system. They had to be restored later on the Supreme Court’s intervention. Their term also ended on December 31, 2021. Before fresh polls could be held within the constitutionally stipulated 120 days period, the government changed.

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja now wants immediate LG elections in Punjab. The new PTI-PML (Q) government would be all too happy to do that in view of the recent favourable by-election results.

However, it has issues with the new law. It may be recalled that the Punjab Local Government Ordinance, 2021 issued by the previous PTI coalition administration elapsed on June 10 this year. In its place now is the Local Government Act, 2022, passed by the provincial assembly under the PML (N)-led administration, which is not completely acceptable to the present rulers. It has been moving back and forth between the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the provincial government, seeking each other’s input.

In a sign of progress, however, at the latter’s request the CEC presided over a meeting last Thursday, attended by the provincial Chief Secretary and some other officials as well as the ECP Secretary and other members of the electoral body.

The upshot of the meeting was that the former provide the latter with local government rules, the number of union councils and wards, the number of reserved seats, maps, and demarcation notification so that the elections could be held as soon as possible. That though may take a while if such basic details have yet to be finalised.

In any event, elections per se are meaningless if the local governments are to have only nominal powers, as is the case in all provinces except for KP. The Constitution not only says that “each province shall, by law, establish local government system”, but adds “and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.” It is high time all provincial governments are stopped from violating this vital constitutional requirement.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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