EDITORIAL: After an inordinate delay of over two years, on one pretext or another, Punjab and Islamabad Capital Territory are finally preparing to hold local government elections.

As per a report in this newspaper, at a recent meeting the two administrations’ representatives informed the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) that the constituency delimitation work in Punjab had been completed and in the capital territory it is to be concluded by July 23.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government has formed a committee to frame a new local governments (LGs) law. Various proposals are under discussion.

Only its final form will tell how serious it is about devolving power to the grassroots.

For while, LGs in the other three provinces have been functional, though long after the legally stipulated 120-day period, that too on repeated reminders by the apex court.

Still, with the probable exception of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa they lack powers to make a real difference in the quality of life of people at the grassroots level.

Which is where the local needs for such basic services as water, schools, medical facilities, and roads, as well as climate change induced emergencies such as floods and droughts can be properly addressed.

A major issue being growing disparities causing resentment in the least developed areas within provinces, in the case of Punjab between its central and southern region, can be better resolved through effective local governance.

Unfortunately, instead of letting people take ownership of their own affairs provincial governments are averse to decentralise administrative and fiscal control.

The budgetary allocations for essential development works and social services that should go to the local governments are assigned to ruling party legislators for buying support at the election time. This must come to a stop. The provincial governments need to replicate the National Finance Commission’s resource distribution formula of resource distribution between the Centre and the provinces at this level.

As the aforementioned details show, local governments have suffered from both lack of continuity and worthwhile functionality even as Article 140-A of the Constitution states that “Each province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representative of the local government.”

Clearly, that just one paragraph has failed to achieve the desired results. There is an increasing unanimity of opinion, therefore, on that it should be further strengthened in a whole new chapter devoted to local governments, which requires a constitutional amendment.

That though is easier said than done considering that all the major political parties having substantial presence in Parliament and also ruling in the provinces have amply demonstrated they want maximum provincial autonomy but don’t quite like the idea of devolving power to the third tier of governance.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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KU Jul 03, 2024 01:14pm
Don't applaud the issue too much because anything remotely related to word 'govt' is bad omen for people n country, besides these local representatives serve their grand masters for crumbs.
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