Punjab, Sindh must bow before public aspiration and amend laws to empower local bodies

Salahuddin Haider

Monday, November 02, 2015 – THE divorce was not only ill-timed for Imran Khan, it was loaded with problems for the Tehreek-Insaaf chief, who now seems to be at cross road of his political career once again. But the landslide victories in Sunday’s elections, while bringing joy and smiles for PML(N) and PPP, have simultaneously put on them trial. They need to amend their respective local bodies laws, to devolve authority, concentrated in the hands of their respective chief ministers, and vest genuine administrative and financial powers in the hands of the newly elected members of the local governmentinstitutions.

Failure to do that will render the entire exercise, conducted at huge cost to the public exchequer, absolutely meaningless. The two governments in the Punjab and Sindh should now bow before the public aspirations to strengthen democracy at the grass root level.

Lessons need to be learnt from practices followed for decades together in established democracies the world over. In Europe and America, and even in former communist blocs of Eastern Europe, China and Russia, where power for solving local problems rests with the lowest tiers of the administration. If in the United States, a system of community police has been in practice with an elected sheriff, America, England and several other European countries have county system, with mayors as administrative heads.

Practices followed in Sweden, and Switzerland, must help us reform our archaic system of wasteful expenditures, pomp and show, which is least required these days. It must be clearly understood by Islamabad that democracy does not mean mere elections. Deliverance counts here more than anything else. This is 21st century where people have easy access to modern technologies, and can easily compare their own country with those, reaping the rich harvest of good governance, devolution of power, and cost effective mechanism of State management All these things have sadly been missing in the Pakistani society, whose founding fathers had public welfare at the back of their mind. Their labour and hard work to find a new State for the people of the sub-continent, blessed with rule of law, equality, justice and airplay, have , unfortunately, all been thrown to the winds. Laws are framed to protect those at the helm and justice is denied to the poor and the helpless.

In Sweden, the prime ministers are not allowed official residence, drive their cars themselves, are allowed drivers only on State functions or while receiving foreign dignatories, no servants, nothing that will mean a burden on tax payers money, and in Switzerland, a small country with a mere 8 million souls, stand administratively divided in 26 cantons, has a small cabinet of just 7 ministers, drawn from ruling and opposition parties . They among themselves, elect one of them president of the country, with no salary, no emoluments, perks and privileges, which are allowed only for official purpose. They do not have these facilities for their personal life.

Fortunately, I was witness to such austerity when in 1975, I saw the then Swedish prime minister, Olaf Palme, who was shot dead while cycling to him from a movie house, rushing out of the terminal building at the Stockholm airport, trying to wear his jacket, and storming into the aircraft, carrying Late Mr Z A Bhutto. On enquiry we found later that the host had apologized to Mr Bhutto, then prime minister of Pakistan, that his wife had an appointment with doctor, and he had to cook breakfast for children. Hence the delay of 6/7 minutes.

Can we ever think of emulating such examples. Former civil servant, Qudratullah Shahab, an eminent literary figure has mentioned in his book, called “Shahabnaama” that in his capacity of being in the personal staff of the Quaid-e-Azam, he noticed that the founder of Pakistan wanted to enquire as to how a chair for Rs 47 was bought for his sister Fatima Jinnah. On being told that she, as his aide, had to be with him all the time, hence this new chair for her. The Quaid, being honest and being in the habit of keeping account of every penny, he spent from his own pocket, told officials at the governor-general house that Fatima did have any official authority. Let that Rs 47 be deducted from her personal account. The government cannot pay for a non-official.

Alas, we could follow that example. Austerity, like Holy Quran, has been put on the shelf in Pakistan.

If security in a terror-stricken country is a compulsion for VIPs, let there be efficient and highly trained men, few of them, be with Presidents, and Prime Ministers, governors or chief ministers. The practice of carrying a convoy of 50 to 60 cars for the security of VIPs, causing inconvenient to people by blocking roads for their movement in major cities, must now be discarded for good. An efficient, reliable security system must replace the present fleet of vehicles on duty with the heads of State of heads of governments.

Politicians and parliamentarians can have their own private security. They are not supposed to burden the exchequer. E very penny of public money has to be accounted for.

While the PML(N) in Punjab’s 12 districts, and PPP in 8 districts of Sindh, have recorded landslides, they should now amend the law framed for managing the new local body institutions. Chairmen, Vice chairmen of Union and Town Committees, councilors etc, must be vested with complete administrative and financial authority to take care of the lower level problems of the people. Why should some one from suburban areas, or those in the interior of the Punjab or Sindh provinces, should run to their capital cities of Karachi and Lahore for redressing small problems, or day to day affair. The system of local government is meant to solve their problem at their door steps. This would be possible only when laws are amended to devolve power from the chief ministers of the provinces to newly elected members of the local self administration.

Unfortunately, similar situations prevails in KP and Balochistan also where such elections were held much earlier. But dispensaries, hospitals, schools, etc, are still suffering from minor and major problems, because the chairmen of Union committees and councilors are yet to be empowered to solve their problems.

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