Strengthening LG system | By M Sheroz Khan Lodhi

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Strengthening LG system

Local government is the most appealing word in our bureaucratic encyclopedia. It is possible to restore order to the lives of our people in rural and urban areas by allowing everyone at the grassroots level to participate in spending public funds on projects of construction and development that address their own local needs, rather than pinning one hope on the federal or provincial governments for assistance.

Local governments were first acknowledged as the third tier of government in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution by the insertion of Article 140A, which states: “Each Province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative, and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments.”

This insertion evolved into the provision of legislative, institutional, planning, and policy spaces to provinces in order to fully comprehend the governance system and provide better services at the grassroots level.

The conception behind the inclusion of Article 140A is too sound to describe its numerous benefits in this mini space, which are generally intended to benefit society by educating the rural masses about their rights and duties to their community.

However, there are numerous prerequisites that must be met before society can derive its full benefits.

Pakistan’s history demonstrates a contradictory, counter-cyclical pattern for local democracy.

The “basic democracy” system, introduced by first military ruler Ayub Khan’s government in 1959, was the first post-independence proffer for local governance.

It consisted of a network of local self-governing bodies to provide a link between the government and the people.

Primary governing units were set up to conduct local affairs; their members were elected by constituencies of 800–1,000 adults.

Another military ruler, General Zia ul Haq’s second momentous move was the proclamation of Local Government Ordinances in 1979, which led to the establishment of local bodies in all four provinces in 1979 and 1980.

This local government structure predominantly remained in place until the General Musharraf regime executed the ambitious Devolution Plan for 2001.

All three governments were military authoritarian regimes. In Pakistan’s history, three military administrations have created elected local democratic institutions, and each time, subsequent civilian governments have either failed to restore elected local governments or replaced them with unelected administrators.

Consequently, despite the fact that mainstream political parties pledged local democracy in their election manifestos, the viability of democratic local government in Pakistan is strongly questioned.

Besides, supporters of Pakistani democracy must decipher the counter-cyclical pattern of local democracy in order to find solutions to break free from it.

A strong nexus between democratic politics at the local and national levels is essential for successful democracy.

The rudiments of Pakistan’s federal democracy would be heightened if civilian democratic administrations were assiduous towards functional elected local governments.

The most villainous aspect of our democracy is that we have completely disregarded Article 140-A of the Constitution, which requires all provincial governments to establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative, and financial responsibility to local government elected representatives.

Many facets may contribute to this un-enlightenment. However, one of the most frequently cited is the bureaucracy’s unwillingness to share its administrative spheres with local political surrogates.

Another flare-up refrain has been politicians’ purposeful attempt to keep a huge section of the population impoverished so that they may gain fortune through corrupt means.

When people are poor, they are often slow on the uptake and have little or no idea how to hold their elected officials accountable for their dishonest maneuvers.

Consequently, in order to improve Pakistan’s federal democracy, a reformed local-government system must engross mainstream political parties and give them a stanchion in promoting local democracy.

Despite criticisms of bureaucratic inefficiencies and delays, the prominence of local governments cannot be overstated, particularly in the delivery of public services such as the Public Distribution System, pension plans, and disease, outbreak, and catastrophe mitigation.

The comportment of robust machinery at the local level is a measure of democracy’s health and people’s engagement at this point.

Its deprivation will undoubtedly have a significant impact. A democratic political party’s strength is ultimately determined by the transcendence of its candidates.

Local governments that are well-designed should be a main source of candidates who can rise democratically to higher offices after demonstrating their capacity to gain popular support at the local level.

In the top tier of local government, there should be a vigorous case for allocating 1/3rd of the seats to women in the local council.

Workers, peasants, minorities, youth, and technocrats should all be represented to some extent.

There’s always the possibility that provincial and national politicians may try to use the power of higher levels of government to cripple local leaders who they perceive as political rivals.

As a result, some constitutional protection for local governments or independent judicial scrutiny of such measures against them may be necessary.

Meanwhile, local service growth in places like Karachi and Lahore frequently entails congealed spending.

A Municipal Development Fund might be established to finance these investments by issuing tax-free municipal bonds.

In countries like India, such funding structures exist. Cities with a larger population have a better ability to service this debt.

In areas where oil, gas, or other mineral resources are exploited and income such as royalties or development surcharges is collected, the local government must receive a share of the revenue flowing to the provincial governments.

This share may be decided by the PFC.Agricultural products used to be subject to an export tax imposed by district authorities.In the future, such taxes should not be levied.

To summarize, local body elections help political parties strengthen their organisational structures and keep in touch with voters.

To put it another way, in a diverse culture like Pakistan’s, local bodies can help to usher in societal synchronisation by allowing for broad-based representation. Local bodies provide an opportunity for local leaders to emerge outside political parties.

The essence of a democratically elected local government in a democratic political system cannot be overstated.

It is, in reality, embarkation on any country’s democratic ladder.

— The writer is contributing columnists, based in Rawalpindi

 

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