Amending the amendments

Hold on power versus needs of the people

 

Imagine a house where the flow of cash is uncertain and almost a secret. Where the servant is asked to do all the household chores; if he wants to call a plumber for a certain job he may do so, but the servant will be ambiguous as to how he is to pay for the plumbing job.

This is what the elected Local Government (LG) members would have to face if certain reforms are not made to the current LG (Amendment) Ordinance 2015.

Electoral reforms

Rashid Rehman, a seasoned journalist, who has seen LG elections in the past and can draw a comparative analysis through experience, thinks reforms should begin by introducing a credible and truth worthy election process.

According to the Punjab LG (Amendment) Ordinance 2015, a directly elected chairman and a vice-chairman as joint candidates will be in a Union Council (UC) and on general seats six councillors. They can contest polls on party tickets or as independent candidates.

Therefore the voters will only ballot for the panel of a chairman and one general councillor from their respective division. The general members, when elected, will elect two female members, one worker, a youth and a non-Muslim member for their wards.

The Election Commission Pakistan said that this would mean cheaper and easier polling. This also means that if one member is elected by a certain party their worries are finished.

“The certainty of a unrigged election would make the process a strong foundation for the standing members,” Rehman told DNA.

Hassan Askari, a renowned political analyst, maintained while talking to DNA that KPK LG bodies are better managed compared to other provinces.

According to the Punjab LG (Amendment) Ordinance 2015, a directly elected chairman and a vice-chairman as joint candidates will be in a Union Council (UC) and on general seats six councillors. They can contest polls on party tickets or as independent candidates

“KPK is in a somewhat better position than Punjab and Sindh”, he said.

In the local government polls held in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May, except for the seats reserved for women, members in all other categories were elected through direct polling. Each voter had seven ballot papers to vote for candidates.

Financial reforms

The local councils would receive their allocations through the respective provincial finance commissions and would have limited powers to impose taxes or exercise regulatory functions.

“The overriding powers in Punjab ordinance has been bestowed upon the provincial governments”, Hassan Askari said.

This subordinates the LGs to the provincial governments, allowing the chief ministers to remove an LG or head of council and appoint officeholders after the dismissal of council heads.

“Empowering LGs is very important. Devolution must involve some financial devolution. Provincial governments have been reluctant to give away their powers for long but this must change”, Rehman explained.

Askari added that “a lot of authorities have been created and some of the power has been given to the authorities and the LG aren’t allowed to interfere. This practice shows that the provincial governments do not trust the LG bodies.”

Limited autonomy to the local councils in terms of fiscal management and control over service delivery, revenue, tax and police departments is provided by the current Act.

If the local elections are to have any real meaning, provincial governments will need to ensure that newly elected local councils have sufficient resources and authority to address service delivery and development challenges in local communities. This will require provincial governments to recalibrate their approach towards the third tier of government. At present, their instincts seem to be to ‘centralise’ for the purposes of political expediency, rather than acting in the true spirit of the 18th amendment and empowering local government structures.

Askari added that provincial governments did not want antonymous local powers; a fact that cannot be denied. But LG bodies shouldn’t be at the mercy of the provincial government

The failure of provincial governments to perform at the local level affects the poor especially. Only local authorities will be able to understand and make the right choices for their respective areas. It cannot be expected from the government to be “all seeing, all hearing”. People are able to trust their opinion leaders/heads of society, giving them an upper hand in resolving matters.

The importance of LGs cannot be stressed enough. It is one of the only ways to start democracy at the grass roots. The stronger the roots are tougher the tree will be.

“LGs are very important. Citizens need services at their doorsteps, as the MPA and MNAs aren’t within in reach. If LG succeeds people might finally get their due voice and rights back”, according to Rehman.

Askari added that provincial governments did not want anonymous local powers; a fact that cannot be denied. But LG bodies shouldn’t be at the mercy of the provincial government. They should be given enough powers, if not all, especially the allocation of money.

“LG in the Musharraf era was better though not perfect. They had more power and autonomy than the current ones”, he continued.

The irony that in a dictatorial era the matters were better than in the current democratic one says a lot about the contemporary situation. The need of the hour is defiant to get our priorities right. Is the hold of power more important than fulfilling the needs of the people?

Time will be the best answer.


Originally Published in Pakistan Today

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