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An Overview of Local Government System in Pakistan

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An Overview of

Local Government System in Pakistan

Local government is one of the vital organs of a state through which programs of development are formulated and implemented for a community. The democratically elected members at the local government level represent the community and advocate its interests in the social and economic development of the area.
There are three tiers of government.
1. Federal
2. Provincial
3. Local
Local government is the lowest tier, and, hence, internationally regarded as the best system of governance.
By definition, local governments are the level of government and public administration closest to citizens, and, for that reason, can be effective in providing many public services. Furthermore, effective local governments are an important determining factor in the overall legitimacy and stability of institutions of democratic governance.
1. According to Duane Lockard, local government can be described as “A public institution, allowed organizing and controlling public schemes and plan within a specified territory, the latter is a portion of the central government.” (The Politics of State and Local Government)
2. In the book ‘Elements of Politics’ Dr Henry Sidgwick says, “Local government is a government of some subdivision that has specified authorities to publish rule and regulation within the area which they control.”
3. D.M. Hill in his ‘Decentralization Theory and Local Government’ states local government as “a system of sovereignty element with a defined frontier, a legal recognition, and organizational design, abilities and responsibilities legislate in general and particular salutation, and level of financial and other dependency and legitimacy.”
General advantages of the LG system
Following are some of the general advantages of this system:
ü Empowerment of the people at grassroots level
ü Access to public services at local level
ü Emergence of political leaders; nursery for democracy
ü Public participation in decision-making
ü Accountability of the local governments to the general public
Constitutional provisions that stipulate the LG system in Pakistan
Article 32 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan reads:
“The State shall encourage local Government institutions composed of elected representatives of the areas concerned and in such institutions special representation will be given to peasants, workers and women.”
Article 140A(1) of the Constitution is also relevant in this regard:
“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.”
1. LG system in its historical perspective
The history of the LG system in Pakistan can be discussed under the following heads:
· In Pre-Independence era
· The system introduced by General Muhammad Ayub Khan
· The System introduced by General Muhammad Zia ul Haq
· The system introduced by General Pervez Musharraf
It is ironic that all the three experiments in the decentralization of power have been instituted at the behest of non-representative military regimes. The elected governments, following these military regimes, saw the local governments as their rivals and ignored/suspended the system introduced by the military regimes. These systems were installed by military regimes to achieve the following objectives:
· Marginalizing the mainstream political parties
· Strengthening the military regimes
· Gaining legitimacy for their regimes which were without any constitutional cover.

2. LG system in Pre-Independence Era
· Major problem with this local government system was that it was not built on the traditional structure of the local governance like Panchayat.
· Members of the LG system were not locally elected but were nominated by the British bureaucracy.
· Deputy Commissioner, the officer of the non-representative central bureaucracy, was the principal actor in the system.
· This system was not connected with the grassroots realities.
3. LG System under General Muhammad Ayub Khan
· Following two ordinances regulated the functioning of the local government system under General Muhammad Ayub Khan:
o Basic Democracies Ordinance, 1959
o The Municipal Administration Ordinance, 1960
· Credit may be given to General Muhammad Ayub Khan for that his regime made the first attempt, after independence, to reform the local administration.
· It was the first-ever opportunity provided to the public to elect their representatives.
· Development functions, though limited, were devolved to the local level.
· Provincial Assemblies and National Assembly were disbanded.
· Hence, under a strong center, it was the only functional tier of the government.
· This system was controlled by the Deputy Commissioner, Commissioner and the Provincial Government which had the power to quash the proceedings and suspend resolutions passed by any local body; they could direct the local body to take any particular action. The heads of the councils, who were bureaucrats, could suspend the basic membership of elected representatives of the council. Hence, this system was under bureaucratic control.
· 80,000 single-member constituencies known as BD wards were established.
· Elections took place in January 1960, and the Basic Democrats, as they became known, were at once asked to endorse and thus legitimize Ayub Khan’s presidency.
· The 1962 Constitution linked the office of the President to the newly-created local bodies and declared the 80000 basic democrats as the Electoral College for the election of the President and national and provincial assemblies.
· Of the 80,000 Basic Democrats, 75,283 voted in favour of Muhammad Ayub Khan.
· Hence, the system of basic democracies was used by General Muhammad Ayub Khan to legitimize his rule as the President of Pakistan and the 1962 Constitution that gave effective powers to the office of the President
· The basic democrats, who were under the bureaucrats, were to elect the National and Provincial Assemblies, as well as the President.
· It was a four-tiered system:
o Union Council
o Tehsil Council
o District Council
o Divisional Council
· These councils were headed by the bureaucrats at Tehsil, District and the Division level.
LG system under General Muhammad Zia ul Haq
· It was regulated by the Local Government Ordinance, 1979.
· Two tiers in the rural setup were:
o Union Council
o Zila Council
· Urban setup had four tiers:
o Town Committees
o Municipal Committee
o Municipal Corporation
o Metropolitan Corporation
· Role of bureaucracy curtailed: No official members were made part of the councils; public representatives comprised and headed the councils.
· Adequate representation was given to women, peasant workers and minorities.
· Councils were dependent upon provincial governments for allocation of funds.
· Although, the provincial administration retained suspension powers and the powers to quash resolutions and proceedings during the Zia period, their control over local government functioning through direct representation was loosened.
· This was a significant change from BDO (1959) and MAO (1960).
· Local elections were held on non-party basis in order to neutralize the influence of the political parties
LG system under General Pervez Musharraf:
· This system was based on Local Government Ordinance, 2001.
· It was introduced as the “Devolution of Power” Plan by General Pervez Musharraf in January 2000 and implemented after a series of LG elections that ended by August 2001.
· District Nazim was the head of the local government at the District level.
· The office of the Deputy Commissioner was abolished.
· Its name was changed to District Coordination Officer who reported to District Nazim. Earlier DCs reported to the non-elected provincial secretariat.
· It was a three-tier system:
o District Government/Zila Council headed by a Zila Nazim
o Tehsil Council/Town Council headed by a Tehsil Nazim/Town Nazim
o Union Council headed by a Union Nazim
· Government officials and the departments were under the supervision of Zila Nazim, Tehsil or Town Nazim at their respective levels.
Important functions of the Local Governments
· Importance of LGs can be gauged by the significance of the functions they perform. There is likelihood that in the absence of a strong LG system, these important functions would be ignored.
Following are some important functions which are performed by the LGs:
· Provision and maintenance of roads, streets, slaughterhouses, public parks, playgrounds, libraries and public places
· Registration of births and deaths
· Sanitation
· Water supply
· Lighting
· Cleanliness
· Acquiring and maintenance of graveyards
· Collection of land revenue
· Settlement of local disputes
· Development work
· Monitoring of the working of the government departments – administrative and financial discipline
· Supervision of law and order
· Relief operations in disasters or national calamities
· Sports and cultural events
· Prevention and removal of encroachments
· Collection and maintainence of statistical information for socio-economic surveys
Flaws in our LG systems
Historically, these are some important lessons we have learned from our experiences:
· LGs were introduced by non-representative regimes in order to gain legitimacy for the military regimes and sideline the mainstream political parties who could oppose those. Thus, the intention behind installing these systems was to strengthen the military regimes instead of improving the local public services.
· There was no political ownership of these systems. It is for this reason that these LGs were disbanded by the subsequent elected governments who saw these local governments as their competitors and rivals.
· These systems have never been autonomous, financially empowered and self-sustaining.
· LG elections were held on non-party basis which was detrimental to strengthening the political institutions and democracy.
Recommendations for a viable and efficient LG system
Following are a few recommendations in the light of the lessons learned from our experiences:
· Elected public representatives should be trained and educated in the areas of service delivery, role of local governments in good governances and laws and rules governing the LG bodies. They should be given awareness on the importance of financial and administrative discipline.
· All the departments and the government officials should be under the supervision of elected office-holders of the LGs.
· LG elections should be held on party basis.
· The LGs should be financially empowered, administratively independent and operationally autonomous.
· There shall be a system of audit and inspections at the provincial level to measure the performance of the LGs at the District level. Chief Minister Office may formulate the key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the performance of all the District Governments. This would create a healthy competition among all the district governments.
In Pakistan, politicians and bureaucrats have traditionally failed to strengthen the local government structures despite the fact that they are nurseries for all democratic structures. It is because those in power and have authority consider local representation a burden. Local governments are considered a threat to the status quo.
An absence of elected local governments manifests a disregard for the spirit of democracy. It is due to the delays in establishing this third tier of governance that the processes of development and good governance come to an abrupt halt at the local level.

The writer is a civil servant, belonging to Police Service of Pakistan (PSP).

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