LAHORE: The treasury managed to delay a deadline for the issuance of a schedule for local government elections by another six months on Wednesday, despite the opposition’s attempts to get the Punjab Assembly session adjourned by pointing out quorum on five occasions.
A simple majority passed the Punjab Local Government (second amendment) 2011 bill, which the opposition decried as a move that transferred power from elected representatives to bureaucrats.
The government appointed administrators in place of nazims on February 4, 2010, packing up the local government system set up by General (retired) Pervez Musharraf. The province was supposed to issue a schedule for such elections to the Election Commission of Pakistan in October 2010, but delayed the deadline by a year by amending Section 179-A of the Punjab Local Government Ordinance (PLGO). In October this year, the cabinet again decided to delay the schedule, for which it obtained legal cover yesterday.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, opposition members proposed changes to five of the seven clauses in the amendment bill, but their motions were defeated. The government said it was extending the deadline because framing legislation for a new system of local administration was complex and challenging so they needed more time.
Dr Amina Ulfat of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) proposed that rather than a 180-day extension, the government be allowed just 30 days. Her motion was defeated.
Another clause in the bill amended Section 28 of the ordinance, omitting the restriction that officers appointed district coordination officer be of BS-20. Mohsin Leghari of the PML-Q said the rules should state what grade and what cadre of officer can be appointed DCO. He said that the government should prefer Provincial Civil Service officers rather than District Management Group officers for the posts.
Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said that the restriction had been limiting the availability of competent officers for the post. He said 13 PCS officers were already serving as DCOs in the Punjab and it was to accommodate them that the amendment had been made.
Ad-hoc accounts committees
The government shall set up ad hoc accounts committees (AACs) – consisting of four MPAs, three from the treasury and one from the opposition, one of whom will be appointed convener – to act as the accounts committee of the district, tehsil and union councils. The DCO shall receive the audit reports of the local government and refer them to the AAC of the district.
The opposition objected that this would mean elected members were now doing the job of clerks while the DCOs would do the jobs of elected members. The government argued that the temporary councils were needed since account committee elections had been frozen.
The bill amended Section 34-A of the ordinance to omit the requirement that the district nazim sign the DCO’s annual performance report. Instead, the government may designate an officer to do so.
Leghari suggested that this authority be granted to the convener of the AAC, as then the job would remain with an elected representative. Sanaullah said that it was temporary amendment and the chief minister was the final authority that signed the DCO’s annual report.
Citizen Community Boards
The government amended Section 109 to withdraw the provision that 25 per cent of the development budget for local governments must be used in accordance with Section 119, meaning that it must be allocated to projects proposed by Citizen Community Boards. Under the amended clause, the local government “may” allocate up to 25 per cent of the development budget for the boards and the funds can be spent in any sector.
Zulfiqar Gondal and Rana Abdul Rehman of the Pakistan Peoples Party voiced concern that this amendment meant DCOs could allocate funds instead of elected representatives. The government argued that the amendment was necessary to carry forward the unspent amounts allocated for CCB projects.
Dr Samia Amjad (PML-Q) proposed that the amendment bill be published for the purpose of eliciting public opinion through the media until January 31, 2012. Leghari proposed that the bill be referred to a select committee. Both motions were defeated.
Earlier in Wednesday’s session, which began at 10.40am, Prisons Minister Iqbal Channar answered questions related to his department. A report titled Biannual Monitoring of the Implementation of the 7th NFC Award and a bill titled the Punjab Environment Protection Amendment Bill 2011 were introduced in the assembly. Seven other bills were to be tabled for passage in the assembly on Wednesday but have been postponed. The session was adjourned at 5.40pm and will resume this morning.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2011.