Opposition members believe the Punjab Local Government Bill of 2013 would put the provincial government firmly in control of local governments and hence does not fit with the devolution of powers required under Article 140A of the Constitution.
The bill was to be put before the assembly on Thursday, but the sitting was adjourned for a day following the death of the PA senior secretary.
The Supreme Court has instructed the provincial governments to hold local elections by September. According to Article 140A, “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 government.”
Talking to The Express Tribune, members of the PTI, the PPP and the PML-Q criticised the draft bill, saying it gave the chief minister the power to suspend elected representatives of local government and hence was a violation of Article 140A.
A treasury member said that the question of whether local elections will be held on a party basis or not will be referred to a special eight-member committee set up during the first assembly session. The Punjab Assembly has not formed a standing committee on local government.
Opposition members said that the Charter of Democracy signed by the PML-N and the PPP called for party-based local government elections. They said that the proposed system was a rehash of General Ziaul Haq’s 1979 local bodies system.
The new system envisaged the indirect election of mayors and deputy mayors for cities and chairmen and vice chairmen for district councils, which would encourage horse trading.
Opposition members also claimed that the new system would have less representation for minorities, women and youth than the previous system. Under the previous system, the 150 union councils in Lahore had around 700 reserved seats. Under the new system, there would be 350.
According to the draft bill, the local governments will function within the provincial framework. The government will, by notification in the official gazette, divide districts into urban and rural areas. Union councils will be set up in the latter, while there shall be three distinct forms of urban local administration, depending on population size.
The provincial capital will be governed by a metropolitan corporation, cities with populations of above 500,000 will be governed by municipal corporations, while cities with populations between 50,000 and 500,000 will be governed by municipal committee. Each district, apart from Lahore, will have a district council. The local government areas will be divided into wards. The bill includes details on the rules for delimitation of wards.
Composition of local governments
Each union council shall be divided into five wards, and each ward will directly elect a member. The five wards will together also elect a union council chairman and a vice chairman, who must run as joint candidates. The directly elected members will then elect three members to reserved seats for a woman, a worker, and a non-Muslim. The UC chairmen shall form the district council, which will include 15 women, five workers and five non-Muslims elected indirectly. The number of indirect members may be altered on the basis of population. The members of the council will elect a chairman and vice chairman.
A municipal committee will have one directly elected member from each ward plus five women, three workers and three non-Muslim members. They will be headed by a chairman and vice-chairman.
Each municipal corporation shall consist of directly elected members and 25 indirectly elected members – 15 women, five workers and five non-Muslims. The metropolitan corporation shall consist of 200 members elected directly plus 25 women, 10 workers and 10 non-Muslims elected indirectly. The members of the metropolitan corporation and municipal corporations shall then elect mayors and deputy mayors.
Each district will have an education authority and a health authority consisting of elected and technocrat members. The size shall be determined on the basis of population. The members of the authority shall be elected by the local governments while the Punjab government will appoint the technocrat members. The government shall appoint a chairman and a vice chairman to each authority. The chairman shall be the principal accounting officer.
In addition, each union council will set up a panchayat and each urban local government will set up a ‘musalihat anjuman’ (arbitration council) for each ward for the settlement of disputes.
Provincial Finance Commission
According to the draft bill, the government shall set up a Provincial Finance Commission of 14 members. The finance minister will chair the commission and the local government minister will be its vice chairman. Two MPAs one nominated by the leader of the house and the other by the leader of the opposition the local government secretary, the finance secretary, the planning and development secretary, two chairmen of education and health authorities, one mayor and one municipal committee chairman nominated by the government, and two professionals nominated by the government will form the commission.
The bill also includes provisions on a local government taxation system and how it will generate and collect taxes. A Provincial Local Government Commission shall be established to resolve disputes among local governments.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2013.