Local governance: As polls end, a new debate begins

Experts believe power remains with the provincial bureaucracy

Hasnaat Malik December 05, 2015
Experts believe power remains with the provincial bureaucracy. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD: With the three-phased local government (LG) elections completed, a turnaround on a local level seems unlikely.

Legal experts are skeptical the much-awaited exercise will bring about many changes. Reason: the provinces have not given meaningful political, administrative and financial powers to local representatives.

The third and final round of the LG elections completed on Saturday with 12 districts of Punjab and six in Karachi going to vote. Now the debate starts whether or not the laws enacted by provincial governments have devolved powers at the grassroots level.

The top court has already declared any attempt by a province to make local governments powerless would not be allowed by the court. The laws will be struck down.

The judgment says if a provincial government oversteps its legislative or executive authority to make local governments powerless, then such exercise will fall foul of Article 140A of the Constitution.

Still legal experts believe the provinces while legislating have not given any significant powers to local representatives. The newly elected members of local governments will have to approach the superior courts for getting their legal rights, they contend.

While commenting on the current LG system, lawyer Chaudhry Faisal Hussain said the elected representatives would work under a bureaucracy.

“Though the provinces have stages the polls on the Supreme Court’s insistence, they have given a toothless system,” he said. Under the current laws in Punjab, for example, the chief minister is authorised to dismiss a district council chairman.

Faisal believes even the dictators had given more powers to LG representatives as compared to a democratic government.

Ishaq Khan Khakwani, who looks after the electoral matters of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf, has already challenged the Punjab Local Government Act in the Lahore High Court.

Terming the law against the spirit of Article 140A, he said the present system gave no concept of tehsil councils in Punjab while the district council chairman would work under the DCO.

Senior lawyer Khawaja Haris contended the LG laws in Punjab at least were better than the other provinces. The Punjab government has given more financial powers as compared to other provinces, especially Sindh, he said.

However, former additional attorney general Tariq Mahmood Khokhar believes something is better than nothing. “This is democracy at the grassroots level,” he said. “After the polls, the elected members of local governments will emerge with a higher degree of force. In due time, they will acquire powers fighting for it themselves.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2015.


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