LAHORE: Local governments across the Punjab have not become functional despite the passage of eight months since union council elections.
Election to reserved seats, including those for women, peasants, youth, technocrats and minorities, has yet to take place.
“The Sindh government’s case on local government elections is pending with the Supreme Court. Another case is pending before the Lahore High Court (LHC). We are waiting for the judgment of the SC as it will also be applicable in the Punjab. In Sindh as well as the Punjab, amendments were made to Local Government Act after the schedule of elections was announced. We increased the number of seats for technocrats to 10. The number of seats for labour councillors was also increased. The Sindh High Court said that the amendments to the Act would be applicable from the next term and could not become applicable this time. We are looking forward to the SC judgment to see how to hold the elections to the reserved seats,” Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government in Punjab Assembly Ramazan Siddique Bhatti told The Express Tribune.
Salman Abid, author of a research study on local governments in the Punjab, said that the Punjab government was not serious in sharing power with local government representatives. “The government was not serious in holding local government elections in the first place. It eventually did so on the orders of Supreme Court of Pakistan,” he said.
Salman Abid said that holding indirect elections to reserved seats was another “bone of contention” between the government, civil society and opposition parties. “All the stakeholders, other than the government, are of the opinion that there should be direct elections to reserved seats. In the coming budget, funds will be allocated for development projects. Most of these projects fall under the purview of the local governments, but the government does not want to give credit to local government representatives as MPAs do not like this,” he said. “People were enthusiastic about the local governments because they thought their problems would be resolved at their doorsteps. This, however, has not happened. Local government representatives are weary of the provincial government for not giving them control of funds,” he said.
Leader of the Opposition in Provincial Assembly Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed said the Punjab government was deliberately delaying the formation of local governments. “This [the delay] is due to litigation. They have cunningly wasted eight months. They are using local government funds on projects like the Orange Line Metro Train. Had the local governments been functional, they would have demanded funds. This is what the Punjab government wants to avoid. They should complete the process of elections and form local governments,” he said.
Local Councils’ Association of Pakistan (LCAP) Executive Director Anwar Husain said the Punjab government didn’t want to complete the process because then it would have to give funds to all the districts. “Once the new system becomes functional, the government will have to spend billions of rupees on restructuring. It only wants to fund mega projects. While this goes on, the common man is suffering and elected members face immense pressure from their voters,” he said.
Bhatti said that local government representatives did not face any problems. “The problems they have highlighted are being addressed. If they want to fix sewers in an area, we do it for them,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2016.
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