LAHORE: With the local government system taking root in Punjab on January 2, the provincial government has decided to abolish the post of district coordination officers and replace them with deputy commissioners.
The move comes at a time when the lengthy process of LG elections in Punjab that began last year with polls has just completed. In the final step, the newly elected heads of local bodies would take oath on December 31.
On Friday, the Punjab cabinet committee approved the draft of the Civil Administration Ordinance 2016 during a meeting presided over by Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The meeting was attended by provincial ministers, advisers, special assistants, the chief secretary, police chief and the secretaries of relevant administrative departments.
The ordinance draft will soon be sent to the Punjab governor for promulgation, after which the DCOs would act as deputy commissioners but without powers of justice of peace.
This specific decision drew flak from several officers of the District Management Group on Friday but their move for a pen-down strike failed to mature into any substantial effort.
A DCO requesting anonymity claimed the powers of justice of peace were to be given to deputy commissioners according to the initial ordinance draft. The police administration pressured the government for maintaining their supremacy and managed to omit these sections from the final draft.
He said without these powers, the DCs would be powerless and assistant commissioners and DCOs were on strike against the decision.
Another officer said amending the ordinance according to police wishes meant the DMG officers were of lesser importance to the government. He added the deputy commissioner seat was more of a ceremonial post than an administrative one.
With judicial powers, the deputy commissioners would have had an administrative check over police’s working, bringing police under the DMG cadre.
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah confirmed the powers of justice of peace had been left with the judiciary and not given to deputy commissioners in the ordinance.
Addressing the cabinet meeting, CM Shehbaz vowed to empower the local governments and grant them financial independence. He said the local bodies would be empowered and given financial autonomy.
Under the new system, he said the responsibility of security would rest with mayor, chairman, deputy commissioners and DPOs. Special coordination committees will be formed on divisional, district and tehsil levels to ensure better functioning.
“The responsibility of the local bodies system is to address the grievances of the people at grassroots level,” the chief minister was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the CM House. The powers of civil administration would rest with the local government representatives.
The cabinet meeting also approved the Provincial Finance Commission Award for 2016 and the amendments proposed in the Drug Act of 1976.
According to the award, the resources given to local bodies have been increased by 44%. For 2017, the local bodies system will get Rs391 billion whereas in 2016 only Rs274 billion were allocated.
CM Shehbaz said the use of development fund was restricted to development projects and funds would not be used for any other purpose. “The backward districts and districts in southern Punjab will be given more funds than before,” he said. “Equal funds will be given to rural and urban union councils.”
He said the distribution of funds would be comprehensive, transparent and fair. Additional funds will be given to better performing local governments and a proper audit mechanism has also been put in place.
The amendments in the drug act proposed stringent punishments for manufacturing spurious medicines.
The cabinet also granted permission for changing the status of the houbara bustard from Schedule-III from Schedule-I of Punjab Wildlife Protection, Preservation and Conversation Management Act, 2007.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2016.
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