Punjab defends disbanding of local governments

Says provincial govt wanted to ensure a level playing field for all prospective candidates


Hasnaat Malik March 09, 2021
A magnificent view of Lahore’s iconic Badshahi mosque before sunset. Built in the sixteenth century, the edifice is a historical monument and tourist attraction. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD:

The PTI led Punjab government has justified its decision to dissolve the local governments (LGs) of the country’s most populous province before expiry of their term in May 2019.

“The purpose of dissolution of the previous local governments was to ensure a level playing field for all prospective candidates in the upcoming elections under the 2019 [LG] Act…

“[The government wanted] to eliminate political influence of any kind; there was no other way that political parity could be achieved in such context,” the provincial government said in its reply submitted in the Supreme Court.

A division bench of the apex court, comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Maqbool Baqar, had sought the provincial government’s response while hearing a slew of petitions challenging the provincial government’s decision to dissolve all LGs formed under the Punjab Local Government Act (PLGA) 2013.

The reply said the right of the LGs to enjoy a complete term of five years was subject to any other provision of the act. It said the relevant provision in the PLGA 2013, controlling the provision of section 30(1) was contained in section 146 of the PLGA-2013.

“[It said] the government may, subject to such conditions as may be specified, delegate any of its functions under this Act to an officer subordinate to it except the power to make rules, to suspend or remove a mayor or chairman or to dissolve the local governments.”

Read more: Grassroots: ‘Local govt system meant to resolve issues quickly’

The reply said the dissolution of an LG prior to completion of its term is envisaged in the repealed Act which also carried a provision in the shape of Section 126 that allowed such a course of action at the time when the erstwhile LGs were elected but this provision was omitted from the statute in 2017.

In response to the court’s query if the LGs could be dissolved for no rhyme or reason, the provincial government said the repealed act lacked devolution of political authority and responsibility as envisaged in Article 140A of the Constitution.

It said the repealed act deprived the local residents of the highest tiers of the LGs – District Councils, Metropolitan Corporation, Municipal Corporations – of their basic fundamental right to elect their local government representatives.

The reply stated that it was also the political manifesto of the present government to empower people at the grassroots level through LGs; to refine the LG structure and introduce a city government model.

“We will transform Pakistan by devolving power and decision-making to the people through empowered LGs. Local development in villages and small towns in Pakistan is controlled by MPAs and MNAs, or by the bureaucracy, who do not want to cede authority and relevance.

“We will devolve small infrastructure initiatives to village councils by transferring resources and decision-making power to the people of Pakistan by scaling out our successful K-P [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] model across Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan,” it said.

The provincial government said once the parliament or the provincial assembly passes a law then the courts are restrained from “going behind the law” – going beyond the parliamentary role.

“In a democracy, the political party that is brought into power through the medium of vote makes electoral promises which have to be honoured once it is brought into power.

“There is nothing unique about a political party that gains parliamentary and governmental power to translate their electoral promises into policies and laws. This is how the system works. This there is no bar on the power of the parliament or the provincial assemblies to legislate.

“Of course, the [political] party in government, on account of legislative majority is free to pass any law that it wishes, stopping short only on account of two hurdles –lack of legislative competence and violation of the constitutional provisions,” it said.

The reply said it was also the political manifesto of the present government to empower people at the grassroots through the LG, refine the LG structure and introduce a city government model, where the directly elected mayor will be responsible to deliver on all interrelated urban city models.

“This is of the essence and shows the government has only translated an electoral promise into policy and law. In fact, this is why it was voted into power because it promised a more meaningful and purposeful devolution, greater financial, administrative and political authority to the lowest tier of LGs.

“Therefore, the previous system cannot be restored as newly constituted LGs have been performing their functions for a considerable time period and certain liabilities towards third parties have been accrued in the form of award of contract for execution of development works /schemes with respect to service infrastructure, etc.”

It is further submitted that the LGs constituted under PLGA-2019 have succeeded the properties, assets, funds, rights, liabilities and officers/servants of the local governments.

“New bank accounts have been opened and being operated by the respective LGs. Old bank accounts have become mostly non-functional. Expenditures are being made by the newly constituted LGs from the amounts available in the bank accounts.

“There are many cases where more than one LGs have succeeded the properties, assets, funds, right, liabilities and officers/servants of a single defunct LG whose funds have been disbursed to the LGs having separate bank accounts and that the amounts available in the said accounts are being utilized for performance of functions of the LGs through outsourcing and in this way, third party rights have been accrued with respect to those amounts. Hence, the old LG system cannot be restored to deprive the third parties of their fundamental right to life.”

It said the officers/servants of the defunct LGs have been succeeded by the LGs constituted under PGLA-2019. In most of the cases, the officers/servants of a single defunct LG have been posted in more than one LGs on account of the fact that the defunct LG had been succeeded by more than one LGs.

“As such, many liabilities such as pension etc have been accrued, and, therefore, restoring the old system may infringe the fundamental rights of the employees,” said the provincial government.

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