LAHORE: Hundreds of thousands of local government employees are to be reshuffled after the Punjab Assembly passes the Punjab Local Government Bill 2013, a special committee on the bill has decided. The 12-member committee, which deliberated on the draft for six days, finalised the bill on Tuesday.
In concluding remarks, Local Government Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan said that the government would aim to pass the bill before August 15, the deadline for the legislation set by the Supreme Court. However, he added, there might still be changes before then.
The final draft and the committee’s report would be sent to the PML-N leadership, who might suggest minor changes, he said. The opposition, which boycotted the committee’s meetings this week, is available on August 12 and their suggestions could also be incorporated in the bill, Sanaullah said. The minister said that if the local elections were not held in September, there would be further opportunity to amend the bill, should any weaknesses emerge, in the form of an ordinance or amendment bill.
On Tuesday, the committee approved sections of the bill relating to the financial and taxation powers of local governments and their composition. During the meeting, several members expressed concern about corruption at the local level. Aleem Shah of the PML-N said audit officers charged Rs200,000 to fudge irregularities when going through the accounts of local governments or provincial departments. He said that during his election campaign, he had heard a lot of criticism directed at his party over corruption in local government. A Law Department representative told the committee that a pre-audit and post-audit system was in place and the auditor general could also conduct a special audit of a local body.
The members said the audit system should be made more transparent, the tender assessment system should be reviewed and the powers of project overseers should be curbed. The committee members agreed that local government staff – a total workforce of around 300,000 should be transferred after the bill is passed in order to curtail corruption. Staff between grades one and five, who make up a small proportion of the workforce, would not be transferred. Those in grades five to 14 would be reshuffled within the district, and those in grades above 14 within the division. The members also agreed to set up an assembly committee to monitor the expenditure of local governments.
The committee also finalised the composition of local governments. Towns with a population of 30,000 to 500,000 will be governed by a municipal committee, subdivided into wards, each of which will directly elect a representative. These representatives will in turn elect a chairman and vice chairman for the municipal committee. Rural areas with populations of less than 30,000 will have union councils. The rural UCs in a district will directly elect chairmen who will in turn form the district councils. These councils will have authority only over rural areas.
Cities with populations larger than 500,000 will be governed by municipal corporations made up of union councils. Lahore will have a metropolitan corporation, also divided into union councils. The UC chairmen will elect a mayor and deputy mayor in the big cities.
Apart from the provincial capital, each district will have district councils for rural areas and municipal committees/ corporations for urban areas. Under an amendment approved for clause 13 of the bill, each UC will have seven members elected directly to general seats, four members elected directly to reserved seats (two for women, one for ‘peasants’ and one for non-Muslims) and a chairman and a vice chairman, also elected directly.
If a UC chairman is later elected mayor or deputy mayor, the vice chairman will be elevated and the empty seat filled by the candidate who finished eighth in the election contest on the general seats. The committee also went over offences in which the local governments will have enforcement jurisdiction and increased the penalty for some industrial pollution and food adulteration offences. District councils and corporations will be able to recruit their own wardens for the purpose of enforcement.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2013.