In Pakistan's multi-layer system of governance, the effort at the federal level has always been to usurp the power of the provincial government. Meanwhile, the provincial government is always out to usurp the power of the local governments.
These views were shared by lawyer Mujeeb Ahmed Pirzada at the seminar by the National Reformers Forumat the National Museum auditorium on Saturday. The seminar aimed to create awareness regarding voters' rights in the forthcoming local government (LG) elections.
Pirzada was sceptical about the government's intentions to hold LG elections. "The problem is that a lot of financial powers and finances are available at the local level. 2.5% of the General Sales Tax is spent on the LG and that runs into billions."
The LG elections have not been held in the last five years and after a fair share of controversies, have now been scheduled for September this year.
"The Local Government Act that the Sindh Assembly has passed is almost the same system as the days of General Ziaul Haq. The new councils will be subservient to the provincial government."
Speaking about the rigged electoral process, he said: "The elections will be held on the basis of political parties. If they [local leaders] had been elected on an individual basis, they would have strived to serve the people who elected them."
The former governor of State Bank of Pakistan, Ishrat Hussain, tried to explain why there was a lack of political will to devolve powers to the grassroots. "The provincial legislators who have to bring about these changes do not want to lose their authority and influence in their constituencies," he said. Citing an example of the power tussle between the provincial and local governments, Hussain recalled how during the LG system from 2001 to 2007, the provincial ministers openly complained about the greater amount of respect given to the district nazim. "The period of 2001 to 2007 had a lot of weaknesses but it was the time when people were quite happy," he said. "They could approach their nazims even at midnight in order to get things done."
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2015.
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